Uncertainty appears to have gone from summer fad to fall fashion. The Everyday Price Index decreased by 1.3% in August, up 11.1% over a year ago. And while the Consumer Price Index rose by only 0.1% in August, consumers remain cautious.1
Navigating a dynamic environment is a challenge for any business, which is why we continue to trace the impact inflation is having on funeral homes and preneed. Drawing upon insights gathered from funeral homes, field managers, and advance funeral planners across the country, we want to share the most effective strategies you can use to continue serving more families.
Last month, we looked at inflation’s impact through the lens of the consumer. This month, we turn our focus to advance funeral planners. They occupy a unique position in the preneed landscape as ambassadors of a funeral home’s brand who can share the value of funeral service with families. Helping them make the most of every opportunity is more important than ever. Read on as we cover a number of strategies, all of which will tie in directly with the funeral home strategies we’ll dive into next month.
More families than ever before say they value prearranging a funeral. It’s a win for the family and a win for funeral homes who create valuable connections with their brand.
According to a survey by business management consultant company Foresight, demand for preplanning in 2021 increased to 75% of respondents.2 Through both a greater awareness of mortality as a result of the pandemic and greater awareness about preplanning in general, there’s growing interest in prearranged funerals.
We’ve also seen that, while levels of prefunding are staying the same, average funeral values are increasing. This means that by the numbers, preneed interest remains strong. At the same time, we’ve heard anecdotally from our field teams that inflation – or “the economy” – have become common concerns about prefunding in recent conversations with families. Some families wonder whether they should ride things out before making financial decisions or bigger purchases.
So how can advance funeral planners reframe how families think about preneed in uncertain market conditions? The economic landscape can and will shift, but the fundamentals and the purpose of preneed stay consistent.
One way to address concerns about inflation is to focus on preneed as an inflation-resistant or inflation-proof product. By creating a plan and starting to fund now, families can eliminate the effects of inflation on their future purchases.
Guaranteed pricing completely hedges families against inflation. But even without a price guarantee, families who prefund are helping their loved ones by covering most – if not all – future costs. And they’re helping their families avoid uncomfortable conversations and financial hardship during a period of grief.
In addition to having future costs covered, preneed policies offer the ability to pay over time with flexible payment options. They also provide insurance coverage, often starting on the date the policy is issued, so that families are protected immediately. And families can choose when to prefund as opposed to paying in the event of an unexpected loss.
But of course, preneed is not purely financial. Through preneed, funeral homes are creating meaningful connections and exceptional experiences with families, building their brand message in the community and encouraging organic word-of-mouth marketing.
Meaning is central to everything we hold dear. But for many families, getting into the real reason they’re interested in preplanning can be challenging. There’s an emotional component that is inherently vulnerable. It’s much easier to keep things surface-level and logical.
What’s more, many families have never fully examined why ceremony, ritual, and gathering are a meaningful part of life’s major milestones. Instead, this understanding remains intuitive, with few opportunities to delve into its complete significance with a patient and helpful guide.
This is where advance funeral planners can make the most impact. There’s the logical and financial dimension of what the family is buying. However, equally important is what the family is truly paying for: one last opportunity to help their loved ones so that they can focus less on the details of a funeral and more on healing at a time when it’s needed most.
The very best advance funeral planners share both. They build the total value of a prearranged funeral by connecting with families and educating them about why meaningful connection is so crucial after a loss.
This message resonates in any environment. It’s up to funeral homes and preneed providers to help them deliver it effectively.
Advance funeral planners are just like anyone else when facing uncertainty and rising costs. If they’re writing the same volume as last year and their cost of living has gone up, they’ve effectively received a pay decrease. Yet a single solution could make a tangible impact: support.
If your planner has proven themselves in the past, supporting them is crucial. And your preneed partner should provide a system that works for you and your team. If your partner isn’t providing a comprehensive marketing and sales funnel that consistently gets advance funeral planners more appointments, it’s guaranteed that you’re missing opportunities in your market.
Prefunding even one extra contract a month could make a big difference to your advance funeral planner’s bottom line. But just asking them to sell one more policy when they’re already overburdened isn’t going to work.
Too little support can lead to trouble down the road. Replacing top talent is costly, especially in a period of low unemployment like we’re experiencing right now. You’ll be spending time, as well as money, to find and train someone new.
And unless you and your preneed partner have significant experience recruiting top talent and coaching them to be effective, advance funeral planners will struggle to perform and grow. This can result in a lack of production, and you might just find yourself back in the same hiring cycle without the support you or your planners need.
Advance funeral planners provide the most value when they can spend more time doing what they do best: helping families understand the total value of funeral service.
And they can only do this when they aren’t required to spend the majority of their day cold calling leads, managing their own marketing, and carrying an entire preneed program on their shoulders. Doing this alone for years on end is a grind, and it’s a recipe for burnout.
What we’ve found is that by lifting this burden, advance funeral planners thrive. They’re more satisfied, and their production skyrockets. Even in passive preneed programs—programs that primarily rely on walk-ins and call ins with little to no preneed marketing—production often doubles when advance funeral planners are introduced to full support.
But what exactly is full support?
It starts by making sure preneed leads don’t fall through the cracks. For almost every funeral home, these cracks appear in two places. First, between turning leads into preneed appointments, and then between preneed appointments and prearranged funerals.
Many families need to be nurtured and educated about the value of preneed, sometimes for months before they ever set a preneed appointment. Creating a framework for accountability and high-quality follow-ups where you can track the progress of every lead helps ensure more quality appointments are set, thereby freeing up time for advance funeral planners to focus on meeting with families.
Of course, this is just one step towards being able to see clearly into the entire preneed pipeline. It may be that consumers are simply not responding to a marketing message like they used to. If that’s the case, another step is finding out what works right now in similar markets.
The point here is that more insight can lead to more effective support for advance funeral planners so that they can connect with as many families as possible.
A dynamic economic environment will always present its challenges. Yet with consumer interest in preneed at an all-time high, there is a real opportunity to support advance funeral planners so that they can build the total value of preplanning with families.
Part of this support includes effective feedback and coaching, as well as insight into the preneed pipeline so that it can be continuously improved. Yet the result will be more prearrangements and fewer cancellations because families will better understand why funerals matter.
In next month’s third installment, we’ll shift our focus to funeral homes and what you can do to manage costs and navigate a dynamic economy effectively.
Tyler Anderson is vice president of business development at Precoa. Through his leadership and extensive experience in the funeral profession, his team helps funeral homes see how they can expand market share and grow through preneed.
Jim Schaffer is vice president of product development at Precoa. With his in-depth knowledge of data analytics paired with his expertise in preneed insurance products, he leads the company’s efforts to develop innovative preneed products for funeral homes and families.