Below is an interview I had recently with the Sales & Marketing Director of publically listed retirement village operator Aevum Ltd in which we discussed how to use technology in the retirement village sector.
Cameron: Much is made of the need to use technology in a modern company to improve sales & marketing. In your experience what effect has technology actually had?
Karen: Having grown from an owner/operator of 4 villages to 21 villages in just over 2 years, part of our growth strategy had to encompass significant improvements to our internal technology. To summarise, the investment in technology has resulted in huge improvements in the integration and streamlining our sales systems and processes, the creation of efficient and relevant reporting, the creation of great direct marketing opportunities and significant improvements in the communications process, both internally and externally with all stakeholders.
Cameron: Technology such as the internet and email marketing are usually associated with today’s youth, and not people of retirement age. Are these technologies relevant to your business and if so, how are you using them effectively?
Karen: It has been clearly researched and reported that Ageing Australians are driving Internet Growth. In mid 2008 we revolutionized our website to ensure that we were in a position to capture the growing number of ‘web generated’ enquiries. We also realized that our target market have a lot of time available to research their retirement options on-line, hence a key objective was to ensure that our web was rich with relevant information. Marketers who assume that a large percentage of our primary target audience is not ‘web savvy’ are missing out on huge opportunities. We also know from experience that the influencer (family or friends of our primary market) play a large role in the decision making process and are definitely predisposed to doing their research on-line in the first instance.
Cameron: I know you recently implemented a new CRM system. How important is building this client and prospect database to Aevum?
Karen: This is marketing 101 for Aevum! Today’s prospects are tomorrow’s purchasers in this industry. Our broad marketing strategy is underpinned by a very strong direct marketing focus that is targeted at maintaining a consistent dialogue with all the prospects on our database. Building upon our database strategy, we also take this one step further by focusing on building quality ‘Priority Waiting Lists’ for our villages where a prospect registers their interest in a specific style of unit for a refundable fee of $200. This strategy significantly reduces our reliance upon expensive above-the-line marketing when dwellings become available for sale.
Cameron: One of the difficulties in implementing a CRM system is ensuring that your staff use it. Given that the average age of salespeople in the industry is high, has computer skills been an issue in getting your staff to use CRM?
Karen: No matter what the age, we are all generally reluctant to adopt change in the first instance unless we can see the ‘perceived benefit’. The vast majority of our sales staff is up-to-speed with a basic windows environment and have reacted positively to the introduction of a new CRM system. The key to success I believe lies not only in the initial training, but re-investing in regular on-going training to maximize the functionality of the system for all users.
Cameron: Late last year you also launched the new Aevum website. What has been the effect of this on your sales and marketing?
Karen: This has made a huge improvement to our lead generation and subsequent sales conversion rates, not to mention the marketing cost efficiency. As I noted earlier, an integral part of our re-design strategy was to ensure that our site was rich with relevant information. The integration of a dedicated ‘For Sale’ section that allows the user to search for specific retirement accommodation options by location, village name or price has generated extremely positive feedback and more importantly, great results!
Cameron: How common is it to find personal PC’s in your resident’s units now? Do you see this becoming a more common trend?
Karen: This is a huge emerging trend. We proactively survey our residents on a regular basis to obtain feedback in relation to their social interests, internet usage, resident satisfaction levels, suggestions for improvements, etc. Not surprisingly, internet usage continues to increase year-on-year. In support of this growing trend, we have also introduced computers and internet access into some of our village community facilities for the use and benefit of all residents.
Cameron: It is now pretty common place in many business sectors to communicate with clients via email and even customer service websites?
Karen: I think it is far to say that the Aged Care Sector has been slow to adopt using technology in this way. Do you see technologies such as these playing a role in the future? I think the industry as a whole is becoming a lot savvier when it comes to the options available in relation to communication technology and its subsequent benefits. The evolution of websites in this sector over the past 12-18 months and the increasing integration of customized systems is evidence that the industry is adopting new technology and I am sure you will see a lot more of this in the near future as operators look to improve their levels of communication and customer service.