Pre-Need


A recent reader, Cathy, had a response to my post, Generating Cold Leads for Pre-Need Sales:

I’m glad that you made a differentiation between the “sharks” and the “Nice Guys” because I’m one of the latter ones. I work for the three letter company you mention and it has become increasingly difficult for me to make a living wage.

I pride myself in taking excellent care of the families I serve and do not… indeed, will not pressure them into anything. I merely offer options and let them choose based upon their wishes and budget.

Because I refuse to be “that” person, I may be looking for a different career.

I was intrigued, because the “nice guy” preneed salespeople don’t last long, it seems, and she’s kinda reinforced that in her last line.

So I visited her blog and read some more of what she has to say about her career.  Sprinkled among articles about low-carb foods (her blog is about her journey as a cemetarian and low carb devotee) are posts about what life as a pre-need counselor is like.

I’ve read most of her recent posts and I find her to be literate and extremely passionate about her job.  I wonder if she’s considered going to mortuary school?

You should check out her blog.

A few recent commenters and emailers have asked me questions about pre-need, with two questions specifically about generating cold leads.

Unfortunately, my experience with pre-need is limited to working with the sales force at a large chain (there are three letters in their name) and selling insurance to walk-ins at a small funeral home.

My time spent with that big company brought quite a few interactions with pre-need sellers.  Unfortunately, characterizing those encounters or experiences as pleasant or even tolerable would be over-generous.

In truth, most of those sales people were ruthless and seemed more preoccupied with their own welfare and wallet than with taking care of their clients.

But here’s my caveat:  while I met many “sharks”, I also had the fortune to become friends with some very nice, wholesome and caring individuals who were more concerned with their customers and worked to provide the best possible care.  It’s unfortunate, then, that the machinery in the large corporation seemed designed to eat the nice ones up and reward those with less scruples.

When I left and went to work for a small family firm, I saw the flipside: an ineffective pre-need drive.

Within two years, I took the necessary classes, passed the appropriate test and background check, and received my license to sell funeral insurance for the funeral home.

My pre-need duties, however, were secondary to my daily chores, which included running all the day-to-day tasks required by a small family funeral home.

All of which limited me to selling pre-need to walk-ins, families we had previously served and referrals.

And that, my readers, makes me less than qualified to teach anyone how to generate cold leads.

Of course, I can tell a new salesperson how to leaf back through old files and cold-call widows, checking up on their well-being and trying to encourage them to buy pre-need.  And I can talk about how to present seminars and display at health fairs, but what about the business of generating completely new leads?

Is it about charm?  Should you stand in line at McDonalds wearing a nametag (see the post, DAILY NAG: Wear Your Nametag!)?

Or is it “who you know?”

You got any insight?  Feel free to comment.  We need guidance on this subject.

You’ve got to check out the way pre-planning is being approached by folks who, hopefully, won’t need funeral services for sixty or eighty years.  Click the link above to visit the site.

The Argus, a British newspaper, conducted an interview with Victoria Vanstone, the site’s creator.  You can read it here.

ASK YOURSELF:
What are we doing to reach out to the folks who will plan their own funerals in sixty years? 
Have we considered that they’ll probably be handling their own parent’s funerals much sooner? 
How do we interact with 20-somethings at our firm?

We’ve suggested before (in a beautifully worded podcast titled “Trunk Full of Flowers“) that you carry extra flowers with you when you conduct funerals in a cemetery.

When the funeral is over, you can place the flowers on other graves.  Just make sure  you’ve got the flowers tagged with a sign that indicates your gift.

Robert Falcon (left) of Heritage Funeral Home in Killeen, Texas took our advice to heart and tested it Easter 2007.  He visited the cemetery and gave away carnations.

Even though they had an unexpected snowfall and cemetery attendance was down, Robert still passed out a few hundred dollars worth of flowers.

Robert now reports that one of the women he spoke to in the cemetery has made funeral prearrangements with his firm. 

While I don’t think you should spend $200 to attract just one pre-need contract, I do know that Robert had more impact than just the one sale.  each person he spoke to (hopefully) left with a better opinion of Heritage Funeral Home and their staff.

213memorialday.jpg

Banks, government offices and the Postal Service will all be closed this Monday for Memorial Day.  Many of your clients may have decided to postpone arrangements because of the day.

Why not take a quiet day to not only honor the dead who served our military, but make a positive impression on their families?  I’d suggest that you try one of the following:

– Call a nursing home supervisor and offer to take a group of seniors (the more mobile ones) to visit loved ones in local cemeteries.  Use your limousines or a big van.

– Position yourself at the entrance of a local cemetery and offer visitors an American flag and flowers to place on their loved one’s grave.  If they say that their loved one wasn’t a veteran, explain the purpose of Memorial Day and offer a flag to be placed on a veteran’s grave in the cemetery.

– Place a flower (with a tag that indicates your funeral home’s name) on the grave of every veteran in a local cemetery

– Place an ad in the newspaper announcing free flowers for veteran cemetery placement if the requester comes to the funeral home.  (Have your staff place each flower arrangement while you’re at the cemetery on Memorial Day.)

Do more.  Be an asset to your community.  They’ll remember it.

Robin Richter (who received the email and is my mother) received an email from Legacy.com which asked her to rate her experience wth Legacy.com.  She responded with a reference to the story I’ve laid out in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3Part 4. the interview and the conclusion.

Legacy has responded with this email, which reads as a standard answer to questions about spam email:

Dear Robin,

We understand your concern about spammers harvesting your e-mail address from our Web site. To prevent this, we do not display any user’s e-mail address in the Guest Books. Instead, a link labeled “Contact me” is displayed in the Guest Book. Clicking this link allows anyone to send e-mail to the author of that Guest Book entry without ever obtaining his or her e-mail address.

Unfortunately, we cannot prevent spammers from sending e-mails through the “Contact me” links. Please note that nobody will ever see your e-mail address, and entering your e-mail address is not required to sign a Guest Book.

If you would like us to remove the “Contact me” link from your Guest Book entry, please let us know and we would be happy to do so.

Linnea
Legacy.com

Would this pacify you?  Or would you, like me, be even more annoyed because they haven’t listened close enough.  While I have really tried to see this through less-impassioned eyes, I just keep coming back to the idea that someone who makes $8 an hour scanned an email until she saw “spam” and fired back a pre-written response.

Worse yet, some companies have computer which can handle this task, saving them the $8 an hour.  Linnea could stand for Library of Intuitive Natural and Normal Email Articulations.

I hope they haven’t trusted their customer service responses to a computer.

Many of you have been kind enough to comment (on the site and in emails) about this story.  I’ve heard the horror stories.  I’ve discussed with several readers the issues that this type of outreach (cold, impersonal email) creates.

But most of all, I think I’ve told the story the best way I know how and I’m ready to move on to more interesting topics.

I know that I promised that we’d hear from Legacy.com and TBO.com and Stowers Funeral Home, the firm which actually handled the arrangements for John Winter.

Here are my excuses for flaking out and not printing anything about those companies:

1.  Legacy.com hasn’t returned any detailed response.
2.  TBO.com has not responded.
3.  I decided not to contact Stowers Funeral Home as Ms. Blackburn did not contact a large number of guestbook signers and I didn’t want to put Stowers in the position of badmouthing their competition.

So I’m ending this story unless anything else substantial develops.  I have, however, formulated some conclusions based on this story and am ready to share them with you.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE JOHN WINTER GUESTBOOK EMAIL:

1.  Email is, by it’s very nature, impersonal.  Because it doesn’t allow for the complexities of vocal or phsyical conversation, it prevents the receiver from understanding the full context of the message.  Since email hampers this understanding, the reader is forced to make decisions about intent and tone from only the words on the page.  As my friend, Kim Stacey, points out, email is best used for making appointments or confirming information.  Email is very bad for introductions, unless you’re really good at it.

2.  The internet has evolved into a place to read static information about an issue or a place to converse with others about topics of interest.  Web surfers have come to expect ads to be static (something they choose to click on and read) and conversations to remain commerce-free.  If I comment on a blog, I don’t lead (or, heck, even mention!) that I sell quilted cot covers for funeral homes.  Why?  Because my role as a blog-commenter is to add to the conversation, not stop it with a sales pitch.

3.  Grief is personal and different for each person.  While we can identify the stages of grief, everyone is different, and we must remember that there are no shortcuts when it comes to speaking to or helping someone in grief.

4.  Sometimes people don’t think their actions through.  When this happens, it’s often best to act graciously and gently tell the person of their mistake.  I should have done that with Ms. Blackburn at the beginning.  I hope my later email was much nicer than my first post about her here.

5.  Everything you do, every email you write, every phone call you answer and every personal interaction you have defines your brand.  And since your brand is how your community sees you, and your community decides whether you stay in business, making sure all those things are done in a pleasant and dignified way is important!

6.  The best way to market to people who are grieving is to take care of them.  They will remember that more fondly than you pushing your promotional materials on them.

7.  Online guestbooks are becoming quite popular.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

This is a continuation of our series, “Questionable Pre-Need Tactics?  You Decide.”  You can read the previous parts here:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 Part 4.

In an effort to promote transparency, I recorded my interview with Robin Richter (my mother), the woman who forwarded the original email to me.  I’ve included the full recording below.

PODCAST:  Questionable Pre-Need Tactics?  The Robin Richter Interview 

You will notice that at the beginning of the interview she doesn’t remember sharing her email address in the guestbook.  Later, she walks through the steps to sign the guestbook and realizes that she DID indeed have to share her email address.

Also, this interview was completed on April 25, before I had spoken with Ms. Blackburn.  This was still developing at the time and the facts were still up in the air.

However, the reactions caught on this recording are her TRUE reactions.  She had not even read the last part of the email, the part that suggests that “John would have wanted you to have this Simplicity Planner.”  Her reaction to that part was spontaneous and provides us an opportunity to examine the effects of marketing words.

Enjoy!

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