By: Joe Salcedo
Whether you’re selling funerals, cremations, cemetery property, monuments or markers, your products or services will never sell if buyers don’t know they exist. When it comes to reaching prospective customers, be wise; use every means possible to inform the community of what you offer.
“Advertising is salesmanship mass produced. No one would bother to use advertising if he could talk to all his prospects face-to-face. But he can’t.” — Morris Hite, Advertising Executive
In this article let’s discuss the use of brochures and booklets for promoting preplanning of funerals and cremations, providing grief and aftercare services to families you’ve served, and utilizing direct mail. We all know how effective a TV or radio ad can be to selling preneed but consider the potential of a simple, inexpensive single brochure or booklet to passively sell preneed and increase atneed!
First impressions speak volumes. Any material you purchase should be of high quality, in color, and printed on good quality paper stock. It should include your logo and business information professionally printed on the material or applied with your stamp or label. You want everyone who receives the piece to know from whom it was sent and how to contact you. Always keep in mind your audience judges you by the quality and professionalism of the material you present.
Over the years my customers have taught me a great deal. No matter how talented graphic designers and writers are, no one knows your business like you do. I’ve learned to not be embarrassed to admit my customers sometimes have better ideas than I do. Most of the material I sell today has been redesigned and rewritten to include this input; it is one of the given dynamics of advertising: tweaking. Personally, I take note of constructive criticism and file it under “Improvements I Can Make.”
Brochures Can Sell!
Speaking of contributions, I recently spoke with a customer who related a conversation she recently had with another business owner. When asked for ideas about displaying brochures he commented, “I only display a few at a time, if I put a lot out they get gone.” Needless to say she didn’t consider his advice. You WANT your brochures to be taken!
She also shared some great ideas about how she uses brochures and booklets. At many businesses it seems the lobby or waiting area is where printed material is displayed. While in ‘waiting mode’ frequently families will read written matter. That’s okay, but, you and your staff are terrific at quickly meeting expected families and greeting those who arrive unexpectedly, which rules out lobby-waiting and random reading.
There is nothing wrong with having brochures available in your lobby. However, consider this: your goal is to want everyone that comes into your business to leave with one or more brochures! The best way for that to happen is for you to personally hand them the brochures.
Remember, you can only sell products and services if people know you have them. Depending upon the purpose for one to visit your business – and learning his/her desires – will determine which brochures you present and how you speak of them. Here are a couple examples my customer shared with me:
She met with a woman to finalize her deceased husband’s funeral arrangements. Two children and spouses were there as well. She knew the children, who were in their early 50’s, had not preplanned their funerals. When the meeting was over she gave the wife a grief brochure dealing with the loss of a spouse. She gave the children a grief brochure dealing with the loss of a parent and one that spoke about preplanning a funeral. Her cost for the brochures: $1.25, a nominal price for potentially five preplanned funerals.
When giving family members brochures under similar situations a simple statement will suffice, “Here is some information I believe you will find interesting. Take it home, read it and feel comfortable calling me with any questions you may have.”
Another idea she shared was one she discovered her competitor doing. In visitation rooms he had a small table at the back with grief and preplanning brochures. He realized many of the people at a visitation aren’t family members or close friends of the deceased, but feel compelled to attend the visitation. Feeling awkward, they look for something to do while staying for what they consider an appropriate amount of time. Some of them gravitate to the brochures and take them home. This opportunity can result in setting a meeting to complete their prearrangements.
Planning Guide Simplicity
In the first example above you had an opportunity to ask your visitor to take a few minutes while there to preplan their funeral arrangements, or arrange an appointment for a later date. If that isn’t a comfortable option for you, consider offering them an interactive planning guide to take home and complete. Request they return so you can copy the information and create a file. By doing this, you’ve created a second opportunity to discuss preplanning their arrangements. Planning guides are readily available for free from many Insurance Companies with whom you do business or can be purchased for as little as $1 – $1.50 each. Again, a small “investment” can yield potential future financial rewards. Acorns do take root and produce big trees.
Supportive Aftercare Booklet
Frequently customers tell me they want to start an aftercare program but don’t have the funds or staff to provide in-house or outside professional counseling services. My suggestion is to start with a simple, yet beneficial program. It can involve your personal delivery of death certificates, while leaving behind aftercare booklets, grief and preplanning brochures to surviving family members. If someone has not already preplanned their funerals, you’ve just performed another pre-emptive service: Building relationships.
If families or a family member arrives at your funeral home to pick up death certificates, have a staff member ready to greet them and spend a short time explaining the value of preplanning arrangements. Give them the certificate(s), booklets and brochures. Depending upon your comfort level, request a follow-up meeting to preplan their funeral arrangements or offer to contact them in the future. Two of the most important benefits to you for providing an aftercare program – regardless of how sophisticated – is the appreciation your families have for your sincerity and thoughtfulness. You have reassured the family they have not been forgotten! At every opportunity, show families you care about them by acknowledging them in some manner. People don’t know you by your words alone; your conduct towards them drives the message home.
Tapping into Direct Mail
Times have changed. Assuming a family that has used your firm in the past will do so in the future is a dangerous illusion. Many folks will become the “family” to whichever funeral home targets them at the right time, often through use of direct mail. Frequently customers call me to create a mail program after discovering that a competitor just buried someone the customer knew was their “family.”
Direct mail is a proven method for retaining families and acquiring new ones. First and most importantly, you need to be financially able to do mailings on a consistent basis and have realistic expectations regarding the results. Direct mail can be very rewarding when this criteria is met.
For many years I have helped my customers communicate with families in their communities by using direct mail. Direct mail is a topic unto itself that requires its own space to discuss in full. Although I’m unable to review it here, these are some common questions I am asked:
How many should I mail?
If the number of households in your area can all be mailed to within your budget, send to all each time you do a mailing. If there are too many, keep track of the ones you mail to in your first mail-out and include the balance in future mailings. In this situation try to keep the mailings as close as possible. If you are mailing by zip code, mail to the zip codes closest to your business first then branch out.
What demographics should I include when buying the name list?
If you are trying to increase your preneed insurance sales try using ages 55-85. This age group is more receptive to the idea of preplanning their funeral and aren’t too old to buy an insurance policy. If you are also trying to increase your atneed business, raise the upper age limit.
What type of mail piece works best?
There is no “Magic” mail piece. The success of your mail program has more to do with the quality of household list purchased, your message, your reputation, and market share than the type of mailer used. Keep in mind there are no guarantees.
What return rate should I expect?
You will be hard pressed to find information on the Internet about funeral industry averages. Most of the information is related to other industries and provides “national averages.”
The average for all industries can be significantly different than the average of one industry. Also true, the average from one part of the country can be different than from another. Bottom line: all that should matter to you is “What is my average.” You will make that determination only after doing direct mail over a period of time, giving you a chance to track results.
I encourage you to try some of these ideas, give them time to work, and you will see results. Stay in touch with your families and they will remain your families! FBA
Joe Salcedo CLU, ChFC is the owner of The PreNeed Store, a website business providing professionally designed, high quality and affordable preneed, grief and aftercare materials. If your goal is to increase your preplanned funeral/cemetery sales, offer solace to families who grieve, or provide aftercare support, his materials will help you achieve your goal. Reach Joe at 800-263-5886. By email: [email protected], or visit www.thepreneedstore.com.