Precoa funeral planners set a record number of preplanning appointments for a single day, as part of its National Appointment Blitz on April 6.
“We have some of the best funeral planners in the business,” Trevor Winn, regional vice president of sales for Precoa, said. “They truly care for families, and they want to help as many families as possible by allowing them to focus on healing – not logistics – after the death of someone they care for.”
Precoa’s National Appointment Blitz is a series of challenges among advance funeral planners and Precoa’s Funeral Planning Center that encourages planners to make appointments to help families preplan funerals for their loved ones and themselves.
During the blitz, more than 1,700 preplanning appointments were set by more than 350 advance funeral planners who represent Precoa’s funeral home partners. In addition, nearly 70 planners at Precoa’s Funeral Planning Center set 375 appointments. The previous record for preplanning appointments set in a single day was just under 1,900 last spring.
Precoa started the National Appointment Blitz in 2019, and in the beginning, “we did it once or twice a year,” Winn said. “But in the last 18 months, we’ve been picking up speed because we’ve had so much success with it. It’s been well received by all our advanced funeral planners across the country. So, we picked up the pace, it’s been fun, and the results continue to improve. Right now, we’re doing it two to three times a year and that may be speeding up as well.”
Each blitz has had a higher number of appointments set than the previous one. “We continue to learn with them,” he said. “There are a couple of things that make them successful: One reason is the more engagement we get from the advance funeral planners across the country, the more success we have. When we first started, not everyone was engaged, not everyone was into it. As we built momentum, excitement, and camaraderie through the appointment blitzes, more and more people are engaging. That’s great. We’ve also been improving our training and have more people making calls each time. Those individuals are setting more appointments than they did previous blitzes as well.”
Also, what factors in is that “we’re definitely always growing the number of funeral homes and advance funeral planners that we work with,” Winn said. “We continue to grow every single year. It seems like every single month.”
Since the blitz began three years ago, “the number of funeral home partners has continued to grow as well,” according to Tyler Anderson, vice president of business development for Precoa, “which, of course, creates a larger pool of advance funeral planners who are engaged and participating in the National Appointment Blitz. Those are also perhaps communities that we weren’t working in two or three years ago …That just increases the number of opportunities to be setting appointments.”
The National Appointment Blitz is a great example of Precoa’s end-to-end support for funeral homes, Winn said. “We put on programs like the National Appointment Blitz so the funeral home owner doesn’t have to constantly think about how to maximize marketing spends or get additional sales. We really care about making preneed as simple and effective as possible for funeral home owners and staff.”
Today, Precoa partners with 500 funeral home partners at 1,300 rooftops across 44 states, and they all vary in terms of call volume, Anderson said. Precoa has been in the preneed business since 2004, when the two co-founders from the preneed profession – Mark Hornibrook (who died earlier this year) and Bret Davis – came together to prearrange families in a way that had never been done before. It was a proactive approach to preneed that has become known as the ProActive Preneed system.
“We have this whole structure that is built to help,” said Winn, referring to Precoa’s ProActive Preneed system. The system, which was designed to help funeral homes expand their market presence, helps funeral homes get more leads, set more appointments, meet with more families and, ultimately, double their preneed performance, according to Anderson.
“When we partner with a funeral home,” Anderson said, “we’re now their preneed partner. We’re implementing what we call the ‘proactive model.’ The proactive model has eight different components. In the simplest terms, that means we recruit, hire and train advance funeral home planners on behalf of our funeral home partners. We offer a complete performance online and offline lead generation. Then we work to set the appointments on their behalf through our Funeral Planning Center.”
Each funeral home’s advance funeral planners set appointments themselves, but they receive the support of the planning center to set appointments for them as well. “So, the whole intent there is that they spend the majority of their time meeting with families in the communities that their funeral home serves, which is where their time is best spent,” Anderson said.
“Funeral home owners are waking up every morning to dynamic challenges within their business, within their community,” he said. “Through working with us, we’re able to hopefully take a significant part of managing and overseeing a preneed program off their plate while providing them with incredible insights into how their program is performing, how their preneed program is leading to increased at-need market share in the future.”
The eight individual components of Precoa’s ProActive Preneed system, which allows funeral home owners to serve and educate families, are:
Precoa has preplanning teams in-house at three nationwide call centers (the main one is in Portland, Oregon, and two smaller ones are in Anaheim, California, and Provo, Utah) that assist the advanced funeral planners at the individual funeral homes that they work with. “So much of an advance funeral planner’s time is spent meeting with families, going to events, being seen in the community, that we support them through our planning center and make phone calls on their behalf,” Winn said. “Yes, we have the appointment blitz. We have a dedicated focus in the field, but we have our planning center that is consistently – every day, every week, every month – making phone calls.”
Last year, the planning center set just over 80,000 appointments for their funeral home partners, he said: “That’s their full-time job. They don’t do any cold calling. They’re calling folks who expressed interest, building rapport, representing that funeral home well, and then setting an appointment for them to meet with the person in their local market.”
The Funeral Planning Center also does follow-up calls, and even initiates calls to people that say, “‘I’m interested in preplanning. I want to learn more,’” Winn said. “We’ll have someone from our planning center make that phone call, initiate that conversation, assuming that person does want to meet with somebody and talk in more depth. Then they will set that appointment and then that advance funeral planner out in Skokie, Illinois, shows up and meets with that family and starts talking to them face to face.”
Precoa will either help a new funeral home partner recruit an advance funeral planner or train an existing one at the individual funeral home on the ProActive Preneed system, depending on the funeral home’s situation. “If there’s an existing advance funeral planner at a new funeral home partner, we work with that existing funeral planner and train them on the proactive model,” Anderson said
If a funeral home partner doesn’t have a preneed program in place, then “we would recruit and hire one on their behalf,” he said. “We do a lot of the front-end work on the recruiting, hiring, and assessment side, but ultimately it is our funeral home partner’s decision as to who represents their funeral home, and they give that final green light as to ‘This is definitely going to be our advance funeral planner.’”
If Precoa is doing the hiring, the company will search for advance funeral planners in a funeral home’s local community. “We will place ads, we will source, we will do screening interviews,” Winn said. “And we will bring a candidate or two to the funeral home owner and say, ‘We really like this person. We think they could be a good advance funeral home planner. We want you to interview them, make sure you feel good about them, that they fit your funeral home culture and they will represent you well.’ At the end of the day, that’s who they represent out in the community – the funeral home. So, they live there, they work there, they work with families there, and they’re definitely local. We just provide the outside resources to help a funeral home find the talented people who already exist within their market.”
Precoa’s customer relationship management (CRM) technology platform allows Precoa’s planners to see each funeral home’s advance funeral planner’s schedule, Anderson said. “Any of the conversations that have been had once that appointment is set just transfer over to the advance funeral planner in the CRM so they can see the history of the conversation, things that are important to them and really be prepared for that appointment in a meaningful way to continue to build the trust with that family along the way.”
Precoa works to develop new leads to help funeral homes reach more families in their community and grow their business. “There’s some scripting that we have, but that will vary, lead source by lead source, depending on what triggered this conversation,” Winn said.
“One of the things we’re not doing is cold calling,” he said. “We’re not picking up a phone book. These are folks that have raised their hand in some way. They filled out a survey. They called the funeral home. The funeral home has served the family so there’s a pre-existing relationship or interest on some level. Every individual varies in their level.
“Some are ready to go and want to meet with somebody right away, others are just kicking the tires and want to learn a little bit, so depending on where they’re at on that continuum, we try to meet them where they’re at and try to help see why it might be beneficial for them to start talking about their funeral arrangements ahead of time. The planning center works hard to build rapport, get to know them a little bit and their family. They build value on what they’ll do when they get together. A big focus of those phone calls is the value in starting to document their wishes ahead of time.”
Precoa has a field management team that oversees the entire program on behalf of its funeral home partners. The team consists of regional sales support professionals that provide on-site management and mentorship for a funeral home’s advanced preneed planners. “Through our field team, we train, coach, and support advance funeral planners locally,” Anderson said.
Precoa has a comprehensive reporting system with daily and monthly reports that provide analysis of a funeral home’s preneed team. “We provide pipeline analytics through the funeral planning center,” Anderson said.
Precoa’s web portal is the preneed activity hub where advance funeral planners can manage their calendars, track results, and polish their skills.
When Precoa initially partners with a funeral home, “typically, we have a conversation around ‘Where have you been? Where are you today? In three years from now, where do you want to be?’” Anderson said. “Through that discussion, we understand where they want to be … What’s really the solution that’s going to be most impactful for that funeral home? How are we going to structure that solution?
“Because when we’re going through the process of identifying a potential partnership, it’s a fairly extensive process where we do a market share analysis and demographic breakdown of the community for the funeral home and what the opportunities are going to be, and then the strategic plan for how we’re actually going to achieve the goals that the funeral home has set forth in saying, ‘This is where we want to be.’ Through that process, that’s where it becomes very custom to that funeral home.”
With Precoa’s ProActive Preneed approach, “Oftentimes, we will double preneed,” Anderson said. “Once we’re engaged in the partnership and fully ramped up into the proactive model…We usually look at the year over year. ‘Here’s what you were doing annually prior to the relationship with Precoa’ and ‘This is what you’re doing annually after engaging in a relationship with Precoa.’”
“Typically, 40% to 50% of people that we meet with end up with a completely funded prearranged funeral,” Winn said. “Of the 50% to 60% that don’t complete a funded – meaning prepaid – funeral plan, the vast majority still complete their plan so that all of their wishes are documented and recorded. Those decisions are documented and taken care of, so it will make it easier on those families in time of need.”
“One of the significant value propositions in a proactive preneed program,” Anderson said, “are the number of conversations we get to have with families about the value of ceremony, ritual, and gathering.” With an increase in the number of people who don’t affiliate with any religion, “it’s our opportunity to step into those conversations 10, 12, 15 years in advance to have the conversation about ‘What does ceremony, ritual and gathering look like for you and your family? Why does that matter?’ And how does that help them through this process of losing a loved one.”
In the early years of Precoa, the company’s two co-founders, Hornibook and Davis, combined each of their shared values of “kindness, progression, and craftsmanship” and that culture still prevails today.
“When you think of kindness, progression, craftsmanship,” Anderson said. “What we have found is that it aligns really well with our funeral home partners. If you break each one of those down, funeral homes serve their communities with incredible kindness at really difficult times. When you think about progression, they’re always looking to find new ways, whether it’s through personalization or customization, to make those services, ceremonies, and rituals more relevant to each individual family. When you think about craftsmanship, they have a very small window of time to plan and execute a very meaningful life milestone for the families they’re serving.”
These same values are a part of the preneed program as well, Anderson noted. “We really do try to take that same approach with the preneed program because when we’re serving families on the preneed side, we’re always going to lead with kindness,” he said. “And from a progression standpoint, the prearrangement experience that we take them through in informing and educating on the relevance of funeral service, we’re always going to be looking for new and innovative ways to do that. Then, of course, from a craftsmanship side, there’s no detail too small. How we represent our funeral home partners is really, really important to us. So, it’s going to be done as a craftsman would.”
“Kindness can seem like a weird word for a preneed company to say,” Winn added. “But for me, it comes down to seeing people as people and treating them like a real person that’s in front of us, whether it’s a widow who just lost her husband after decades of marriage, or a husband and wife thinking about making their own arrangements ahead of time and thinking about the impact it will have on their children. And kindness extends to funeral home owners, funeral home staff that we work with, and to each other across the organization at Precoa - we have opportunities to see people as people, and when we do that, we treat them with kindness. It changes your perspective and your actions – something that is a hallmark of Precoa. I’m proud of who we are as a company – to try our best to do that in every interaction we have.”
What can any funeral home do to increase preneed arrangements? “It’s all about being proactive,” Winn said. “If they can get out in the community in multiple ways and be active, that will lead to increased presence and preneed success. It’s really hard for a funeral home owner to be able to do that with consistency because of the demands of the at-need side of their business, but activity will lead to results if you stick with it.”
“I’d encourage any funeral home to be more active,” Anderson said, “and that can mean a lot of different things to different funeral homes. It’s very difficult for a funeral home owner, with the demands they have on their time and the challenges they face in serving their community on an at-need basis, to be consistently outside the four walls of the funeral home, engaged in their community and having the conversations about the value that they provide.
“So, however they would do that is what we would encourage more of. That could look very different for each individual funeral home, whether that means community education programs, online or offline marketing, or networking through civic groups, churches, or organizations within their community. And many funeral homes do a lot of that. Basically, be engaged in the community, have many conversations, and consistently share the value of a funeral,” Anderson added.
Consistent activity will lead to positive outcomes, Anderson said. “Sometimes that comes in the form of prearranged, prefunded funerals, and sometimes it means more families coming to them in the time of need. The idea of being consistently active and engaged in your community in any of those ways, or all of them, is really the thing the funeral home can do on their own at any given time.”
Consistency is usually the biggest preneed challenge for a funeral home owner, Anderson said. “Engaging with a partner, with Precoa or someone else, can give a funeral home owner the opportunity to have that consistency in the activity because a big portion of that is through a trusted partner. Then they can focus on facing those day-to-day dynamic challenges they have in their at-need business; it’s not losing touch with or oversight of their preneed program but not having to devote day-to-day time to it.”
Precoa does host events to get funeral home owners engaged in their communities. “We often host a lot of luncheon-type events where people can come and learn about prearrangements in a safe environment,” Winn said. “We give a free meal and many funeral home owners will come to those. They’ll be engaging with 15 to 40 people in the community, meeting them, shaking hands, getting their faces in front of the community.
“There’s church involvement. That’s a huge focus for a lot of funeral home owners. That certainly has preneed benefits for the preneed program but it’s also extremely valuable for the at-need side, as well. Many people make their funeral choices based on recommendations from their clergy, so while the number of unchurched people in America is growing, they’re still involved within the church groups, with the clubs within the churches.
“A lot of churches themselves will have widows groups or senior groups or men’s or women’s groups, where the funeral home will get involved either through the owner or through the staff members. They’re often very involved in civic organizations, Kiwanis clubs, Rotary clubs – those sorts of civic organizations where they can interact and network with an influx of folks in the community, as well. It’s really about getting out there as much as they possibly can.”
“When you look at running an active preneed program from a funeral home owner’s perspective,” Anderson said. “I think you look at a few things in terms of what benefits that provides the families in your community in terms of putting these plans in place and what makes a really difficult day a little bit easier by allowing them to focus on their immediate family and not the logistics of planning a funeral after a loss.”
From a business standpoint, there are two main challenges facing funeral home owners today, according to Anderson: “The outward pressure on average funeral values and the increasing cost of doing business. And there are two ways to address that: increasing your call volume or your case count – your market share – and sustaining your average values, which means families continuing to choose your services and choosing a memorialization that’s provided by the funeral home. And having more conversations in advance provides more opportunities for that to happen.
“A proactive preneed program allows a funeral home to address those two challenges in a way where they can ideally grow market share and sustain or grow the average funeral value along the way.
“We in the funeral profession seem to overlook that we have fewer and fewer purchasers,” he added. “We are simply waiting too long to educate families on the value of funeral service. The funeral profession too often overlooks the preneed experience. If we singularly depend on the at-need arrangement to inform and educate our community to the value of ceremony,ritual, and gathering, we fall short on helping a growing part of the population experience a meaningful service after a loss.”