While doing a Brand Discovery session with my client, he was lamenting the depths his main competitor has gone to push him out of business. He’s larger, has more resources and is well connected. His efforts have been working and his business has suffered. He does under 100 service calls a year while his competitor does literally three times more. As an aside, there’s enough business out there for everyone. I mean come on, there’s millions of people living in this country and thousands in individual cities. You can’t service everyone.

Nonetheless, the issue isn’t competition because there’s always a new player in the field, someone will always undercut your prices just to get the business and markets change continually. Yes, competition is fierce and the more firms I talk to the more I hear how cutthroat it is. The real problem is that many, like my client, have no strategy in place to grow his firm, address competition and differentiate himself. You can’t think that just because you have a funeral home people will automatically come to you because there’s few choices in town. It reminds me of a Chinese Restaurant I used to go to.

Naturally, I don’t want to travel far to get good Chinese food, so I went to the local spot and it was pretty good. One day while I was waiting to order it was the lunch rush and understandably busy. There were between 4-6 of us in line and the phone was ringing like crazy too. Now I’ve worked as a host in a few restaurants before and the most important thing I was taught was that the person in front of you is more important than the one on the phone because they travelled to you. You honor that gesture by giving them your primary attention. Now the guy is taking call after call after call and the line is just getting longer. You could clearly see the agitation building up in people. I got out of line and never came back. What was the problem?

He thought that because he’s one of the only Chinese restaurants in the community he could run his business however he wanted. He didn’t care about customer service or the people in front of him. It was basically, “I’ll take your order when I’m ready and you will pay me. If you don’t like it, fine. There’s others right behind you.” You know what? He’s right. Yes, because his business is local no matter how he treats his clients, to a degree, he will still be there. But he will always be small. There will be no multiple locations or other growth beyond that one location because such an attitude won’t fly somewhere else. This mentally is also present in the funeral industry and could quite possibly be one of the reasons why some firms stay small. You need to think beyond just being a local entity. You need a growth strategy.

Why You Need Strategy
You need a strategy because of fierce competition, you need it because of changing markets, you need it so you can hold yourself and your team accountable for reaching goals. Everybody wants to grow, but few have an actual plan and even fewer have that plan systematized so that you can measure results, make adjustments and see real gains. In the end it’s not the best business that wins, it’s the one that can be found and is the least risky. That boils down to differentiation which can only be achieved by developing a strategy that ensures you stand out like the woman in the red dress in The Matrix. Even her presence in that program was, by design. See what I mean? Developing a strategy begins at the end.

Step 1: Set Your Goals and Reverse Engineer Them
You need to start somewhere and more sales isn’t specific enough. Set numbers. Set a revenue goal, a service call goal and a specific time frame to achieve it. For example, one firm that is averaging 30-50 calls a year sets a goal to double it within 1 year. That’s a reasonable goal and the monetary goal is essentially doubling their revenue.

Your time frame can be whatever you determine, but keep in mind the sooner the time frame the quicker and more aggressive you have to be with implementing it. Most likely that means hiring someone else to help you with because nothing motivates people faster than money on the table.

The caveat and advantage of this step in developing your strategy is that because you have both a service call goal and revenue goal you will start thinking of different ways to achieve both of them. For example, doubling your revenue doesn’t have to be achieved only through service calls. It can come from pre-need, keepsake sales, upselling and other ways. The goal is to think outside the box and come up with several revenue streams to help you achieve your goal. Next you need to see what information you need to know in order to achieve your goal which means gathering data.

Step 2: Gather Needed Data
Gathering necessary data to help achieve your goal is what branding professionals like myself call a Discovery Session. In such a session you take a deep dive into your brand, brand values, target audience, competition, value- based propositions, positioning statements, metrics and sales funnel to ensure that once you implement your strategy everything moves smoothly down the funnel and leads to a sale. That is why I love whiteboards because brainstorming on the board allows you to step away from things to see how strong the strategy is and potential holes that need to be filled. Once you have things written down you need to mess it up.

Step 3: Sabotage It
This is perhaps the most important step. You have to think of all the factors that could cause your strategy to fail once implemented. That includes competitors’ reaction, target audience objections, how your staff responds to family inquires and more. The best way to sabotage your plan is to step outside yourself and answer this one simple question, “If I were my own competitor and got this game plan what would I do to make it fail?” If you can’t think of anything ask someone else especially your team because their input gives them ownership of the plan and will support the solution more adding another guarantee of success.

Step 4: Determine Deliverables and Action Items
Now that you have a sound strategy in place, what do you need to support it? This means collateral, ads, products and/or new programs to make sure it works. This is where many go wrong. They actually start here rather than developing the strategy first. A firm looks at their problem, slow sales, few services calls and determine that the solution is to develop a new logo or update their brochure. Those are not the solution, but support items to the solution. Let’s say you spend several thousand dollars to have a new logo and beautiful brochure done. You start handing it out and nothing happens. Now you’re mad at your designer and cursing yourself for wasting all that money. As a result, you grow a bit confused because now you’re wondering, “Well what does work?” Since you don’t know the answer to that now you stop marketing period. This is where the death of your business begins. Start with the strategy, determine your numbers and then choose the deliverables.

Naturally, if your goal is to double revenue then you’re going to do marketing. What printed materials do you need to give families? What advertising will you put online? Where else can you reach them? Don’t forget your inbound, or content marketing. What information can you give away that will cause families to look at you as a viable firm to service their family? To answer that means that you need to provide content that addresses their pain points either before they lose their loved one, when they lose them or afterward.

A Sound Strategy Is A Plan For Success
Equipped with your growth strategy in place you can share it with your team and empower them to succeed. After all, when one person on your team wins you all win. With a sound strategy you won’t have to worry about your competitors and their tactics. In fact, your strategy will help propel you as the leader to follow rather than following others. Until next time I wish you much success in keeping the legacy of your firm going. FBA

George Paul III is a branding expert and award-winning designer. He’s the founder of Cherished Keepsakes, a provider of memorial keepsakes such as prayer cards, memorial programs, buttons, photo collages and more. Their innovative designs have been sought after by families and funeral homes across the country. Additionally, he assists firms and companies in the funeral industry with their branding and marketing. To connect with George, email [email protected], call 617-971-8590 / 617-980-1476, or www.chershedkps.com or www.seizethebrand.com.