The 5 Biggest Takeaways From ICCFA’s Wide World of Sales Conference

ICCFA's Wide World of Sales

If you have been tuned away from our blog for the last week, you may have missed the exciting fact that we were live-blogging the funeral profession’s Wide World of Sales Conference in Las Vegas. This annual meeting, put on by ICCFA, attracted hundreds of funeral sales, marketing and management professionals in a 3-day event filled with nothing but education on how to better ourselves and our businesses.

But, if you were not able to attend the conference this year, have no fear… today we are recapping five of the most important things that we took away from this year’s ICCFA Sales Olympics. Now even if you missed the sessions, you can still arm yourself with the knowledge and insights to make 2016 the best year yet for your funeral home.

Did you miss our last blog from ICCFA’s Wide World of Sales Conference? Read it here: Funeral Experts At ICCFA’s Wide World of Sales Won’t Stop Talking About This One Word.”

1. Be a company with purpose, not a company with Excel.

Every funeral professional should have a purpose. A guiding light that aligns you to the reason why you are doing what you do. Why? Because people who have purpose in their career are happier, stay longer in the profession, care for their company, and most of all, care for their families and serve them carefully. Funeral businesses that only focus on their Excel spreadsheets? They only think about the numbers and earning a salary. They will seek other opportunities outside of your company without thinking twice, because they may care only for their wallet and not truly for their company.

Encourage your employees to uncover their purpose. What gets them out of bed in the morning? What makes them come back into work after a particularly challenging day? Uncovering this purpose in your employees will not only give them more value, but will change the life of your customers in the long run, as well.

2. The most effective way to get a referral is to ask for it.

When Linda Jankowski was presenting at her session ‘Getting A Referral,’ she shared a shocking fact: The reason why most funeral professionals do not get any referrals is because they don’t ask for them. In a profession that relies so heavily on generation-long customers and word of mouth marketing, it’s surprising to hear that most people are ignoring their most effective means of attracting new families. After digging a little deeper, Linda realized it was because most of us freeze up before we even get to the referral process! In a survey of her findings, she reported that most people do not ask for a referral because:

  • They forget. (35% of respondents.)
  • They were worried asking for a referral would “ruin the mood. (14% of respondents.)
  • They didn’t get the sale, so they don’t think they have a right to ask about a referral. (10% of respondents.)
  • They were worried that the family would think they are being underhanded. (10% of respondents.)
  • They are afraid they might lose their sale. (8% of respondents.)


How do you help your employees get past their fear and ask for the referral? Give them an effective, proven script (that doesn’t sound like a script) that has been proven to work. Have them practice it and recite it so often that it becomes second nature, and soon their fears will be replaced by confidence.

3. Give your families a consistent experience at every touch point.

Why do people enjoy chain businesses like Starbucks or McDonalds? Is it because they have the best coffee or food in the world? No. It’s because, when they walk into one of these location – no matter where in the world it may be – they know they are going to be greeted with the same menu, same attitude, same taste and same experience. The same thing should happen when someone walks into your funeral home. No matter if someone emails one of your staff members, speaks to someone on the phone, attends one of your services, or comes in for a meeting, they should receive the same service across the board. After all, consistency is the key to success in the service profession.

4. Your words can do more damage than you think.

Because we work in the funeral profession day in and day out, we can sometimes forget that a lot of our funeral vocabulary is unfamiliar, and sometimes downright scary to families that we meet. But it’s important to remember that words are very powerful, and you should be particularly mindful of the ones that you choose when you are explaining services to families. For example, do not schedule a pre-planning “appointment.” Instead, offer to sit down with families, visit with them and explain how you can protect them. Why should you avoid such a common word as appointment? Well, think about it… who makes appointments? People who inflict pain and people who take your money. You’re there to help families, give them support, and offer them a service that is going to protect them. Therefore, be casual, easy and personal in your vocabulary

5. Funeral professionals are their own kind of Olympians.

Given that we were at an event dubbed the “Sales Olympics,” there was a lot of talk about what makes an Olympic hero. They beat the odds, they inspire people, they uplift, they don’t give up. And, sure, the title of “funeral professional” may not be as sexy or glamorous as “Olympian,” but the words that define them? They sound a lot to me like the majority of funeral professionals I know. This is the most caring, loving, humbling, fulfilling and rewarding profession in the world. That same great feeling of accomplishment, joy and pride after a job well done that Olympians feel? Funeral professionals get those same feelings after they have helped a family, or pulled off an incredibly meaningful service. We help people, we win (despite being looked at as the underdogs), and we create joy in difficult situations. That sounds pretty heroic to me.

What is your biggest insight when it comes to reflecting on the work you have done in the funeral profession in the last year? Are any of the above takeaways something you are planning to focus more on in 2016? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Julie Weir

    I enjoy reading your tips.

  2. Graham Burton

    Hi Rilee ,nice to see great comments again ,section 3 spot .In the funeral business only one chance to get it right from start to finish.Yes consistency is the key in every way in this serviceable profession just being yourself and treating famlies how you would expect to be treated yourselve goes along way in famlies coming back to you .
    Keep up the good work .regards Graham

  3. Walter L. Hatfield

    Rilee, I know by your photo that you are young and would not remember the old days when people that we served were more than a Buck to be had, Funeral Director’s were listed as number 2 behind Minister’s in “TRUST”. I hate to throw water on a profession that I served with pride, honesty and dedication for 47 years but there has to be an awareness that the funeral INDUSTRY has become just another retail business. I am not saying that a profit is wrong, I’m saying that when the SCI’s of the profession took over, the quality and respect for funeral service took a hit from the public. I can speak to this by my own experience. I worked under the ownership of, Loewen Group, Alderwoods and SCI. As each became unable to make more profit, the fixation on financial reward became a total commitment. The salesmen that were hired to do pre-need were untrained to understand the complexity of arrangements and resulted in mistakes, misunderstandings and outright fraud. I know the Funeral Directors were suppose to sign off on the arrangement and what I signed were all fine, To my knowledge, not knowing what was inferred by the salesman without anything in print. I hope this is accepted with my best wishes to those that try to operate a funeral home with commitment to the bereaved, the profits have ALWAYS been there if we lived the ‘Golden Rule” not he who has the gold…Rules!

  4. Rilee Chastain

    Walter, thanks for the comment! As you mentioned, I think that a lot of funeral professionals are trying to find the right balance between supporting families and supporting themselves through their profession. Luckily, I think the key to this balance aligns with the same word you mentioned – “Trust.” Families have shown that they’re willing to spend the money on funeral costs, and even upgrade to more high-end options, when they understand the value behind the services, and when their funeral director is open and honest about the cost and what goes into it. I would encourage all people in this profession to focus first on educating families, no matter what the scenario, as it is the first step towards building trust with families.

  5. Rilee Chastain

    Great insights, Graham! I completely agree with you.