Your Closet Isn’t Big Enough to Hold My Pain: New Insights into Successful Senior Living Sales


Mar 6, 2020 | Sales/Sales Training

As Vice President of Consulting for SageAge and author of SageAge’s popular GROW sales training, Deborah Potter does a lot of traveling to senior living communities. “I spend countless hours watching professionals in our industry sell, and countless hours learning and GROWing with them during their sales training,” she says. “I’ve noticed that I sometimes leave GROW sessions with the feeling that, although we’ve brought improvement to the senior living sales process, we have a great opportunity before us to make it even better.”

Deborah says she’s realized that helping seniors and their families cross an emotional, spiritual and social threshold in their lives – such as making a move to senior living – is meaningful and important work. With that in mind, she shares her insights below as a way to help all of those in senior living sales have a better chance of “getting it right.”

Our job isn’t sales discovery. 

Our job, instead, is to prompt the prospects’ discovery. “We’ve spent decades in our industry trying to teach people about things like contracts and lighting, all of which are important,” says Deborah. “But that education will be completely unnecessary if the real conversations don’t happen first. Sales in senior living often teaches us our job is to discover what the prospective resident or their family member is thinking, but traditional “discovery” is really designed for manipulation. That’s not our job. Our job is to help the prospective residents and their families discover what they themselves are thinking, feeling and experiencing – because in the middle of stressful or painful situations people often can’t do that for themselves – and then to make sense of those feelings – so they know what needs to happen next.”

And it’s not – gasp – about relationships! 
“It’s blasphemy, but it’s true,” says Deborah. “Senior living sales needs to stop saying our sales are about building relationships. Would you stay in touch with a prospect, even if he or she goes to a different community? Of course not – which means that, at heart, it’s not a true relationship. Senior living sales is about connection through empathy. Empathy means relating to someone’s experience. It creates connection in the moment, and we can develop our empathy via practice and experience. Plus, it makes us better humans.”

Follow the discomfort.

Sales in our industry aren’t like retail sales where you’re selling a product. Sales in senior living are always based on some kind of discomfort, whether it’s outright pain or simple inconvenience. That means that selling will not happen without the ability to both prompt and navigate hard conversations. Repeat that 10 times in succession: SALES WILL NOT HAPPEN WITHOUT DEEP CONVERSATION. And yet, very few of us actually know how to or feel comfortable doing it.

The sale is behind the discomfort – even in Independent Living. 

Maybe the prospect is coming to grips with the fact that, sometime in the next 15 or 20 years, something is going to happen that changes everything. Maybe those thoughts start to creep in from simple inconveniences – not wanting to mow the lawn or deal with plumbing – but underneath that is the realization of their own mortality. And so, when an invitation to a CCRC event comes across their desk, they may go and identify themselves as a prospect – and they may not even know why.

Your closet isn’t big enough to hold my pain. 

People come to us bewildered, stressed, concerned and sometimes outright grieving. And we talk to them about … closet space. “Think about that for a minute,” Deborah says. “If I’m trying to deal with my mother’s daily loss of function – the slow loss of a person I loved and counted on my whole life – and the frame of the sales person’s conversation is ‘closet space’ … well, all I can say is no closet is ever going to be big enough, deep enough, organized enough or in the right place enough to help me deal with that pain,” Deborah says. “As long as the conversation is about closets, or features or other surface things, your prospects will be in a completely different emotional space than you – and probably will never move their loved ones to your community.”

If you take anything away from this article, Deborah hopes it’s this: “The senior living industry MUST stop talking about closets,” she says. “We MUST stop making our goal to ask the right questions so that people tell us what they’re thinking. Instead, our goal has to be the development and careful, intentional crafting of true connection so we can lead our families through their own journeys of discovery to solutions that help them come to terms with their mortality, their deepest wishes, their relationships and yes, their lifestyle choices for some of the most poignant years of their lives.”

Successful Sales by GROWing Strong

Deborah’s passion for GROW is rooted in its ability to “flip the script” and help find new ways of connecting in a sales environment. For those who may not be familiar with GROW, here are some details about the groundbreaking program.

GROW is about helping sales counselors get beyond superficial conversation. It’s about creating a connection – with urgency – so that you become partners in a family’s decision-making – an approach that should reflect our mission of caring for that family from that moment forward.

GROW is not a system. You don’t have to go back to your sales team and say, “We are switching paradigms, AGAIN.” You can put the GROW experience inside any other “system” you use, from Bild to Sherpa to Action Selling, and tell your sales team you’re providing advanced-level training.

GROW is not a process. GROW is about redeveloping skills we’re losing – human connection, empathy, authenticity – to fit inside any transactional process you’ve already been using or want to use. It’s not about prospect readiness. It’s about partnering with the family to create readiness, no matter where they are right now.

GROW knows that empathy can’t be studied or learned. Empathy is practiced and experienced. GROW is built so that the experience itself begins the process of changing people from the inside – deepening their empathic skills for the prospective resident and their families, providing the words and questions that help people feel comfortable and open the right conversations, and then strategies for handling and navigating what comes next.

GROW is revenue-focused. Does all this empathy sound too warm and fuzzy to drive sales? It turns out that when you develop the interpersonal skills to genuinely connect with people and take time to practice it every day, your sales will increase. In fact, because no sale in senior living happens without deep conversation, it’s not just one way to increase occupancy … it’s the only way.

You can learn more about SageAge’s GROW program here. For more information about SageAge Strategies, please visit our website.

SageAge Strategies is a multiple-award-winning, strategic growth, marketing and consulting organization that operates exclusively in the unique senior living marketplace. For more information, please call or email Melinda Schmitz at 816-349-0464 / [email protected]. You can also visit us on our website at

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