Pre-need: The lifeblood of every funeral home

What's Your Excuse?

Regardless of the size of your firm, if you do not have a dedicated pre-need program, you are doing your funeral home a disservice and only kidding yourself. Throughout the year, we hear a multitude of reasons/excuses as to why a particular firm does not need a dedicated pre-need person, writing agent or even a set plan. The smaller funeral homes are quick to report that the families they serve do not like to prepay or that they do not have time for pre-need
because they are simply too busy. They then will round out the conversation with the fact that they do not believe in time pay. If you relate to any of these excuses, I urge you to change your mindset a little or I believe that your entire business will flounder.

Larger firms lacking a solid pre-need program will cite various reasons that are typically apparent within the first 5-10 minutes of conversation. “We have multiple funeral directors on staff who handle pre-need” or “Our secretary schedules and coordinates pre-need appointments,” they share with us. Sometimes it is a financial concern of not wanting to give up any commission dollars to an outside firm. Could be a belief that families only want to meet with a funeral director, not a sales agent. You name the excuse, we have heard it. I think even the larger firms with the best of intentions fall short with a solid plan mainly because they are wearing so many hats and pulled in too many directions without even realizing their pre-need program is falling way short of what it could and should be doing.

Most funeral home owners go to mortuary school and have little or no business background beyond what they received working on their funeral director’s license. At their core, most funeral directors and owners are caregivers but are still expected to handle and be well versed in business and operations management. They are called on to serve as their funeral home’s bookkeeper and auditor, human resource officer, marketing specialist, legal, IT, sales and customer service representative, run a funeral, do a little embalming on the side and the list goes on. When considering all that an owner does in their daily duties it is not hard to see how pre-need does not get the attention it deserves. The truth is pre-need is a job in and of itself that cannot be done or overseen by one person if it is going to be done right, and typically requires a team effort to reach its fullest potential.

Make it happen

Revamping an entire wing of your business – or starting a new wing for the first time – can seem daunting, but many practices can be tailored to your firm’s size, culture, market area, market share and the resources you have available.

Larger firms can typically draw on additional resources, like larger cash flow, more trained staff, stronger name/brand recognition and even multiple locations. These are funeral homes that are obviously doing a lot of things right already or they would not be serving the number of families they are. For these reasons I believe that with the right support and guidance a great pre-need plan can be implemented with little disruption to daily activities or additional responsibilities and workload being added to the staff or owner.

"Most funeral home owners have little or no business background beyond what they received working on their funeral director's license."

Larger firms: Utilize your resources

The first step in implementing any good pre-need plan is to partner with a company that can provide what you need to achieve your goals. The days of partnering with a pre-need provider who has a friendly, good-looking sales rep knocking on your door or just a decent commission schedule are long gone. Your pre-need partner must have the experience and capabilities to recruit, hire and train a dedicated pre-need sales agent or agents. Dedicated trainers on staff with your partner are an absolute must! You should also look for marketing expertise and access to turnkey direct mail pieces, social media campaigns, ability to perform market research analysis for your specific situation, plus support and resources for public speaking engagements are some of what can be provided. A pre-need partner also offers multiple insurance carriers to be able to offer up the best in commission dollars, growth rates and accommodate whatever goals are set for your company. Without having access to multiple insurance carriers, money is always left on the table. As with any vendor, you need a partner you can trust and feel comfortable with because they are going to know your business inside and out if they do a good job.

After vetting and selecting your pre-need partner to pilot your program, it’s time to recruit, hire and train the pre-need employee(s) to run your pre-need sales. This can be a grueling, time-consuming process but, by using an outside pre-need company, they do all the work, leaving you to run your funeral home. Once fully trained and embedded within your funeral home, it is imperative that all of the staff, including funeral directors, are rowing in the same direction and working in unison to fill the same sales funnel, which requires some staff training as well.

When working with a pre-need company, these agents are their employees. As such, they will oversee all agents, coordinate all marketing and lead sources, as well as continue to train and implement better techniques for them to master their craft. It may be tempting to try to step in and manage the pre-need sales area of your business, but this is when it is important to trust the process and the company you have brought on board. If you let your pre-need partner do their job and give them the support they request, you are on your way to having a solid pre-need program.

Smaller firms: Getting outside your comfort zone

For smaller firms, implementing a great pre-need plan takes a little different approach. An open mind is a must, along with a willingness to leave your comfort zone a little. Typically, there is not enough money to go around for a dedicated sales agent, so "pre-need sales agent" is another hat to be worn within your funeral home staff. Your vetting process should be like the bigger firms with an emphasis put on the resources and knowledge of the sales representative because they will most likely coordinate and take the place of the trainer in a smaller scale model. Budgets and goals will go hand-in-hand to get a program off the ground. It is imperative to be disciplined enough to allocate a certain amount or percentage toward a dedicated marketing budget. Direct mail, social media campaigns or lunch-and-learns will all help increase pre-need volume and results may be noticeable immediately if you have not done anything consistently in the past. Your pre-need partner will be instrumental in developing the program and budget, but you have to believe in the process and execute the plan.

Invest today or lose tomorrow

It is a simple fact that without a tried-and-true program in place you are leaving money and at-need growth on the table. Pre-need increases and drives at-need business. It is the absolute fastest and easiest way to increase market share as well as create top-of-mind awareness for current and future client families, which equates to brand recognition. Pre-need may also increase annual revenue and create new opportunities to connect with members of your community. The one thing that is difficult to gauge is what is in your competitors’ pre-need drawer. Either you take the steps necessary to fill your drawer now, or run the risk of being blindsided several years down the road. Once pre-need market share is lost, it is lost forever. By taking the steps now to build a solid pre-need program, your funeral home will realize the benefits for years to come and fully understand why pre-need truly is the lifeblood of all funeral homes.

Jon BilletdeauxJon Billetdeaux is an experienced sales director with a demonstrated history in the insurance industry, currently serving as president of sales for Vantage Point Preneed. He is skilled in negotiation, business planning and operations management. You can reach him at [email protected].

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