Welcome to Bridge the Gap with hosts Josh Crisp and Lucas McCurdy. A podcast dedicated to inform, educate and influence the future of housing and services for seniors. Bridge the Gap aims to help shape the culture of the senior living industry by being an advocate and a positive voice of influence which drives quality outcomes for our aging population.

Collaterals, Care, and Community Leaders from SMASH Marketing and Sales Summit

Tune in for conversations from SMASH featuring Brooke Saxon-Spencer, VP of Marketing at Claiborne Senior Living, and Marketing Expert, Dana Smith.


Executive Directors are the most important people in our communities. We wouldn't have organizations without them.

Dana Smith

Guest on This Episode

Josh Crisp

Owner & CEO Solinity

Josh Crisp is a senior living executive with more than 15 years of experience in development, construction, and management of senior living communities across the southeast.

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Lucas McCurdy

Owner & Founder The Bridge Group Construction

Lucas McCurdy is the founder of The Bridge Group Construction based in Dallas, Texas. Widely known as “The Senior Living Fan”.

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Brooke Saxon-Spencer

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Dana Smith

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Cutting the excess paper collaterals has helped us to be deliberate and focused about the messaging that we're putting out there.

Quick Overview of the Podcast

Tune in for conversations from SMASH featuring Brooke Saxon-Spencer, VP of Marketing at Claiborne Senior Living, and Marketing Expert, Dana Smith, as they unpack the “why” behind cutting marketing collaterals and how to support the influential Executive Director role.

This episode was recorded at SMASH Sales and Marketing Summit 2023.

Produced by Solinity Marketing.

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Welcome to season seven of Bridge The Gap, a podcast dedicated to informing, educating, and influencing the future of housing and services for seniors. Powered by sponsors Accushield, Aline, NIC MAP Vision, ProCare HR, Hamilton CapTel, Service Master, Patriot Angels, The Bridge Group Construction and Solinity. And produced by Solinity Marketing.

Lucas 00:54

Welcome to Bridge The Gap podcast, this senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas here at the sold out SMASH conference, getting to have so many great conversations. And today we have on Brooke Saxon-Spencer of Claiborne Senior Living. Welcome to the show.

Brooke 1:09

Awesome to be here. Thanks for having me, guys.

Lucas 1:12

So good to finally see you in person and get to meet you. And we've had a great off mic conversation around technology, websites, QR codes of all things, and then aligning sales teams. And one very controversial piece around physical documents.

Brooke 1:31

Yes.The elimination of paper collateral.

Lucas 1:31

Help us walk through this.

Lucas 1:32

No, no, no!

Josh 1:34

Please don't take away my brochure. Please tell me you didn't take away my brochure.

Lucas 1:38

The lights just flickered in here when you said that.

Brooke 1:40

Did the earth move under your feet too? Yes, we're trying to take the steps to take the crutch away from our sales teams, but not just that, but empower them to actually work the sales process to the best of their ability. We know that they have the skills, so we're trying to give them the tools. So we've taken that big bulky tour brochure with 15 million inserts, every floor plan available in your community. Every pricing sheet, every activity calendar.

Lucas 2:07

They're like $82 a piece to produce.

Dana 2:10

Oh my gosh, exactly, and then you have the old version stuck in this cabinet, I mean it's just a mess, right? So we're trying to take the expense away, but then provide a tool that will really add value to the sales process and then leave the prospect right down the journey. So it's very consolidated, very deliberate about what we're trying to get them to do. And yes, it does have a magical QR code on it that leads individuals to a special sales landing page that's designed for post-tours only.

Josh 2:36

Well, it sounds like a journey. So now that we've kind of thrown out there, what you're on the journey to do, backtrack a little bit, the why and also where you are within the journey.

Brooke 2:47

Claiborne is not the biggest senior living organization out there, but we are really committed to trying to be a trendsetter in this space. And with the size that we are, we are probably not going to be there on the technology side with a lot of larger organizations being able to develop their own software platforms and whatnot. So we're looking at the different angles we can and partnering with the tech support teams that we can to really leverage us where we're at. And we were looking at all of these different things that we have that we can control and realizing there's a lot of expense that goes into this paper. There's a lot of time management in making sure that people have the right things, they're stocked, they're not making copies of copies of copies, that they're equipped to have all of these tools.

Brooke 3:33

And so we decided that expense just trying to find all this paper, manage all the paper is just not a good use of anyone's time or our money. So we wanted to go ahead and reallocate those funds into other means and again, equip our wonderful sales team to do what they're best at doing. And that's making personal connections and not handing people paper. That's really kind of where it started was where can we do something that's different that may be awfully scary to everyone else? I've had so many conversations with people that have said, "Yeah, we're super excited about this. And they're like, "Well, let us know how it goes, and thanks for taking one for the team." Like, "You go right ahead and you try it and if it works for you, maybe we'll adopt." But our sales teams to your question of kind of where we are now.

Brooke 4:19

So we cut those tour brochures, we cut our trifolds and what we developed for them was a much more consolidated, like one sheet tool that has just our key like amenities in certain areas. It allows the team to write the price for the specific unit that the prospect and their family is looking at, allows them to create the next step that's agreed upon and write that on there. And then send the prospector family with that piece, with the QR code that then sends them to the sales landing page. And at first they were terrified, you know, that they're like in the back room, like making copies of stuff, right? And like ordering like the paper file or the paper folders from Office Depot and putting our stickers on them. And we just continued to encourage them, give it a try and implement it. And so many of them have come back after about three, six months and said, "We didn't believe you. We thought that this was like a terrible idea and we love it. We love not having all of this excess. We love that it's forcing us to be very specific and deliberate with each person and really getting them where they need to go."

Josh 5:24

Well, I think it's really important. I appreciate you being so transparent with some of the fears and the anxieties. I think anytime you're leading what I would call like change, that takes effort. What about, I'm curious, are you getting any feedback at all from the consumer, whether that's the the resident themselves that's seeing this or the adult child, how are they responding to receiving information like this?

Brooke 5:46

They're surprised because as we were talking about, and you know, most of us in industry know they're not touring one community. They're touring five and so they're getting five brochure folders. And so they come into our community and they say, "Can I have your tour brochure?" That's instead of tour. They don't want a tour anymore, they just want the brochure. And our team has the opportunity to then say, "We don't have a tour brochure, but we do have something better that I'd like to walk through with you." That end consumer is a little surprised by that, right? This isn't normal. It takes 'em a little aback. But the overall feedback, again, has been positive in that they took time to really get to know me and what my needs are and didn't just hand me this brochure full of things that if I'm looking for memory care, why are you giving me independent living apartment floor plans? It's been really helpful to kind of cut away the excess because we try to bombard them with so much information. So it's helped us to really again, be deliberate and focused about the messaging that we're putting out there.

Josh 6:47

So from a cost, and let's just say efficiency standpoint, obviously getting away from printing things, that is a level of cost that you reduce over the long term. Obviously, you're making a cost investment on the front end to get this going. But from a labor standpoint, a labor efficiency, what kind of impact do you see this new process having as opposed to the paper system?

Brooke 7:11

Oh my goodness, it's so much better. How many of our concierge team members have said, "Wait, I don't have to assemble those anymore?" It was just so many different pieces that just aren't necessary. And ultimately from my perspective, we're losing control over the brand, which was a big problem. That's not the message that I want to send. I don't want to send somebody out with a, you know, a school folder with our sticker on it and a bunch of photocopies. So we've been able to kind of help control that. But yeah, they have one piece, so that's it. They don't have to like go look in file cabinets. The concierge doesn't have to do anything. They can focus on the residents coming and asking questions.

Josh 7:47

Has it changed the, for lack of a better term, the data entry portion? 'Because obviously any kind of paper system, you're providing information, you're getting information, you're putting it into some type of a system. Is there any play for how you kind of automate this process if you're sharing data digitally with someone that's automatically kind of getting into your CRM or your sales tool?

Brooke 8:10

Yeah, it's a really good question and we are working towards more of that. Currently what we've done is the questions that are asked and the things that we're going through in this value guide, as we call it, are replicated in the CRM so that the team, as they're going back and inputting they're looking at the same thing.

Josh 8:27

So it matches?

Brooke 8:28

It matches, it lines up so that they're not having to like fill in different que - I mean, there's obviously more stuff you can always add more to your CRM. In the future, our goal is to take it to the next level where we don't even have the value guide anymore. Where we're able to have our teams on an iPad going directly into the CRM and saying, "This is the apartment we looked at, this is the, you know, level of care. Here are the three key amenities that were important." And then when the individual leaves, we're either texting them or emailing them a personalized link that takes them to a landing page that says, "Thank you for visiting, Lucas. We're excited to welcome your mom into the Claiborne family and here's the apartment you looked at. Here's the floor plan, here's the pricing, here's how you make a reservation and here's how you can send all of this information to family and friends so that you're not having to print it out or send a link to someone." It's all built-in right there.

Josh 9:19

Switching gears a little bit for me, curious, this is Bridge The Gap's first ever SMASH, so we've had already just a -

Brooke 9:27

Smashing good time?

Josh 9:28

We have actually, and obviously, you're a thought leader, leading teams, leading marketing and sales. What are some of the key takeaways from conversations from the thought leaders that you're rubbing shoulders with?

Brooke 9:39

Right now big talks around AI, right? Which I hear bells going off with regards to what I just shared with you about the process for our sales team and what that could mean for us as far as continued messaging that goes out to these individuals where just taking all of that work off the sales team's shoulders and utilizing AI to create personalized messaging as follow-ups. That's huge. Now do I know how to do that? I mean, that's the next step, right? But the technology's coming, it's out there. We just have to harness it. For me personally, AI has been the biggest conversation. It's also the scariest one I think.

Josh 10:17

Well, that's a really good point. Because change is often scary and you know, here you as a leader, a strategy and leadership event such as Smash 23. If it's scary to you, I can only imagine it's scary for the teams that you then go back and try to communicate anything that you're going to try to change. You want to get buy-in. You have any special tips for the pros out there that are in your shoes that are like how do you take, and whether it's talking about moving away from a printed brochure or whether it's implementing AI, what kind of tactics are you using to make sure your team buys in?

Brooke 10:51

Such a good question. First, I would say ask questions and listen to them. Because they want to be heard, right? They don't want to feel like you're making decisions on their behalf. So many times it's easy for us in our position to be like, "We know what's best. We've been here done this, right? Like we know what we're doing and we're going to push this out." Instead of trying to engage them and say "We have this idea," and let them then say, you know, talk 'em into it essentially. Right? So having the open dialogue and allowing the teams be part of the process and to have a voice I think is really important. And then I would also say slow and steady. Like don't try to do it overnight. Again, with, even with this, you know, this process that we're using, I would've loved to have cut collateral entirely, but quickly learned that even our end user wanted to walk away with something. It didn't need to be a tour brochure, but they needed something tangible in their hand. So what could we provide them that would give them that value and would also empower our sales teams to be as effective as they can be.

Josh 11:53

Yeah. It's a process, Lucas.

Lucas 11:56

It is, it is. And that's a great way to end our conversation today, even though there's so much more to be said. And we'd love to continue the conversation on our social media channels. Everybody knows that we're very active on LinkedIn and many others. And so we'd love to hear your comments on this topic because we know you're going through the same things right now. We hope this was helpful for you today. Brooke, thanks for spending time with us today.

Brooke 12:16

Thank you guys, it was awesome.

Lucas 12:18

We've got a great guest on today, Dana Smith. You're a marketing expert in the senior living space. Welcome to the program!

Dana 12:25

Well, thank you for having me. I am, I'll take that compliment. Been in senior living for 20 years just about started when I was five, so I know that's a common joke. I shouldn't, I shouldn't use that one.

Josh 12:36

It was a great one.

Dana 12:37

But yes, I one of my passions I think most people in senior living don't choose it, it chooses them. And the sales and marketing side is just where my heart is. It's what I love.

Lucas 12:46

Well, it's a great field to be in and we talk about many aspects around senior living, marketing and sales and bridging the gap between those two things. One of the interesting topics that we were kind of talking off mic about is bridging the gap between sales and marketing and the community level leadership and the difference that the success on both occupancy and staff retention. You can see that when you have an executive director that's very sales-minded. What's been your experience in dealing with these different roles?

Dana 13:14

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I think from an organizational perspective, but also an individual community perspective, being sales and marketing-oriented is absolutely critical. And that goes from the executive director through all of the department heads, through all of the team members being oriented towards your prospective customer and just having that mindset towards full and occupancy and just really orienting yourself towards everything that the sales team needs, I think is really critical. And the Executive Directors that are the best at doing that tend to have the most full buildings.

Josh 13:45

So let's talk a little bit because I love this topic and I got excited when we were talking off-mic about it. So we can make this really relevant not only to those Executive Directors who are listening but also to the upper management, whether that be regionals or corporate folks to help to create an opportunity for success. Because let's say you find and you recruit that champion that has the leadership that's needed for that caliber of position, it has that marketing and sales mindset. What do you see as potential pitfalls that we have to avoid as leaders to make sure that not only we as individuals are set up for success if we're in that role, but also those above us help to set us up for success?

Dana 14:26

I think it's in the day-to-day. I really do. Executive Directors have so much responsibility and we were talking about it before, just that it's the hardest role. I think it's the hardest role in this industry. They have so much responsibility at the community with all of their team members, all of their residents, resident families, and then a lot of 'em have families at home too. And that's a big responsibility. So I think making it your top and number one priority to support your sales and marketing efforts to support your sales teams, but also investing in yourself as an Executive Director, making sure that you continue to learn and grow so that you can fully support your sales and marketing teams. The value that an Executive Director can add to that sales process, I think is just critical, but they have to prioritize it.

Josh 15:09

That's important. We should all be doing that, you know, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, all those different ways. But for years and years, I think the role's always been critical. But I think the number of individuals that have the qualifications and the desire to do the Executive Director role, it seems like more than ever in our industry's time, at least over my last 20 years, that position has so much leverage.

Dana 15:36


Josh 15:37

So if you're out there as an Executive Director or you're wanting to be an Executive Director, you are in higher demand than ever.

Dana 15:43

Right, I agree.

Josh 15:44

And you have more leverage probably than what you think. So often because people that are drawn to this type of position, they're such givers anyways. They oftentimes get so focused and then they get in the role and they've been given it everything they have. And if you're not careful a couple years later you're burnt out.

Dana 16:04

Absolutely. I think we've all seen it, no matter who you are, what role you're in, salespeople, they get burnt out, taking time for themselves and investing in themselves, whether it's industry-specific or like you said, investing in your health or investing in spiritually. I think all of those things are really important. And to the point about leverage, Executive Directors are in really high demand. So if you don't have the ability in a current role to take care of yourself and invest in yourself, there is another role out there that will give you that opportunity.

Josh 16:31


Dana 16:31

Not that we want Executive Directors jump in ship left and right, but it's a role that's in very high demand, especially for those who are sales and marketing oriented. I just think it's maybe more of just an opportunity to take a step back and say, "Is this role the right and best for me? And how can it be better? And how can I do, how can I do my job better?"

Josh 16:48

You're in a very unique position to speak to this because of not only the experience you've had, the positions you had, where you've been, and where you're going. But at the highest level of our industry, you have been in a position to make sure that these Executive Directors have the support tools that they need. What do you think are some of the things that you've seen been the most impactful for the Executive Directors to be successful in this area?

Dana 17:15

Gosh, on a personal level, for me it's that relationship. Having a relationship with those Executive Directors and making sure that they know that I am there for them, whatever they need.

Josh 17:26

Talk to the person who might be a Regional Director or a Chief Marketing Officer and a Regional Operation to hire. And you've got so many people that you're answering to. How do you compartmentalize it enough, I guess would be the term, to make sure that these 10, 15, 20, however many people it is that you are telling that to if you have a lot of people that answer to you so that they feel that they can do that. And it's not just lip service.

Dana 17:56

Yes, knowing and being committed, especially to those Executive Directors to be a resource for them to be responsive. They really are the most important people at our communities and at our organizations. We wouldn't have organizations without them.

Josh 18:09

Well, and Lucas, I've heard you say this and I think it's really interesting because you're a partner to the industry and you're actually in communities probably as much as any regional or corporate person, maybe more because you're in communities across the country every day renovating and helping support those teams. And I've heard you say that is the most difficult job. And so you've even realized that. And so what's your perspective on this?

Lucas 18:33

My perspective is there's not enough money you could pay me to be Executive Director. It would have to have a "B" in front of it, like billion. No, I'm fascinated by this role that it really is the linchpin on a successful community, which also is the linchpin on a successful organization. Not just from an NOI perspective, but just, I mean, across the board they, they impact everything. And so I'm always asking and picking people's brains about how do we build better Executive Directors, what is the makeup of a really good Executive Director? And certainly I think the number one most obvious answer is that it's a calling, number one, your primary driver's not money. Which is a little bit of a contrast between if you have somebody who's really not money-focused, which is a great quality, but also needs to be money focused at their community and also focused on so many different levels. So a very fascinating role, I think. So transitioning the conversation, you have worked at on the not-for-profit side of the industry for providers. Have you worked on the for-profit side as well?

Dana 19:37

I have.

Lucas 19:38

So what are the differences from a marketing and sales perspective as far as budgets, approach? I mean there's got to be some differences there.

Dana 19:46

There's a certain perspective on the for-profit side that doesn't exist on the non-profit side. And we all say it, we've all heard it. "No money, no mission," but just the outlook on what you spend your dollars on on the for-profit side. Once you get to the NOM number or your profit number, who are you paying back? What are you investing in the community and how much versus on the nonprofit side, a lot of that goes right back into the communities. So to be quite honest, there are a lot of things that the for-profit world does exceptionally well that the nonprofit world could learn from. It's very different than what I've experienced on the nonprofit side and not just at my most recent role, but organizations that I had the pleasure of serving prior. Not doing things just because the organization's nonprofit, but doing them because they're wise and making decisions because they're wise and they're in the right and best interest of the communities or the organizations. So I think that there's a lot that the nonprofit side does really well that the for-profit side could also learn from. I think benevolence is a big thing, the kindness of your heart. So I think there's a lot that both sides of the industry could, could share and learn from that each does exceptionally well.

Josh 20:54

I would say a hearty amen to that and we were talking with a guest not long ago and they used the word "blending." Early in my career, it seems like even the events or the associations that you supported were kind of all centered around your tax status, your for-profit, not for-profit status. And I remember just thinking as a many times for-profit provider, I would be sitting in these non-profit board meetings and provider meetings and we're saying very similar things, but almost casting stones at the other. And I'm like, actually we're kind of both here to do the same thing. And we can learn a lot from each other, hopefully that the walls of those silos are breaking down because I can wholeheartedly agree with you that we can learn so much from the experiences of each other.

Dana 21:37

Yep. Agree.

Lucas 21:38

Okay, before we let you go, I have one more question and I'm bouncing around a lot, but it's very rare that we get somebody at your level to come and sit down with us. And so I want to pick your brain one last time. Alright, so at this conference I'm hearing a lot of new ideas and we've had the opportunity to talk to some very high level marketers that spend the majority of their time not in the senior living industry. And I've been presented with a bunch of great ideas. What is your perspective on outside marketers coming into senior living and coming in with really shiny, very fancy new ideas that are very challenging practically to produce inside a senior living community from a corporate level scale as far as a organic marketing omnipresence approach? So a lot of words there.

Dana 22:26

Gosh, that's such a good question. Each of us have been in the industry for quite a while. Having been in the industry for a long time, I think we automatically default to, "Oh, well we can't do that. This is senior living. You can't do that in senior living. We've never done that before, so we certainly can't start now." And I just think a part of what we're facing as an industry is a prospective resident has completely changed then the prospective resident of 20 years ago. I hate to bring up Covid, but Covid changed, COVID changed everything. The prospective resident journey, that buyer journey opened our eyes to the fact that senior living is not the only option for those who are aging. Covid made everything very easy to get at home, made it very easy to stay at home. There was a lot of innovation that came out of Covid that also serves the same market that senior living serves. But as an organization, we need to challenge ourselves to think a little bit differently, to challenge ourselves, to try new things, and try different things. And we really need to challenge ourselves to evolve, especially when it comes to the sales and marketing front.

Lucas 23:23

Well, a lot of great comments there and I know that our listeners are like, "Hey, I want to weigh in on this topic too because you've just highlighted a couple of things I really have some thoughts on." And so LinkedIn is a great place for us to continue this conversation. You can also go to btgvoice.com, connect with this content and so much more. Please reach out to us. We'll make sure that we connect Dana's information in the show notes, notes. So if you have any questions for her, you can reach out. And thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge The Gap.


Thanks for listening to Bridge The Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas. Connect with the BTG network team and use your voice to influence the industry by connecting with us at btgvoice.com.

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