ICFM Magazine, February 2005
Creating a successful preneed program-or improving an existing one-involves planning. In this two-part column, Samantha Franck will tell you what your plan must cover.
Preneed secures future at-need business and is a critical aspect of a funeral home or cemetery's future profitability. Besides being a proactive tool against competitors, an active preneed program is proven to increase call volume, reduce bad debt, increase cash flow and increase the number of funded funerals or interments.
However, the benefits of preneed cannot be realized by simply hiring a preneed counselor and advertising in your local paper. Similar to at-need business, an active preneed program requires strategic planning and ongoing support.
The consistent application of the basics ensures a successful preneed program. The basics include:
1. program planning, monitoring and alignment;
2. counselor recruiting, hiring and training;
3. lead generation and management programs; and
4. incentive and recognition programs.
Whether your firm is considering developing a preneed program or has an established program in place, take time to evaluate the basics. After all, preneed is a long-term investment and ensures your firm will have the potential for solid business in the future.
Program planning, monitoring and alignment
To establish a successful preneed program, begin by developing a preneed business plan that will chart your course. Your plan should include:
• a detailed review of the firm's current situation, including strengths and weaknesses;
• a prioritized listing of objectives, including financial goals;
• target audiences;
• strategies and tactics; and
• an implementation timeline.
After your firm begins implementing the tactics, it is important to measure the growth of your current program against the goals your firm has established. Ideally, this evaluation is conducted on a routine basis-bi-monthly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually—with new goals
being set for the next period.
With the assistance of your preneed provider, your firm should examine the following:
• volume and projected profitability of future funerals secured;
• counselor productivity and close rate; and
• lead generation results.
It is also important to evaluate each preneed marketing initiative, whether it includes publicity, direct mail, seminars, family follow-up or advertising. Marketing initiatives should include the following evaluations:
• audience reach;
• total investment;
• response rate;
• close rate; and
• average funeral amount.
This data will help your firm identify the most effective marketing initiatives and help determine which initiatives should be the focus in the future.
After reviewing each period, your firm, along with your preneed provider, should create a plan of action for the next period. This is your opportunity to ask critical questions:
• What successful activities should you continue to expand?
• What areas need improvement?
• Which tactics should be implemented in order to achieve the objectives, and what is the timeline?
• How will the objectives be measured?
It is important to evaluate the results of the last period in order to develop challenging yet realistic goals for the future.
And finally, in order for a preneed program to be successful, the entire staff has to support the program, including the at-need staff. Talk with your entire staff and share the goals and objective of the preneed program.
Counselor recruiting, selecting and training
You can develop the best preneed business plan, but without the right staff, you will accomplish nothing. This is why recruiting, selecting and training of personnel is the second component of an active preneed system. It is important to hire employees with a vested interest in preneed and in your firm, employees who will not jump at the first offer from a competitor.
The first step to hiring high-caliber candidates is developing a job posting that produces a high rate of response from qualified candidates. When creating job postings, consider the following:
• Define the job criteria that are essential for someone to perform effectively.
• Focus on a typical day, on the responsibilities and the exciting aspects of the position.
• Do not just tell the reader about the position—sell the position. Discuss your company's environment, culture and staff.
• Provide a potential salary range.
• Include as much specific information as possible. This will increase your chances of attracting more qualified people.
The next step is effectively screening applicants. It is essential to develop a process for screening applicants prior to reviewing resumes. Consider developing a chart listing each candidate's job qualifications and then ranking each candidate.
Once you have screened the candidates, the next step is conducting the interviews. Behavioral interviews will enable you to clearly determine whether the candidate possesses the competencies to perform the job.
A behavioral interview involves asking candidates to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and abilities by describing situations they have experienced. For example, ask questions similar to ''Tell me about a time when you made a successful presentation to a prospect and experienced a favorable response."
Training the preneed counselors you hire is just as important as hiring the right people. Your firm should plan to provide initial training for all newly hired counselors, as well as regular refresher courses or programs designed to sharpen and expand the sales skills of experienced counselors.
Preneed providers often have managers in the field who can provide preneed counselors with ongoing education and support to help maintain consistent sales and increase productivity. They may also offer training workshops, one-on-one coaching and tools to develop and enhance a preneed counselor or manager's marketing skills.
Because the recruiting, selection and training process is time-consuming, preneed providers and other industry sources often provide these services to funeral homes. Do not hesitate to request referrals from the provider you are considering.
In conclusion, the first two components—program planning, monitoring and alignment and counselor recruiting, hiring and training-are imperative to a successful preneed program. These components should be established prior to implementing the next two components, which are lead generation and management programs and incentive and recognition programs.