Sales Incentive from A Management Viewpoint

Date Published: 
October, 1950
Original Author: 
George Young
President, Restland Memorial Park, Dallas, Texas
Original Publication: 
1950-1951 Cemetery Yearbook

The title of this talk, "Sales Incentive from a Management Viewpoint," is so comprehensive that it seemed to me, as I worked on it, that it might have been more fitting to call it "What Management Should Do to Build and Maintain a Successful Sales Organization."

There are two ways to operate a business, whether it's the cemetery business or any other. You can operate it with as low overhead as you can possibly get by with and take what business comes to you easy, or you can carry on an aggressive promotional program-advertising, etc. and in a cemetery that would be a pre-need sales campaign. In our own operation that has been necessary because of our location, and because we do have some very active competition in Dallas. We found out early it was necessary for us to seek our business actively if we were to do any considerable volume, so we have operated on that basis ever since we have been there.

Now it seems to me the first sales incentive that should be provided is adequate and competent sales leadership or sales management. In a small cemetery that perhaps is not in a position to hire or employ a full-time sales director, this leadership must come from management itself, but in many cases many of you represented here do have your own sales managers, and I think it is important that you have as good a sales manager as possible. So many people ask me, "How do you get one?" Frankly, I can't answer that, but it occurs to me that there are few ready made cemetery sales managers available to any of us, and it also occurs to me that we possess no particularly unusual and unfounded ability. The same ability that we have, others have. We have got to seek them out, and if you find any able, competent, aggressive, intelligent young or relatively young man who wants to learn sales work, I see no reason in the world why you can't teach him to be a sales manager in the cemetery business. It is going to take some work on your part. When you find and hire the man you have got to outline some definite policies. You must cut his work out and leave him alone, and not be doing all his work for him. You let him do as much of it as he will. It makes him feel better if he begins to accomplish things, and he probably will begin to accomplish things. You want to back him up by furnishing subscriptions to sales magazines, to sales services, to releases that are put out by insurance companies, to books having to do with selling; in other words, try to help him become a better sales manager through the equipment that is made available to sales managers in general. A great deal of that material is applicable to the cemetery field.

Then you can give him what other additional help you want to give him. We, in our institution, use the services of an outside firm, or cemetery consultants, to come in and consult with us once or twice a year, because we find that helps us to keep on the track. You are apt to get off if you start working by yourself.

The next thing you have is a room, a comfortable place for a sales organization to work. As I visit around over the country, I try to make it my business to visit cemeteries continuously, and I am often amazed that the front office is a roomy, airy place with a lot of desk space and everything, yet when I get back to the part that is supporting the whole institution I find a cramped room with a couple of desks in it, three or four folding chairs and a couple of small blackboards on the wall, and that is the sales room; yet that is the department that is main¬taining the front office. I think it is necessary that they have plenty of room, and feel they are just as important as any other part of that institution.

I think it is necessary to furnish them with adequate blackboards. I like lots of blackboards. We didn't learn it ourselves. Bill Boyd came down to Texas and used lots of boards. We started using them and it helped us a great deal. A man can see what his record is as compared to the others operating that month. He sees how he is standing compared with last year. It is all around the room, so that everybody, including himself, can tell just how well each one is doing. They like that.

The next sales incentive is to provide that man with selling tools, good selling tools. If I go in a garage with my car to have it worked on and the mechanic has only a broken screw driver and a pair of pliers with one handle bad on it and everything is greasy or covered with dust and sand and I don't see any good looking tools there, I think immediately, "This character is not fit to work on this automobile. I've got too many chips invested in this car to turn it over to him," and if a salesman has a beat-up kit with the zipper torn halfway off, and it looks as if he's had it since the cemetery was founded, and you see a bunch of old dirty sheets of paper and pictures that look like the management must have hired a man to come out at a buck a picture and consequently didn't make very good ones, and all contracts and forms are dog-eared, I immediately get the idea that the salesman is selling something cheap or he'd have a better sales kit, he'd have better tools.

You expect others to have adequate tools with which to do a job. It is just as essential that you furnish your sales department with adequate tools. They are available at not much expense from the N.C.A., including leather kits and acetate sheets. Many of the sheets that go inside those acetate covers are available. Surely you have some interesting pictures of your own property. As Dr. Eaton said the other night, "There are few cemeteries that cannot find things of interest if they will look around; things to talk about, things of which to make pictures in their own property." Of course, if you can't do that, you can do what all of us have been doing for the last twenty years. You can take some pictures of Forest Lawn at Glendale, California, and start using them. I am sure Dr. Eaton doesn't mind, because almost everybody has done it.

Now the man is in business; he has his kit, his blackboards, and he wants to put something on it. I think, perhaps, if you would name the one thing that management can do that creates as great a sales incentive as any other, it would be the fulfillment of management's promises to their salesmen on time. If you promise to build a section and have it completed within eighteen months from the date of opening said section for sale, or whatever the date is, have the section ready by that time. You do two or three of them that way and then you start telling the salesmen that "whatever we tell you we are going to do, we are going to do it better, and we are going to do it on time." He sees that happen a few times and then he believes it, and he's able to get that message over to the people with whom he's talking. I think that is one of the most convincing things that you can do to make a salesman believe in you and believe in your institution.

The next thing is build those things that you promise to build better than you actually promised. If you are going to build a chapel, it's not too difficult to do it a little bit better than you picture it in the minds of the men and one of the most gratifying things that can happen is for a lot owner to tell your men who are in the field, "Oh yes, we bought a lot out there in 1937; they were getting ready to build a chapel and we bought a lot in Chapel Section. We had no idea they were going to erect such a lovely building as they did, and we are sure proud of it." He hears that a few times and hears, "Yes, we own in the Masonic Section" or whatever the section is, "We are right there close to the monument; we had no idea it would be as lovely as it is; we are so proud of it." You see how it snowballs on the man and gives him confidence? He knows pretty quickly from that time on whatever he promises, whatever we promise through him, we are going to deliver.

Deal fairly with your salesmen and sales manager. When you employ a man, either salesman or sales manager, enter into an employment contract with him; then he knows the terms and conditions under which he is employed. He knows what his commission rate is supposed to be. You never get into any argument with him, and if you don't chisel him, if you don't get the feeling that he is making more money than he should be making, if you don't get the feeling that on his big deal you ought to cut him down with "After all, I helped him, close it, you know," the salesman gets the feeling that here's an outfit that deals fairly with him and who is going to deal fairly with others too.

We have had examples of this. We have lost in the last few years six of our men to other organizations within our city.

Salesmen change around, you know. Today I believe three or four of those men are back with our organization. Now, one of the reasons they came back was, after they left, they continued to get their earned commissions. We did not chisel. I believe three or four of them are now back because we treated them fairly while they were here and we treated them fairly after they left. Men like that. They tell one another about it. It helps to keep a sales organization.

The next point is, have clear-cut policies and procedures. Reduce your pro¬cedures to writing. I refer to policy such as your charges for removal from another cemetery to yours. Sales people often come in contact with someone who owns a lot in the country; they have a burial or two on it or it is within our own cemetery, they have too small a lot and want it moved to a larger lot; what are our charges for removals? If they buy a certain size lot would we give a discount on removal? It does not require too much time to reduce all of those to writing, actually cover the charges and then a salesman, instead of having to go in to you and take up your time and maybe you make one price on this one and another price on another one, he just looks at his sheet and it's all mimeographed, and the customer feels good, as he knows everybody is getting the same treat¬ment. It makes it simpler. Have all your prices mimeographed, and don't vary your, prices; don’t vary your charges. When you do, you are destroying the confidence of your sales people in your institution.

Do enough advertising to let the people know where your property is located. That is a sales incentive. When your salesmen are out working, they shouldn't have to spend the first five minutes of their time when they call in the evening making sure the people know where the property is located. Management should have done that job through newspapers, television, Easter Sunday services, Memorial Day services, radio, or other media to let the people of the com¬munity know the name of the property. Get it fixed in their minds, get its location fixed. That helps the salesman in his calling on the people.

I think it is necessary to provide contests and bonuses. In fact, if our commission rate were a little lower, I would like it so that we could payout more money for contests, bonuses, etc. Contests and bonuses create enthusiasm; they gain recognition for the men, for the winners. You know if you got a good salesman, he wants recognition inside his own organization; he wants recognition outside the organization. He and his wife can’t tell their neighbors, "Joe is making $250 a week now”; he would be bragging if he tells them how much money he is making, but if they say, "Joe won this nice radio here" or "Joe won this $75 watch when he was top man over at Restland last month." They say "Oh, is that so," and he gets some recognition. He can tell folks about that but he can't show his money.

In addition to that, he likes to be recognized in his own organization, that he's the top drawer boy there. Maybe you have his picture on the front counter and the girls of the accounting department speak a little more friendly to him; they recognize him. That is why you need bonus deals and contests. It isn't the money he wins, but it's the lift that it gives him in winning.

Now, I think that the quality of funeral services at your institution and my institution affects sales.

A funeral service brings more people to your cemetery than any other one activity. It is the ultimate point for which that lot was sold. When the salesman sold it he pictured in the people's minds the value that that lot would reach on the day of need, and I think on that day of need we should go as far as possible to make that service as nearly perfect as is within our means and is within the price that we are getting for the service. You can't lose money on it, but do use good equipment and have your men in uniform.

I have been in some cemeteries and watched services where it seemed to me that they felt when the lot was sold and paid for, they had the purchaser hooked after that, and they didn't have to take care of him too well even at the time they had the funeral on that lot. I think that hurts sales about as much as any¬thing an institution can do, because at that time, when many people are there, it us urgent that they go away feeling, "There's an understanding operation; people there understand the business they are in; they are cemetery people," and then when a salesman accidentally calls on one of those families in a can¬vass, or whatever it is, they say, "Oh yes, I was out there; we attended the funeral of Mrs. Jones there; it's a lovely place." You see, he's halfway in; he's halfway there; he's got a receptive audience.

It is management's obligation to take a place in the community. Throughout the years, one of the things that has always provoked me ... doesn't provoke me, it's more chagrin, I guess ... I'll meet someone on an airplane or a stranger at a luncheon, and we are right friendly. Apparently he thinks I am a pretty swell fellow and I ask him what he does and perhaps he is a lawyer or a doctor or working for the Schlitz Brewing Company or something like that, and he asks what I do and I say, "I'm in the cemetery business." Well, you would think I had hit him with a wet towel; I've chilled him. He's cool. Now, I don't know why it is. I think this is about as good looking a bunch of men and women as I ever see around, and I know dang well it takes just as much intelligence to carryon one of our operations as it does to operate most of the other businesses with which I am familiar, but unfortunately not too many of us take an active part in our community, in our civic clubs; we have just been the cemetery operator. They think of us as digging the graves and locking up the gates and taking advantage of the people at the time of death.

We should be active in our communities, working on the Community Chest, taking an active part in the Kiwanis, the Lions Club, the Rotary and your other civic clubs. I don't mean be present, but be somebody in it. By taking an interest in the various civic activities of the community, it is so easy to be recognized, and then when your salesmen happen to call on somebody and he finds out he is with the Atlas Metal Works and he happens to have heard me mention it or he knows that Mr. Story is a member of the club that I happen to belong to, and maybe Mr. Story says, "I know George Young or so and so," and the salesman says, "Oh, you do?" The salesman says, "Here's a man who knows my boss, and he's a pretty good guy," and he thinks the other one is a pretty good guy too, and the salesman has something to talk about.

You owe it to your sales organization, to yourself, and your property to take a place in the community in which you live.

This is the last point. Management's obligation to be sales-minded. You must develop your sections; you must plat your sections with sales in mind. When Nash recently came out with its little Rambler, they call it, I am sure the president of Nash didn't begin riding around in one of these, but he built it because he felt there was a market for it. His analysts had been throughout the country finding out what the people wanted, and they wanted a cheaper car; they wanted a smaller car, a more economical car; a car that is a convertible. Anyhow, he thought that is what they wanted and they built it.

Our important corporations throughout America don't build what the man¬agement wants they build what they think the people want. We used to plat all our lots in six-grave lots. It's easier to plat them like that, but during the years we now have developed to a point where we keep a record in every section of what we sell. In platting the next section we plat according to what we think the demand was, and now instead of platting all 6's, we plat about twenty-eight percent 6's, fifty percent 4's, and of those 4's about thirty percent are deluxe 4's…that is, all the graves are side by side. Maybe you are doing it already. It was kind of new for us. We used to plat them two by two; now thirty percent of them are side by side.

In the past we never platted companion lots, two-grave lots. Now in every section thirteen or fourteen percent of them are two-grave lots. About six percent of them are deluxe companions- those are three-grave lots. We are trying to build, and I think all of us must build what we think the people want, arid when I say "what the people want" I mean what the people will buy. Don't build what you like.

In your sales organization you must show interest. The greatest incentive that management can offer is to come in occasionally and look at the boards and talk with the fellows, kid them about their position, let them know that you know what they are doing. Let the sales manager know that you are interested in what he is doing.

If you've got a construction job going on, if you are building a section or if you are buying a feature and installing it, if you are the management, I'll bet you are looking at the section and wondering if the guy is putting in the feature like he's supposed to; if you are enlarging the office, you are looking at it all, the time, but the sales department is just as important, if not more so, than anyone of those, so don't you hire a sales manager and say, "Well, Bub, it's yours, I'm going to leave it with you." Let him know and let the sales depart¬ment know that you are interested continuously in what they are doing.

Keep abreast of their problems in the field. As an example of what I mean, we used to sell corner markers 6 x 6 inches square, bronze corner markers, for $30 a pair-rather profitable item. We just did fairly well. Then I attended a sales conference and heard a man talking and he said, "We install bur corner markers when only $50 has been paid in on the lot." In our case we were requiring that the entire lot be paid for before we permitted installation.

We came back and put that into effect, and today instead of selling just a few corner posts we sell seventy-five to eighty sets a month. That is what I mean by keeping abreast of the problems that are confronting your men in the field. Keep abreast of what your competition is doing. If you don't, you'll wake up some day and they'll be so far ahead of you you'll never catch up. It's hard enough to stay up in my town watching them all the time. A bunch of my competitors are sitting in the front row here.

Read, study, attend conventions, and attend sales conferences, plan your opera¬tions well in advance; stay on the job. If you are in the cemetery business be in the cemetery business. I don't see how a man can operate a cemetery business by proxy and do it successfully. I have to work at it all the time, practically day and night.

Be accessible to your men; let the salesmen be able to come in and talk over their problems with you. Don't go over your sales manager's head, but there are times when the sales manager would like them to bring some problem to you. Be accessible to them.

I don't say we do all these things-these are the things we would like to do; if you would do a reasonable number of them, you would create a great deal of confidence in you on the part of your sales organization. To me that is the greatest sales incentive that you can bring about and it gives him a feeling of pride when he is talking about the property and a feeling of pride when he talks about his management. And he will do a fairly successful job of selling then. Thank you!

From the publication:
“1950-1951 Cemetery Yearbook”
NCA 21st Annual Meeting
Hotel Schroeder, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
October 18, 19, 20 and 21, 1950