A strong preneed program has always been an essential part of a robust strategy for funeral homes, one that secures future business and increases their families’ satisfaction. As we enter a new year, a new decade, this important part of the deathcare industry certainly isn’t going to change, in fact it will become more pertinent than ever.
“A recent Homesteaders survey of funeral home owners revealed that 70% say the at-need experience is much better when a prearrangement exists. 95% of funeral directors participating in the survey report that consumers are receptive to prearranging,” explains Danielle Burmeister, Director of Marketing Communications with Homesteaders Life Company. “Advance funeral planning is also important to – and valued by – consumers. Homesteaders’ latest policy owner survey showed that 100% of preneed policy owners were satisfied with their decision to prearrange. In fact, they’re so satisfied that 96% reported that they plan to or would consider recommending preneed to someone else, with more than 40% already having recommended within a couple of months of prearranging,” states Danielle.
It’s clear that preneed is something families really want and need and that client families are well served and satisfied by firms with preneed programs. Consumers have so many choices in celebration and memorialization with an emphasis on commemorating individual lives through highly personal services. They have control, which is a complete 180 from decades ago. For consumers who wish to plan in advance, there are many secure options to fund their funerals that include plans to help offset inflation. From a consumer standpoint, a funded, prearranged funeral is truly a solid investment and something a person will have use for in the future.
Funeral homes with the strongest brands are more likely to enjoy long-term success, and high brand strength almost always is the result of consistently high levels of satisfaction and high numbers of people who actively recommend or refer friends and family. Preneed is important because it helps successful funeral homes increase their market share, outclass their competition, and secure future business.
“Preneed eases the at-need experience for families because planning ahead allows them to make more meaningful decisions for their loved ones. A high-quality preneed experience gives families a memorable connection to a funeral home’s brand. Even if a family doesn’t prefund, the experience can create a lasting positive impact,” describes Tyler Anderson, VP Business Development with Precoa.
Preneed has changed with the times in terms of the transitions that are currently disrupting the funeral business. It is well documented that fewer and fewer people are looking for what used to be the standard funeral. In the past, people knew very little about the process once someone passed; they relied 100% on the funeral director to walk them through it and the process was somewhat controlled by the funeral director. Now, people are doing their research online and finding out about prices and options before walking through the door of a funeral home.
“What is old is new again. Family service and aftercare are once again the focus of many preneed companies. Grief and bereavement services are being requested by many funeral homes as an addition to the normal portfolio of preneed offerings,” says Mike Varanakis, Marketing Director with Security National Life.
Due to the abundance of readily available resources and information, today’s families are much more knowledgeable. This is where the biggest change in the industry exists from how it was handled in the past. The industry is abuzz about changes in products and services, but the real difference is that the consumer has been trained by the internet to be price conscious and every purchase people make is an analytical one to some degree. This paired with the research on funerals makes the consumer feel they are an expert before engaging a funeral director. In many cases they believe they know what they want and what they are willing to pay for it.
“The problem with this new consumer approach is that they are not buying something simple like a toaster,” begins Todd Mannix, Vice President with Cooperative Funeral Fund, Inc. “Today’s online consumer lacks experiential input. A funeral is not a packaging of products and services. Rather, it is the reason why those products and services are being purchased and what the family is attempting to do when they buy them. They are saying goodbye to someone they cared about. There is a lot of emotion involved and when the consumer thinks they understand what they are doing in terms of products and services, they are making the funeral transactional as opposed to emotional. This is especially true in a preneed sale because the loss has not occurred yet. A funeral director may be better able to overcome the know-it-all, I’m not going to pay a lot for this funeral, transactional mindset and help a family create a loving service during a time of loss when people are feeling the pain and wanting to memorialize. It takes a little more savvy in a preneed setting, depending on the client, when the emotional experience of loss is not upon them. In these circumstances, if the conversation is handled the way the consumer thinks it should go based upon their transactional research, the funeral could be devoid of it’s true purpose; Honoring the loved one that has passed and providing the grieving family and friends a chance to gather and celebrate the life as opposed to just observing the death,” Todd states further.
How we reach out to potential preneed customers is changing as well. While a funeral home should not entirely stop their traditional approach for generating conversations that lead to a preneed contract, awareness campaigns using a variety of methods including social media, seminars, lunch and learns, elder care information and how to navigate social security benefit elections for retirement are good methods to reach new customers.
“Social media is becoming more prevalent in getting your message out to your local community and to the extended family. Using social media can assist funeral homes by answering questions about how the process will benefit the family and create buy-in for all family members. Awareness campaigns help soften and eliminate issues that may arise for a large extended family who does not fully understand the value of preplanning. Recent developments in technology have allowed us to speed delivery for issuance of coverage for preneed agreements and speed up claims process to hours versus weeks previously,” says Tom Holland, Vice President National Accounts with Atlantic Coast Life.
Get advice from leading company professionals on how to increase your preneed business in this feature editorial.
“Cooperative Funeral Fund, Inc. (CFF) has been a leader in preneed fund management and account servicing since 1989. Over 1,000 clients already rely on CFF for their preneed fund management. With over 600 million dollars under management the CFF program was created specifically and exclusively for the death care industry in order to facilitate the creation, investment, related tax compliance and payout processing of preneed funds and the management of care funds for cemeteries. CFF’s custom built subaccounting system was created with you in mind. Through this system, fund balances are available to you online (and via smart phone applications) 24 hours a day down to the individual trust level, so you always know how much is available when a call comes in. Our focus on the customer, attentive customer service, and meticulous attention to detail, has allowed CFF to enjoy an excellent client retention throughout the years.,” begins Todd Mannix, Vice President with Cooperative Funeral Fund, Inc.
Cooperative Funeral Fund, Inc, is in the business of providing preneed trust fund management. They are solely focused on serving the funeral services industry. They have a deep knowledge of the business honed through over 30 years servicing the death care industry and by focusing on putting the customer first. This philosophy has helped CFF to become a leader in the industry.
“While technology and the shift to cremation are certainly disrupters to the traditional funeral services industry, there are also many benefits in terms of not only reaching the consumer in their comfort zone, but also to create new and customized funeral experiences. There is a great opportunity to set expectations and help the consumer to understand why a funeral service is so essential in healing after a loss by using the internet and social media. In addition, the more educated consumer of today is also used to a high level of customization as they can generally get what they want, when they want it, and many products have customized options. They are used to this type of service and will expect the funeral process to be the same. Consumers may become frustrated, disinterested, or disengaged with a process that does not fit their normal purchasing experience. Funeral directors should use their online presence and marketing to show how funerals can commemorate in thousands of different and unique ways. In looking at the opportunities created by the disruption, funeral directors will be a part of crafting and directing the change to the industry instead of being pushed by it and reacting after the fact,” Todd explains further.
“What matters more, appearance or results? Marketing should never be solely about making something look or sound good; instead, it should serve a clear purpose and generate results. The first step to making your marketing more effective is to measure set, hold, and close rates. That is, measure how many appointments get set as a result of your marketing, how many appointments are held, and how many appointments are prefunded. Tracking each of these requires carefully monitoring your entire sales pipeline, from lead to close, and by doing this you can pinpoint where your marketing is most effective. This gives you better insight into how to be more precise when testing and improving your efforts, and it helps you refine your marketing’s appeal to those families who are most likely to preplan,” describes Tyler Anderson, VP Business Development with Precoa.
The traditional preneed model puts all the work on the funeral home. They are expected to generate leads, set appointments, and manage a sales team, all while trying to run their business. But at Precoa, they fully manage the funeral home’s entire preneed pipeline. Their turnkey solution includes everything from generating leads to closing sales.
“Our system is proven to increase market share and double sales volume, and our high-quality, data-driven marketing is supported by the Funeral Planning Center, where we follow up with every lead, making sure no one falls through the cracks. We also recruit and train advance funeral planners, delivering ongoing onsite management to fully develop their talent for inspiring families. With Precoa’s complete preneed program, funeral homes can spend their time focusing on helping at-need families heal,” Tyler goes on to say.
Precoa begins by creating a custom marketing plan, and they support this plan by using data-driven strategies to generate highly qualified leads. Precoa meticulously manages and tracks leads, and the Funeral Planning Center follows up with every single one, setting appointments and ensuring that no lead falls through the cracks. They also recruit and train advance funeral planners who meet with families and provide ongoing onsite management. Additionally, advance funeral planners receive resources like the Precoa Webportal, where they can manage their schedules and track leads, and Precoa Mobile, an app that lets them manage leads and appointments wherever they happen to be.
“Once our program is in place, Precoa’s funeral home partners receive reports that help them monitor their progress so they can make sure we are doing everything promised in our marketing plan. Marketing, sales, appointment setting, and support – Precoa provides it all. Our partners tell us they like how we take the work off their shoulders and put it onto ours. They appreciate the turnkey nature of Precoa and the fact that they no longer have to worry about the minutiae of scheduling and organizing mail drops or planning community education program,” concludes Tyler.
“When people learn about advance funeral planning, most believe it is a smart thing to do. Yet, many report they have not been contacted by a funeral home about preneed. We know that people who prearrange and prefund their funerals are satisfied with their decisions, and the vast majority of them are so satisfied that they recommend it to a friend or family member within a short time of doing it. This data is important for funeral professionals to know because it should provide permission to believe that a strong preneed program is not only necessary to fill a consumer need, but essential to achieving long-term success,” says Danielle Burmeister, Director of Marketing Communications with Homesteaders Life Company. “If you don’t have a process for responding with the same sense of urgency to someone who calls or walks into the funeral home saying they wish to prearrange as you do for an at-need funeral, it is a huge liability to your firm’s brand and market share. A person who has the need to prearrange wants it NOW, no different than the person who needs you to do a removal. This thought process should result in an attitude by the funeral professional that his or her firm must be prepared to help someone plan a funeral regardless of when it will take place — whether it is three days or 10 years hence. More important, funeral home owners and operators should actively promote advance funeral planning because it most often results in an increase in funeral planning activity that generates current and future revenues,” Danielle states empathically.
Not only can selling funerals in advance help secure future market share, it captures the buying habits of today’s consumer.
“From a purely financial standpoint, funded prearrangements do not become aged receivables that are difficult to collect. This helps with cash flows that are vital to maintaining strong day-to-day operations. The existence of an active preneed program requires ongoing PR, marketing and promotions that can help a firm build and grow a strong brand,” adds Danielle.
Homesteaders offers a variety of products to meet the unique objectives of every funeral home owner. Each product is designed to successfully meet the needs of the funeral home owners and their client families by adjusting the key variables of premiums, growth, commissions and underwriting requirements to create a product design most suitable to the circumstances of the funeral home and its client families.
“Homesteaders does one thing: we facilitate the advance planning of funerals and related expenses, and we are committed to providing products that are safe, easy to use and balance the needs of funeral home customers and the families they serve,” explains Danielle.
At Security National Life, their goal is to provide their funeral home client base competitive preneed products and services. SNL’s strategy is to educate on how a service approach to marketing can increase the ability to serve more families. Security National Life has enjoyed impressive growth over the past few years.
“We offer a variety of products that are flexible enough to accommodate the needs of each funeral home. Also, a highly experienced sales management team that has extensive experience in preneed sales to families in both an in-home and funeral home setting,” states Mike Varanakis, Marketing Director with Security National Life. “We offer to first perform an extensive funeral home discovery/business review in order to craft a product/plan that will solve preneed concerns for each funeral home. Also, we offer a sales mgmt. team with extensive experience in helping families with all aspects of their preneed/prefunded arrangement. We feature a sales development department whose sole purpose is to assist our sales mgmt. and funeral home partners with recruiting/training/lead generation marketing and sales technology opportunities,” Mike elaborates.
Mike stresses that because we have seen the way tech and social media have impacted the frequency in which families are being exposed to preneed messages as well as the ease of having questions answered through 24-hour access to information to help with future decisions, that it is important to have a strong grasp on social media in relation to your preneed program.
“The increase in cremation has changed preneed sales and offerings for the better because there are now more options being offered (increase in a variety of package options that often include cremation merchandise),” emphasizes Mike.
“Look for ways to get your message out to the community. There are a variety of methods that will work for you if you are focused on this one area from the many services you offer to your families. Evaluate the growth options you have available on the preneed plans you offer to protect your assets. Find out the social demographics of your specific area and target them. Stay the course,” advises Tom Holland, Vice President National Accounts with Atlantic Coast Life.
Social media is becoming more prevalent in getting your message out to your local community and to extended families.
Atlantic Coast Life offers a range of products that help families prearrange now. Their growth rates help funeral homes protect their revenue stream when a preneed plan is processed, and these funds pay for the arrangement which might be years in the future.
“Preneed efforts are crucial to future call volumes. We know from our years of experience and data that an active preneed program will increase funeral homes call volumes and almost in all cases will keep them increasing for many years during active preneed efforts. The other big winner in these efforts are the families served who preplanned and prepaid. Preneed programs help the community see the funeral home as one who provides a valuable service and cares deeply for them. There are only benefits from an active preneed program everyone served and those who only obtain this information now who later might become a preneed family. They have a better understanding of the process and why this is so important for everyone to consider,” Tom adds.
ACL provides great products, outstanding dedicated service for processing preneed business and claims payments without delay. They also have an E-Need after care program that is no charge to the funeral home. Additionally, riders to protect the preneed client and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren at no charge to the client or funeral home. ACL customer service is dedicated to the funeral home and their needs .