Serving families is a sacred honor and duty for many funeral directors. However, many funeral directors today are being personally attacked on their values, motivations, and character. Recently, a friend of mine in the funeral business attended a seminar that was being held by a low-cost online cremation service company, and he was shocked by what he heard:

• Funeral directors are greedy. They’ll do anything to get your money.

• Funeral directors will try to sell you things you don’t need.

• They play on your guilt and try to upsell as much as they can.
Heads began to nod in agreement. My friend was appalled to say the least.

If this is not yet happening in your community, it probably will be happening soon. These low-cost online providers are starting to sweep through communities with a fly-by-night marketing blitz before moving on to the next town. If this has happened to you, you are probably feeling helpless, frustrated, and even angry and hurt that anyone would believe those kinds of things about you or your business.

As a former funeral director myself, I can relate. I know how hurtful it can be to hear these kinds of statements. After all, you have spent countless late nights and long hours giving your best to serve your community. You have sacrificed sleep, vacations, and personal time with your own family to be present for those who are hurting and in need of direction at a time of loss. And you have been happy to do so, knowing your service was valued and appreciated. You know your families deserve your highest level of service in their time of need. But you probably never expected to be personally attacked by competitors or so misunderstood by the very families you are willing to give your blood, sweat, and tears to serve.

Believe me, I understand how these low-cost providers could be getting you down, but let’s make sure they don’t bring you and your business down in the process. I have a few thoughts I’d like to share so that those of us in this honorable profession can continue to offer the highest level of service to families for many generations to come.

What You Can Do

You may be tempted to ignore the occasional marketing blitz and hope for the best. However, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. If you want to continue to run a successful business and provide families with the type of service you know they deserve, now is the time to take bold steps to counteract these competitors.

Here are three bold moves you can make this year to get the upper hand on these aggressive marketers:

1. Get a clear picture of the current situation.

In order to fully grasp the situation at hand, we need to get a clear understanding of what is really happening in our communities.

Many funeral directors assume that these low-cost providers are simply bottom feeders. That is, they are serving families that a full-service funeral home never really would have served anyway because they are too price sensitive. This might be a fair assumption…for the time being. However, these types of competitors are called disruptors for good reason. Most disruptors disrupt from the bottom of the market and then move their way up to higher price point offerings.

For example, Amazon, one of the biggest disruptors of our time, started out by selling books. Then they moved into almost every retail segment imaginable…even caskets! We’ve seen this same situation play out time and time again. If you ignore these competitors, you are setting yourself up to be disrupted in the future.

It is also important to note that many families are attracted to online funeral providers because currently, they are the only option for doing business in the way they prefer: online. In a recent article, I talked about the funeral director’s “empathy paradox,” which is the fact that funeral directors are some of the most empathetic people in the world, and yet, they are sometimes blind to the changing needs and preferences of today’s families. And families today want convenience.

We have to realize that some families are choosing these providers not so much because of price but because of how convenient it is to do business with them.

2. Develop an online strategy.

In the very recent past, I used to hear a lot of complaints about online funeral planning from funeral directors I met with. These funeral directors assumed that online planning was an attempt to replace the relationship with the funeral director and should be avoided at all costs.

In the last year, I have started to hear more and more funeral directors talk about the need for an online strategy, and this is encouraging. But just in case you are in that first camp, please, please consider this: online funeral planning is inevitable.
In today’s internet age, online funeral planning cannot be avoided, nor should it be. If we sincerely want to serve families well, we need to offer options for planning online.

But offering online purchasing options doesn’t mean that the funeral director will be replaced. The best businesses out there usually offer a continuum of service options between online and in-person sales. Best Buy is a great example of this phenomenon. A large portion of their business is initiated online and finished in-store. Some online businesses offer even better customer service (through chat, email, text, and/or phone) than comparable brick-and-mortar establishments!

The point is, an online sale doesn’t mean that it is impersonal. It can actually be very personal. In the very near future, families will expect to be able to start planning online, pick up the phone to ask a question, and finish the purchase over the phone or in person. That means that having a strategy for allowing families to plan in whichever way they prefer is going to become increasingly important.

3. Stop using labels to limit how you think about families.

In my conversations with funeral directors, I sometimes hear a distinction between different types of families they are serving. There are “cremation families” and “hospice families”; there are “price shoppers” and even now “online families.” But I would argue that these types of labels are less than helpful because they lead to a dangerous assumption.
Some funeral directors think that online families are a different type of family (i.e. price sensitive). However, families are just families. If you start a purchase online at Best Buy’s website and then go pick it up in the store, does that make you an online customer or a traditional customer? Really, you are just a customer, and Best Buy does not care how you purchase from them. They have simply made it easy for you to do business with them in whichever way you prefer.

By the way, even though Best Buy is competing against industry giants such as Walmart, Amazon, and Target, they are consistently seeing better-than-expected results every quarter because they are doing it right – they are focusing on both the online AND in-person experience, and that is making all the difference.

So, whether you meet a family in person or online, a family is just a family. They are still people who need your expertise and compassion to help them through their grief journey.

Don’t Let Those Disruptors Bring You Down

I want you to be able to run a thriving business for many years into the future, not only because I care about funeral service as a profession, but because I believe families deserve better than the (usually) sub-par service these low-cost competitors provide. Still, the fact is that competitors will take advantage of an opening in your market. If you don’t offer online planning services, someone else will. As I stated earlier, online funeral planning is inevitable. The only question is whether, at the end of the day, those families will be turning to you for excellent care or receiving a sub-par experience from a low-cost provider who could never care about the families in your community the way you do.

How to Thrive in This New Market

In order to thrive in this new market, you need to understand what consumers really want: options and convenience. If you’re a funeral home that can adapt and meet families where they are, imagine how confidently they can recommend your services to others! Quality, convenience, and adaptability: take that, disruptors. FBA

Todd Carlson serves as the Executive Vice President of Sales and Chief Sales Officer for Funeral Directors Life and sits on the Board of Directors for Passare, Inc. Todd earned his bachelor’s degree in Mortuary Science from the University of Minnesota, and has gone on to accumulate almost 30 years of experience as both a funeral director and a preneed funeral sales professional. Todd joined Funeral Directors Life in 2006 and helped reimagine the company’s sales management structure, contributing to sales growth of over 300% since he joined the company. Todd is dedicated to helping funeral home owners grow their businesses, implement innovative solutions, and become increasingly more relevant as they serve today’s changing funeral consumer. He has previously presented strategies for connecting with today’s consumers at the ICCFA, MN FDA, ND FDA, PFDA, and MO FDA conventions.