(Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from a presentation Mike Harens, National Account Manager at Coldspring, gave at the 2019 ICCFA Convention & Expo.)
The sale of a private mausoleum is generally considered a “big deal” at any cemetery, but it’s not the only definition of a big deal—your cemetery might have a different definition. Maybe it’s a side by-side tandem crypt space, or a build-to-suit lot. What a particular cemetery considers a ‘big deal” sale could simply mean any significant memorial created by staff members working with a family to design something that has a meaningful impact on that family and leads to more referrals.
Even if your cemetery doesn’t sell private mausoleums, learning how to make a “big deal” sale will help your organization. The key to your role as a memorialist is making sure that every family is presented with every option, every time. This is especially important these days, when not every family comes to the cemetery. We need to be excellent at presenting options to the families who do come to us. That includes being able to show families the possibilities for multi-generational memorialization offered by a private mausoleum, being able to present that vision in a way that ensures they can picture it.
I’ve found that people have a lot of apprehension about selling private mausoleums. Two of the questions they fear getting are “What does a private family mausoleum cost?” and “How quickly can you build one of these?” A counselor who’s not prepared might say, in answer to a question about cost, “Ahh … not a lot.” That’s not the way to answer. The key to not panicking is to improve your presentation process.. It can be an art if, as a professional, you take the time to prepare, to do your homework ahead of time.
I call this the P4 process: Plan, prepare, practice and present. And repeat that process over and over. We need to be prepared to give every person who walks in our door a good customer experience.
Planning, which is crucial, is a four-part process.
1. The marketing plan: How are you going to attract the people with the potential and the interest to buy a private mausoleum to your cemetery? Have you ever imagined that someday, when you’re sitting in your office, the most prominent family in town will drive up in their luxury car, stroll into your office and announce, “I want to do something special for my family”?
Have you ever actually sold a private estate that way? No. It takes marketing; it takes education. That consumer education piece is crucial, and it’s something that’s often missing. Marketing the availability of private mausoleums is like marketing a new section. You can hold a ribbon-cutting (if you have a specific section developed for private estates), or a white tent event. But even as you try to appeal to the high-end market you expect to be the natural clients for private estates, don’t appeal only to them.
Never forget: Every family, every option, every time. You need to make sure that everyone who walks into your property is aware of all of the opportunities available for their family.
2. The product plan: What does your “big deal” offering look like? If your market is mainly cremation, maybe it’s a private family mausoleum designed with niches in mind. Maybe you see a market in your area for organic, back-to-nature designs. If so, you need to plan that offering. Think about the possibilities for private estates as you’re developing new areas. A senior sales leader in Florida once told me that he believes every property should include a million dollar memorialization opportunity. You need to identify that possibility before the family who might want that opportunity walks through your doors.
Talk to your colleagues in the industry, do some networking. What do the million dollar opportunities at their cemeteries look like? Find out what their high-end developments look like, and think about how you could mirror them. Make sure your potential clients realize there are some amazing things being done in cemeteries across the country, and make
sure you’re ready to offer amazing things at your cemetery.
Think about what else might go in the area, such as benches. Talk to your vendor partners, whether a landscape architect, a memorial vendor or anyone else who could contribute to your vision. If you’re envisioning a million-dollar memorialization opportunity, maybe you want to have a 3-D rendering created that shows what a six-crypt walk-in mausoleum, or a four-crypt walk up with benches and some landscaping, could look like. Have that rendering on a poster in front of the lot or in your office.
3. The physical plan: If an opportunity comes up to sell a private mausoleum, where can it go on your property? This involves not only identifying available land that’s attractive, but making sure any lot you might propose would be accessible. You want to avoid choosing a lot too far away from a road where you can’t get a crane close enough to place a mausoleum. A private mausoleum can average, on the low end, 25,000 pounds, and go up to something that could involve placing 200,000 pounds of granite. Make sure the mausoleum installer will be able to get to the property with the necessary equipment.
Other things to think about: Are there power lines? Is there irrigation? If the family wants a fountain, how are you going to provide the water?
4. The pricing plan: This has become more important because of smartphones and internet shopping. People are used to being able to find out quickly how much something will cost, so you have to be ready to give them answers quickly. You can’t wait until someone asks you, “How much would it cost. Just tell me!” Cemeterians are in a 24/7 business, but not all of your partners are open 24/7.
If someone wants to know what a 10-crypt, walk-in, 18-by-18-foot building would cost, you need to be able to give them that price. If they decide they only want a six-crypt mausoleum, or one with a smaller footprint, you need to be able to give them that price. It’s also a qualifier. If you’re prepared, you can present confidently, and you can qualify that family in advance.
You need to prepare both physically and mentally. Physical preparation involves making sure the property you’ve singled out for private mausoleum placement looks inviting. Is the land developed, is it mowed? If you show a family land where they can place a private mausoleum and it’s undeveloped and covered with weeds, is that really a million-dollar opportunity? If you already have private estates in your cemetery, are they clean and presentable at all times, or are there cobwebs on them? Is the snow shoveled off the patio in the winter; are the leaves swept off it in the fall? Think about that small-town Chevy dealership that has a Corvette sitting in its lobby. Maybe no one in that small town will ever buy a Corvette, but just in case, it’s sitting there, and they keep it nicely polished.
Your cemetery is your showroom. Like that Chevy dealer, you’ve got to keep your premium offerings ready to present at any time. Make sure the landscaping looks nice. Make sure the sprinklers are hitting all the flowers. Whether it’s a building in inventory or one that’s already family-occupied, you want to make sure that people can see: “They still build those. People still buy those. Our family’s legacy can look like this for years and years to come.”
Being mentally prepared means getting trained to make the “big deal.” If you’re a sales manager, work with your vendors to train your people. If your counselors can get comfortable presenting high-end property, high-end memorials, the families they educate will put more into memorialization. We have cemeteries that send topperforming sales counselors to our organization to see the entire process, from the stone being extracted from the ground to the fabrication process. They learn about soil borings, the foundation that needs to be engineered to go underneath a 100,000-pound building. It helps them understand what goes into the cost of a granite building, what builds value.
Part of it is in learning the right language to use—wordsmithing. Is that just a large granite building, or is it a private family mausoleum? Learning to talk about meaningful memorialization, to be passionate about memorialization, will help you with more than private mausoleum sales. And every time someone invests in meaningful memorialization, it adds to your heritage, and keeps the family coming back to your cemetery.
Everybody practices if they want to improve their performance. A counselor in Southern California told me about taking a class on how to sell high-end luxury homes in order to be better at presenting private mausoleums. Why? To learn the language. “It’s not ‘upgrades,’ it’s ‘enhancements’; it’s not ‘steps,’ it’s a ‘stairway.’ When I talk about a million dollar piece of property at the cemetery, it’s a garden.” If you have a vendor partner, ask them for any tools they have to help you.
Learn what’s available and how to talk about it, whether it’s a hand-crafted bronze door or stained glass windows. These sorts of details can get a family engaged. It’s all about customer experience today. You need to make sure that if you’re asking a family to write a million dollar check, you’re giving them a million-dollar experience.
Walk your property with your counselors. Take them to a private mausoleum and ask them, “How would you present this to a family?” Think about how you present in your park tour. I’ve heard people talk about top-down selling: Show people the premium property first and then work your way down to the least expensive property so that they’ve seen everything before you ask them what they want. How about top-down-top, instead?
Before you ask the family what their thoughts are, go back to show them the best, remind them of that “big deal” opportunity. That can at least move the middle. Do you know what your middle is, as far as memorialization? Not your average contract, not your average sale, but your average memorial sale. If you’re ready to sell that “big deal” at any time, to hit that home run, you’ll find that some of your singles becomes doubles, doubles become triples, and the middle moves, which means everyone wins. The family wins because they have something meaningful they didn’t even know existed, they didn’t know they could do until you presented it to them, and your organization wins by gaining more revenue.
This is really where it all comes together, in the presentation. This is everything you’ve practiced for, what makes you a professional. I’ve heard some people say, “Well, my people know when to pull me in,” or “My people know when it’s something really big that they should get the sales manager involved in.” But if your people aren’t ready to present the “big deal” every single time, you’re not getting pulled in to talk to a family about a high-end opportunity because your people aren’t comfortable broaching it. If a counselor stumbles the first time they try to present family mausoleum opportunities, their confidence will take a hit and they won’t be trying that again.
The first time somebody asks “How much is that?” and they can’t confidently answer or it takes them three days to get an answer, they’re not going to be bringing up mausoleum opportunities again, because they didn’t enjoy being put in an uncomfortable position. You need to take the planning, preparation and practice and make sure it all comes together in the presentation, because that’s what can really increase your number of “big deal” sales.
If you need a consultant to evaluate your park tour, reach out to a colleague. Reach out to someone you’ve met through the ICCFA and ask them to take your park tour and give you feedback. Make sure that every family who comes to your cemetery sees the opportunity for a private mausoleum. Identify the locations for future family estates so that if a family doesn’t like the ones you’ve developed you can offer alternatives. “We haven’t developed it yet but here is our
vision.” Maybe it’s a cul-de-sac; maybe it’s an executive row; maybe it’s an island. Think it through and be sure to include it in your park tour—that’s the piece that often gets overlooked.
If a family comes to the cemetery and can’t talk to someone who is confident and can help them choose a meaningful memorial, that’s a problem. You can’t have a counselor who says, “Well, we’ve got a bunch of stuff; what are you looking for?” They don’t know what they’re looking for; they need somebody to guide them through the process. In the end, it’s all about customer experience. Whether you sell a family a grand private mausoleum or a modest but very meaningful memorial, being prepared to educate families helps both the family and your organization.
Article c/o ICCFA Magazine