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Road map to turning funeral homes into partners

Download this calculator and planning worksheet

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Attached is a downloadable excel spreadsheet to plan your goals for increasing the obituaries franchise, plus a worksheet that can serve as a starting point for your company's road map.

Download the road map and use it as a starting point - but make it your own! Key to this strategy is making funeral homes into partners that will help sell obituaries, using new platforms that allow placing obituaries in real time.

Each of the key elements is explained below:

1. Determine market size

How much should and could your company be making in obituary revenues? The answers are different in each community. However, it's a good exercise to look at your actual market share, then you hypothesize using the calculator attached. In general, 80% of families place obituaries when someone dies and pay a wide variety of prices with a national average of around $234, that varies with economic and cultural factors.

Here are some of the plug-ins:

• Population of your town __________________
• Death rate (from the County Health Department) __________________
• # Obituaries sold (your numbers)___________
• Percentage uptake (# obits/Population x Death rate x100)__________

The percentage uptake (of families buying an obit when someone dies) tells you how well you are doing compared to similar markets. One reason this plan focuses on funeral homes is because they touch most families and are in a key position to raise this percentage.

• Average price (total revenues/#obits) ________
• Number of funeral homes ______________

The percentage of funeral homes using automated posting will be the first indicator of success when and if you launch automated posting for funeral home partners.

2. Research potential vendors and select technology platforms

The key to the new technology is to find self-serve online order entry for both print and online that funeral homes can use.

Both Memoriams and Wave2 offer order-entry platforms with a couple of important differences. 

Memoriams focuses on order-entry only, and allows upsells to a network of partnering newspaper sites. The online listings and memorials sites themselves are typically supplied by Legacy. The model is based on transaction fees paid by the consumer.

Wave2 offers order entry without this network for upsells - but also adds a competitive online listings products and memorial site platform. So, essentially, you can use the whole system and save money, or just use the order taking and upload to Legacy's products.

When selecting technology to use, here are some of the questions to ask:

• Does the platform provide order entry for funeral homes -> print and online

• How simple is it to use? 

• What do the memorial sites look like, and how is the experience compared to competing products?

• Cost comparison, taking everything into account

• How important is having a network to sell into (ask funeral homes about this part)

3. Meet with funeral homes – fact finding mission

Liz Naughton, Community Information Manager for the Bay Area News Group, who is in charge of the giant obituaries increases there over seven years, recommends visiting every home with a fact-finding mission first to create a relationship, and find out what funeral homes want and need.

Also remember to talk to your own sales staff that works with homes - they may already have an easy list of wants and needs.

If your company does not yet use online order taking at all, consider releasing this product through funeral homes first.

While you work on developing these relationships, however, don't offer spiffs and kick backs. This is a highly regulated industry and it's easy to offend the people your are trying to partner with. 

Below are some ideas of things that you can offer them, but listen during field visits for what they want. The return on the relationship may be much greater than the concessions you make.

4. Set pricing

Use of automated order-taking platforms requires a new variety of pricing strategies.  Dynamic pricing, in which order-takers can see the exact price, literally as they are typing into the system, are proven to increase the overall buy, probably because of the certainty.

But other strategic factors should weigh into the formula:

• Obits sold via funeral homes__________. This pricing should be lower, another spiff to encourage funeral homes to place more obituaries for you.

• Obits sold in-house by customer service reps ____________. These prices should be the highest.

• Private party self serve__________. This price should be in between, less than accounts handled by a service rep, higher than accounts handled by the funeral home.

• Memorial sites ________________. The price for this product typically averages from $70 to $150 and can add significantly to revenues.

5. Create other incentives for homes

Hopefully the fact-finding mission will reveal some preferences of funeral homes. The key here is to listen  - and give them what they want. In return, when you launch the order-entry they will be active sellers of obituaries for you.

The Bay Area News Group found that funeral homes disliked having to pay to have their logo on print ads - and to link from online obituaries to their own web sites. So they eventually dropped these charges.  Sales continued to increase as some funeral homes adopted a policy of offering obituaries to every family to take advantage of free advertising of their logo all over the obituaries page.

6. Launch plan for new processes and platform

The launch itself is part of the product. Make sure that workshops are held  for internal sellers as well as for the funeral homes themselves. This takes time - so block out your launch drive with enough room to communicate with all of the homes in the area as well as training staff.

Keep your % of funeral homes on the system as a key benchmark. Aim for 90% - that is an achievable goal.

7. Add private party self-serve order entry

If you don't already have online order entry for print and online, best practice is to add this last. But do add it. Some companies have reduced their customer service departments from five to three, leaving the small crew in place to help out people who need it. A few media companies have eliminated human sellers completely.

Remember, that sales per obituary are actually higher with self serve by about 10 to 12%, even though the pricing is lower.

The Bay Area News Group's plan also calls for customer service reps to let families know that the price is lower at the funeral homes.

Summary

Notice how this plan overall supports a new kind of partnership with funeral homes and transforms that relationship. The funeral homes are the place families must go when their loved ones die, while placing an obituary is only an option. So this relationship is the key strategy to securing and growing the franchise. Every element of your plan should be designed with this in mind.

Finally, while there is no reason to wait around, remember that Rome wasn't built in a day. Give your plan a full year to unfold.

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