The Common Denominator of Success

One of my favorite leadership lines from Navy training is, “You can’t push a rope…You have to lead.”

It is always refreshing to see community leaders fill the Sales and Marketing Breakout sessions on the conference circuit – whether it be ULI, ALFA, NIC – ostensibly in search of what is working in sales across the country during these challenging economic times.

Problem is, while every conference has its share of well-known speakers and operators, armed with insights from successful marketing campaigns (from Greatest Chef contests to the latest facility repositioning,) rarely do we hear about the time-tested, always-reliable, cost-effective, guaranteed ROI, sure-fire-method for making more sales…The Common Denominator of Success.

Albert E. Gray in his essay, “The Common Denominator of Success,” says, “Successful people have the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either, necessarily, but their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”

Habits are patterns of behavior composed of three overlapping components: knowledge, attitude, and skill. Since these are learned rather than inherited, our habits constitute our second nature, not our first. We are not our current habits; hence, we should avoid defining ourselves in terms of our habits, characteristics, and reactive tendencies. Habits of effectiveness can be learned, habits of ineffectiveness unlearned.

Unfortunately, some of the most common business practices are actually detrimental to success. Take for example, the average company’s Closing Ratio. From Lead-to-Tour, or Tour-to-Deposit, and finally Deposit-to-Move In, these figures, by their very calculation and dissemination within an organization, breed bad habits. How?

If, let’s say, our company-wide closing ratio is known to be something like 15-20%, then what happens to the remaining 80%+ of our prospects? Aren’t we in the habit of assuming we know why they did not choose our community? (Insert one or more of the six most commonly heard objections….) When we make it our corporate culture that the vast majority of our prospects will automatically choose to not move-in then we give license to the common excuses we hear everyday for why a sale was not made.

I recently interviewed a community rep for a high-end, resort-style, Independent Living community here in town. We were analyzing a recent family tour at the community. Like many tours, the family in our discussion had visited the community several times previously, and this was the second visit for their eldest son, who was in town visiting during the holidays.

The community rep was nonchalant about her prospects’ lack of commitment. “You know Stuart,” she smiled, “sometimes you just can’t push a rope.”

I smiled back.

You see this representative is considered to be the best salesperson not only at the community, but company-wide, by her Executive Director, as well as the CEO. While they know she’s good, they do not expect her to close more than 20% of her tours. Collectively, each stakeholder in this company has accepted the habit that there will be 8 Excuses for every 2 Move Ins. To the uninitiated this may seem extreme, but breaking this kind of thinking is the true paradigm shift required for the kind of sales leadership needed in today’s market.

I have interviewed over 200 corporate leaders in Senior Living during the past 3 years, and nearly 100% of the time they have known their company closing ratio. At the same time, when asked what is the most important focus in their company culture, almost all answer the same way – the resident. So tell me this, if the resident, the person in the apartment versus the “head-in-the-bed”, is so important to the company, why are prospects so habitually seen as numbers in a ratio?

When community representatives find themselves just ‘making calls’, ‘taking tours’, ‘reading their prospects’, what they are really doing is working in the habits of “20% will Buy and 80% will Not.”

Gone are the days when community selling meant being ready for Sunday afternoon tours and well-orchestrated luncheons. That’s easy enough to see. But who really gets the fact that every single prospect represents a brand new opportunity to attract a new resident into our community. Who has accepted the fact that every tour must be treated not as one of the No’s‘ or 2 ‘Yes’s‘, but as an individual turn to be as near-to-perfect in the delivery of our community as possible?

We live in an age where the information and resources at our fingertips make relationship selling easier than ever before, but how many community reps truly prepare for every prospect interaction – whether it be a call, email, or tour – as if it is the last chance to keep open the doors of the community?

In today’s market conditions, cultivating the habits required for this kind of sales culture are what community leaders should be seeking to learn.


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