Sales versus marketing

I recently read an article in Long-Term Living about continuing care retirement comminities (CCRCs) and the effort to stay financially stable in difficult economic times. One quote in the article, attributed to Jim Emerson, an Orlando, Fla.-based retirement housing industry consultant, really jumped out at me: "We can tell our story all we want, but we need to sell units. It may take changes in people, not because they're bad people, but because they can't sell."

Emerson is correct about the importance of sales to the success of a long-term care (LTC) provider, whether it is a skilled nursing facility, an assisted living community, an adult day care center, a home healthcare agency or a CCRC. But one question begs for answer: What is the difference between sales and marketing in our industry?

The answer is more complicated than you might think. has 21 different definitions for the word “selling.” It has 19 definitions for marketing (seven of those definitions have the word sales, selling or sold in them). The online edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “sell” this way:

      sell: verb \ˈsel\ : to exchange (something) for money: to make (something) available to be bought

Does this definition truly convey the complex dance between prospective residents, their family members and your “sales” team?

I’d like to propose a different set of definitions for healthcare sales and marketing, as they relate specifically to our industry:

  • Sales is the active motivation of a prospective resident and their family (the customer) to choose your facility to meet their needs.
  • Marketing is the passive motivation of a prospective resident and their family (the customer) to choose your facility to meet their needs.

Healthcare sales requires direct contact with customer (via face-to-face meetings, telephone, etc.) and includes the skills of handling the initial contact with the prospect, uncovering the customer needs, demonstrating/communicating how your facility will meet their needs, presenting price/financial information, closing, scheduling next steps and handling objections. Of all of these, the most important skill that top-performing sales professionals develop and use is the ability to listen actively while understanding the complex needs of the prospect. Sales teams also use sales skills to engage healthcare professionals.

Healthcare marketing is passive motivation of the customer, and by definition, doesn’t require direct contact with the customer. The goal of any good marketing campaign is to get the prospect to engage you in a “sales” process. For example, placing an advertisement in the paper may motivate a prospect to call and schedule a tour of your community. Public relations, direct mailings and special events (open houses) all strive for the same goal: Getting the customer to choose to engage you in a sales process.

The automobile and pharmaceutical industries understand these concepts very well. Think about the most recent ad you’ve seen for a medication or a vehicle. What do they encourage you to do at the end? “Go see your physician and discuss (the medication or problem the medication solves).” Or, “Stop in for a test drive!” The goal of the advertisement is to get you to engage in a sales process.

The LTC organizations that are most successful at growing and maintaining high census understand the importance of developing the skills of high-performing “sales” teams while supporting them with expert marketing strategies, tactics and tools. Having one without the other will never result in the revenue and census successes that can be achieved when sales and marketing work together.

Topics: Executive Leadership , Finance