Have you ever received an invitation in the mail from your local funeral home inviting you to an event like “Pizza and Pre-planning”? How about a lunch and learn at a local restaurant offering a free lunch in return for listening to someone representing the funeral home discussing the value of pre-planning your funeral? I’m sure many of you have. Regardless of if you have or have not, over the next few minutes I will share with you what most funeral homes and pre-planning specialists don’t want you to know!
Why talk about this topic? Because throughout my thirty plus years of my career I taught #funeral pre-planning to both funeral home directors and #pre-planning specialists. This one particular method of attempting to sell a pre-planned funeral to consumers, from my viewpoint, fundamentally takes advantage of both the #consumer and the local food provider.
How do I know this? When I was employed by the insurance companies the majority of funeral homes used to fund a pre-planned funeral, this was one of the target marketing offerings. This was not a program I believed in; therefore, I attempted to encourage my #customer (the funeral home) to refrain from this method of high-pressure pre-need sales to you, the consumer. Years ago, I fundamentally thought it was not forthcoming and still do today.
Here is the overall sale strategy
Prior to the “educational” event:
- The funeral home (or cemetery) will reach out to a local well-known establishment and suggest they would like to have an event at either their facility or the funeral homes.
- The premise is that by working together two trusted names will unite and invite the community in for an educational venue.
- The benefit is that their facility and or food venue would be show-cased, with hopes of attracting new people to the venue that will translate into future sales/business.
- A direct mail list is purchased based on the target audience they want to reach.
- People between a certain age group, zip code, and possibly even marital status (widowed, divorced etc..)
- An invitation is created and mailed out. The cost is typically shared between the funeral home and other establishments.
- The co-branding benefit is that this letter will go into everyone on the list’s mailbox or email, therefore providing name recognition to heighten top of mind awareness and possibly generate attendance.
What happens at the event:
- A budgeted menu selection will be offered to attendees.
- In return for attending, it is encouraged that the consumer listens to what the pre-planning specialist has to offer about their funeral home’s burial or cremation offerings.
- Additional names, emails, or even phone numbers are collected from attendees. These people have now become a part of both businesses’ mailing list for future marketing purposes.
- At some point everyone receives a pre-planning packet which includes the funeral home’s general price list. (This is required by law.)
- The presentation or conversation encourages the individual to make a plan, which will provide those they leave behind:
- A roadmap to follow.
- The peace of mind in knowing that it’s taken care of.
- The internal funeral costs are typically guaranteed and in some states by law must be guaranteed.
- At some point the consumer is encouraged to schedule an appointment to discuss their own arrangements in the comfort of their home or the funeral home’s.
- Payment plans are highly pushed and focused on with the benefits being:
- Ease of financial commitment with a small amount down.
- Payment plans go as high as 20 years, especially if you are on a fixed income.
- Early pay off options offering the same as cash within a designated time.
- Should death occur after a designated period and before the end of the payment plan, your funeral is paid for.
- If death occurs within the early months/years of the contract all payments plus interest are returned to the family or funeral home to go towards the funeral cost.
- It’s transferable to any funeral home, but the price guarantee is no longer in place.
- There is a grace period for cancellation.
One might think, what’s not to love right? Makes sense. Our well-known community funeral home would never take advantage of us. They want to create a win-win for the family and the funeral home, right? Heck they even paid for our meal; on some level a person may feel obligated.
Here’s what no one is telling the consumer or talking about.
- Frequently, but not always, the “pre-planning specialist” is not truly a funeral home employee, it’s a contracted employee from a pre-planning third party.
- What this means is that a middleman has created a company that trains people to sell #pre-planned funerals. These individuals are compensated via piece work and commissions.
- A few third-party providers employ individuals who serve multiple funeral homes. They visit the town only when they receive leads from respondents to a direct mail program or from community members, and once their task is done, they proceed to the next location.
- This is not illegal, but it can be misleading. If the pre-need consultant isn’t at the funeral home on a daily basis, nor lives in the community, it’s often just about the sale, not creating a long-term relationship.
- The benefit to the funeral home is that they have an aggressive pre-planning program without the responsibility of a full-time employee to manage, and often no real overhead.
- One might compare this to subletting an employee from a temp-agency.
What’s my point?
Know who you are doing business with. Use your common sense, nothing is literally free! While the meal may be paid for, and yes you held up your end of the bargain by staying to listen. You were compensated for your time. Time these days is a precious commodity. As a funeral home professional and a believer in pre-planning, I’m more interested in due diligence. The overall information that was shared with you, I’m confident, was both legal and made sense. In fact, the third party may be very reputable, as is the funeral home and dining establishment. What is concerning is the fact that your time was bought. You may or may not have felt pressured.
If the individual asking for your business is not being completely transparent about their affiliation with a third-party organization that partners with the funeral home and earns commissions, you’re only hearing half of the story. If the offer is good today, it should be good thirty days from now. You were given a great gift of information for your time. Please compare your wishes with another provider. Second, even third opinions with anything is always a good decision.
In closing, ask these questions:
- Is the pre-planning specialist an employee of the funeral home or contracted by a third party?
- Is the pre-planning specialist being paid through the funeral home or through the third party through commissioned sales?
- Will the pre-planning specialist be available should I come to the funeral home at any given time?
- Why should I do business with you?
- Does the pre-planning specialist know the funeral home’s history as well as who the directors are?
The purpose of this #conversation is to encourage you to look beyond the moment. You are smart. You may not be an expert on this topic, however with a little information you can make an informed decision that fits your comfort level. If your decision ends up with the firm that initially got you thinking about planning your funeral, then do it. If not, don’t. Remember, you are not in a crisis moment, this decision can wait.