Planning appeal success for Knaresborough retirement...
Adlington Retirement Living, which designs, builds and operates Independent Retirement Communities...
What are the main responsibilities of your role?
My role is to manage the sales teams that are responsible for selling apartments in our Adlington Retirement Living communities. This includes everything from setting up the marketing suites at new retirement communities, to recruiting and training each team.
Recruiting the right people is key because our product and our customers are so niche. It’s a very different market to mainstream residential housing sales. The decision-making process for our customers is much more emotional and takes time.
We often recruit individuals with a customer service background, cabin crew and other sectors, as it’s more important to demonstrate empathy and emotional intelligence, than hitting sales targets every month. Our sales team must consider the world from our customers’ perspectives. It’s vital that they listen, build trust and try to understand the customer’s decision process and what’s important to them.
Whilst the quality of our apartments is a key selling point, the layout and specification are much further down the list of priorities for our customers than they would be in residential house sales. Often, the most important things are companionship, combatting isolation, and future-proofing for any unforeseen care and support needs that may arise.
Training is a particular focus of mine, and once we’ve appointed the right individuals, I spend immersive time with them, so they understand the culture of selling at Adlington, as well as learning how to use our CRM tools, product design and specification attributes, and the benefits of living in one of our retirement communities.
Obviously, there’s a business element to everything that we do, to achieve our sales targets but our empathetic approach is critical to our success rates. That goes a long way. We sometimes have customers return two or three years after their initial visit because it wasn’t the right time for them back then, but we made such good impression, they remembered our ‘soft sell’ and are now ready to move.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Our customers are so interesting. They have a lifetime’s worth of experience. I really enjoy talking with people, listening to them, and learning more about their fascinating lives.
Now we are selling our 14th independent retirement community, I’ve met hundreds of people and I can hand on heart say that their lives are better because of moving, as our customer satisfaction survey results demonstrate – with 100% of homeowners happy to recommend ARL to a friend or family member.
We really get to know customers as we support them through the purchase journey. It can be months from our first meeting – right through to moving in – when they are maybe somewhat apprehensive about the thought of leaving their family home, to finally moving into an ARL community.
During this timeframe, we build a strong relationship as we support them through every step of the purchase cycle, such as putting their property on the market, liaising with their estate agent, organising solicitors and removals.
We know that in many cases they’ve gone through the upheaval of moving out of their family home of 30+ years. To then see them weeks later in our coffee lounge with a new friend, socialising, the change in them is incredible. They’re visibly brighter. Often you then meet their son or daughter, and they say they’re parents are ‘so happy now, compared to what they used to be’ and that’s the most rewarding part of my job.
How did you get into the role?
I’m from a hospitality background and worked in a hotel in Leicester before launching my family business, running our parents’ hotel in Llandudno. In 2009, during the quieter off season, I applied for a temporary contract as a customer services advisor at a new Adlington Retirement Living community in Rhos-on-Sea.
Initially I supported customers with their change of address, utilities and making cups of tea. My customer service experience from hospitality transferred easily into this role, such as standing up when somebody comes into the room, how to present refreshments appropriately, with a tasty biscuit and a welcoming smile. Such attention to detail and little things are very important to our target audience. As the old saying goes – you only get one chance to make a good first impression.
I soon realised that being part of the Adlington sales team would provide career opportunities, so I joined the sales team permanently selling the next community in Heaton Chapel in Stockport, then onto Wolstanton, in Staffordshire. As the company grew, I progressed from being a sales consultant across multiple sites and was promoted to Senior Sales Manager in 2019.
What attracted you to this role?
I really enjoyed the people aspect of the role – listening to people and their life experiences.
I also have a sense of achievement from making things better. As a company we’re always improving and evolving, whether that’s the sales process or upgrading apartment specifications. We always share customer feedback with our architects, technical design team and construction team. To see those changes being made as a result of that feedback and becoming reality gives me a personal sense of satisfaction and achievement.
What are the most significant challenges in your field of work?
There are lots of pre-conceptions or misunderstandings about Independent Retirement Communities. Many people in the UK think they are an alternative to a care home, which they’re not, so education is a big part of our role in sales.
I think one of the greatest challenges we have is helping our customers to fall in love with the concept of retirement living by listening to their reservations or concerns and helping to overcome them. We demonstrate what a retirement community can offer and how it can benefit them in their lives – they’ll be much more socially active and can future-proof for any support and any care they might need in the years to come.
How do you overcome those challenges?
To help educate people about retirement living one of the easiest ways to overcome barriers is to actually show people. Once homeowners have moved into a community, we can share the true benefits of living there by introducing prospective customers to homeowners over a coffee, having lunch in the restaurant, or seeing them chatting in lounge.
When we first launch a marketing suite there are no show apartments or communal facilities to view, so we are more mindful in asking the right questions. It all starts with connecting with somebody and building a relationship in order to earn their trust. Then it’s about asking the right questions, listening, and pausing, knowing when to ask another question to find out a bit more. We find that the customer begins to understand their own reasons for needing to move, rather than jumping in making assumptions.
Having progressed through the company, the fact that I’ve worked in the same role as my team for seven or eight years makes a big difference too, because I know the challenges they face, and I can guide them by sharing my own experiences.
There are some parallels with the approach we take with new customers to my management approach. I try to get to know and understand my team members and their individual challenges, in order to get the best out of them.
A lot of that is personal. It’s being genuinely interested in them as individuals and understanding some of the challenges they have. When you understand what’s happening in somebody’s life, you can offer support and understanding, and they tend to repay you and the company with hard work and doing a good job.
It’s also good to understand individual’s strengths and weaknesses and to create teams that can work really well together.
What gives you the most satisfaction from all of this?
The most enjoyable thing is meeting customers who become homeowners: seeing them happy and settled in their new homes and knowing that what we do improves each individual’s way of life.
I also enjoy seeing a new sales team bond and work well together, it makes a difference for us to achieve results. Satisfaction can come from collective success.
We all come to work for different reasons, but it’s much better if you enjoy your job and I’d like to think for the most part, my team all enjoy theirs.
What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned in your career so far, and how have you made use of it?
The softer interpersonal skills are really important – listening to people, understanding them and empathising with them…and having patience.
Listening is a massive skill that’s so underrated. If you can connect and build a relationship, then you can really help people and get them to a place where their lives are improved.
That applies to all aspects of life whether that’s with a customer, with colleagues or even outside of work with personal relationships. Softer skills help in any situation.