November 19, 2001  
Golden Year Gold Mine
by Adriana Puckett

Grandpap and Meemaw lived on an old farm in rural Virginia, with no indoor plumbing and all heat and cooking done by woodstoves and fireplaces. As a child, Gary Onks, President/CEO of Fredericksburg, Virginia-based Sold on Seniors and author of Sold on Seniors: How You Can Reach & Sell the $20 Trillion Senior Marketplace,. cherished the sun-dappled afternoons on their farm, learning not only such handy endeavors as fixing things and swimming in the beaver pond, but also such enduring life lessons as the value of honesty and kindness.

No matter what you call them - Matures, Goldens, Oldsters, or Snowbirds - the financial situation of seniors as a group has come a long way from Grandpap and Meemaw's farm. The senior market, defined as anyone over the age of 50, is 81 million strong in the United States (450 million worldwide) and growing, and it controls over $20 trillion in assets. Not only is this the largest demographic group of all time, but there are very few people selling to it. Onks sums up the state of the senior market as: "An unending customer base, with gobs of money to spend and a starving hunger for your products and services…."

What hasn't changed since Grandpap and Meemaw, however, are the basic life lessons in respect, honor and kindness that Onks still finds vital in successful selling to seniors. With these as his base, he offers several guidelines that have worked for him in the last decade of marketing directly to seniors. 

1. Never call or treat a senior as old.
Onks says, "[Seniors] Strongly Dislike being 'grouped' under someone's version of an aging label. Their desire is to be viewed as, and treated as, worthwhile, important individuals, of great value to you and your company."

2. Sincerely yours.
Don't be a Slick Willy or Snake Oil Salesman, terms these buyers may be familiar with from earlier days. Seniors have been adult consumers for quite some time, and as Onks points out, "not only have [they] seen it all before, they've seen hype that we don't even know about."

There is an added benefit to cultivating a senior's trust: referrals to their family, friends, and other members of their personal circle. Onks says, "Sell a senior and you sell their social network, which is quite large. Believe me, communications go on constantly."

3. Play it Again, Sam.
Seniors have fond memories of their youth from the 1930s to the 1950s. Onks recommends that you spend some time talking with seniors to get a sense of the emotional bonds to the past, and then use that "Memory Marketing" to reach them.

In his own work of selling houses in a retirement community, Onks learned about such major events in the area as the factory closing, high school athletic rivalries, major crimes and political events. He says, "I could touch on these events, and share these memories with seniors while marketing to them. This produced dramatically profitable results."

 

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