Demographic shifts have made managing the expectations of prospects and customers through the sales and onboarding process more challenging than ever. With each generation, the expectations are higher. The challenges aren’t insurmountable, but navigating them successfully takes time and sales skills. 

Different generations, different expectations

The generational trends are noticeable across a wide range of markets, from senior services and residential real estate to retail. The Silent Generation—who are now ages 75 and better—believed in a job well done, and retirement was their reward. Their collective experience included the Great Depression and two World Wars. As a result, they saved their money. They are hardworking, loyal and patriotic—and they believed in following the “chain of command.” They did what their doctors told them to do and took a sales offering at face value. That’s all changing with subsequent generations.

The Post-World War II Baby Boomers are different. Also called the “Me Generation,” they are more optimistic and idealistic than their parents. They are more competitive and they expect more. Retirement is an opportunity to retool their life’s purpose. Gen Xers—now in their mid-40s to late 50s—are even more independent and resourceful, and more skeptical as well. They expect to collaborate with their healthcare providers. They’re used to having options and making choices. When it comes to purchases, they want what they want and don’t hesitate to ask for it. They watch HGTV and assume everyone gets granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. They also watch the Food Channel and expect unique culinary experiences. These cultural norms raise expectations throughout the process.

Younger generations are even less likely to accept the old sales status quo. Tech-savvy Millennials and Gen Zers, digital natives who never knew a world without the Internet, do extensive research online before they ever talk to a salesperson, and they have a whole different set of expectations. Today, being successful in the sales process, creating win-wins—requires an understanding of what each of these groups is looking for and a willingness to build the trust that is the necessary foundation of any sales relationship.

Building a bond of trust

Building trust takes time, transparency and a true willingness to do a LOT of listening. The prospect wants a step-in tub that’s not included in your pricing? Your answer can’t be an immediate “No” or you’ll lose the prospect. Unlike the Silent Generation, younger buyers will push back. Instead, “Sure, I’ll price that out for you” begins to manage the expectation. That way, they think “no” is their idea, even though you were directing the process the whole time. If they are willing to pay the price, then the answer is “yes.” With today’s consumers, this negotiation process may require looking into every detail—appliances, finishes and more.

Trust is necessary to lead the prospect through this back-and-forth process. If they don’t trust you, they won’t follow you. It takes intuition as well as skills that can be learned and practiced. It requires an ability to read people well, listening closely and understanding where to take the conversation, so you are providing the information they want. Some people want a lot of details and some don’t want any. Confidence matters—yours and theirs. Frequent hesitation in your responses can cause prospects concern. They may not trust that you’re being transparent or don’t know what you are talking about.

Throughout the process, it’s also important to demonstrate that you heard and understood what they said—and vice versa. This means taking the time to repeat back what you heard. When you reach an agreement, be sure to summarize it to make sure all parties have the same understanding of the agreement.

Is your organization ready?

Managing expectations well has several implications. To accommodate the additional time, it might make sense for some organizations to hand off some of the process to move-in and design coordinators in order to free up the sales team. Organizations should also identify and evaluate any barriers that stand in the way of closing deals. For example, if white cabinets have always been an upgrade, but the demand for white cabinets is increasing, why not find a way to make them a standard option? Offer options, but not so many that the prospect is overwhelmed. It’s important to know what’s trending, because your prospects certainly do.

For continuing care retirement communities, it’s also important to understand that these trends affect all market strata, and the need to manage expectations is no longer limited to independent living. We have seen individuals transitioning to assisted living/personal care who still want to be involved in the design process. A generation ago, prospects looking at independent living options wanted to know that a continuum of care was available, but they didn’t want to see the personal care or healthcare spaces. Today’s prospects do.

The reality is, sometimes things go wrong. But if we have managed expectations, we’ll have a customer for life no matter what. To learn more about how to your organization can work well across the generations and manage expectations, contact Ric Myers, BridgeBuilder.