Live from ICCFA 2017: Shaping the Future of Funerals, One Relationship At A Time

This week, the funeralOne team is down in Nashville, Tennessee for the annual International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA) conference!

Not only is ICCFA one of our favorite events of the year because we get to meet with amazing funeral professionals from all over the world, but it also brings together some of the brightest and most innovative funeral minds together under one roof to talk about the future of funerals. And to make sure you, at home, get in on the insights, we’re recapping some of our favorite conversations here on our funeralOne blog… enjoy!

Hard work and dedication.

This simple motto and mantra is often repeated by some of the most successful people in the world as the secret to their success. And it only makes sense… if you put in the work that it takes to create the best funeral experience in the world for your families, and you are dedicated to making sure that experience shines through in everything you do, success is a natural byproduct.

Yet, despite this statement being so obvious, very few funeral professionals actually follow it in the way that they should. In fact, many do the opposite.

Many funeral homes maintain the same standards and ways of operating that they have for years, and sit by passively waiting for success come to them. But with this type of mindset, failure is much more likely to come than success ever will.

What funeral professionals should be doing instead if they want find success and reshape their future is reframe their mindset, embrace challenges and look for new opportunities. Michael J. Watkins, CFSP, CCO Vice President, Operations and Compliance of The Signature Group, shared many great insights on how funeral professionals could do just that in his talk, “Shaping the Future One Relationship at a Time” at ICCFA on Saturday, April 8th. Here’s what he shared…

Changing Your Mindset

If you want to be successful in the future of funerals, you must be willing to adapt to change. Just look at big box retail stores like Sears, Macy’s, Best Buy, JCPenny or Radioshack… at one point, all of these companies thrived and had their own community of loyal shoppers. But as today’s consumers changed and evolved, they each failed to look at the changes that were happening around them. By the time that they realized their business model was becoming outdated, it was already too late. Don’t let the same happen to your funeral home.

Some of the biggest threats that our industry has on the horizon include:

  • – Do-It-Yourself Funerals – Families who question every piece of merchandise and product that you sell, and would rather plan the event themselves
  • – Hotel-Hosted Funerals – Event spaces that allow for large group celebrations, compete with caterers and drink packages. Many families are now beginning to consider hotels as an option, with or without funerals.
  • – Tribute Centers at Hospice Facilities – Many hospices are now opening tribute or celebration centers at their locations as a way to embrace new trends such as living funerals.


What are you doing different with you facilities, your staff, your business model to keep up with these threats? In fact, what are you doing different that you weren’t doing 5 years ago? The consumer in changing, and your response should be too.

Embrace Challenges

Often times, some of the biggest challenges that funeral professionals face come from our allied professionals… hospice workers, clergy members, etc. And sometimes it’s not intentional. They may have good intentions, but may be giving bad advice simply because they don’t understand our role. But what are you doing as the funeral expert in your community to change their way of thinking?

Our relationship with hospice workers should not be an us vs. them relationship. Instead, you should think of it like a baton race. Up until it becomes your time to help a family, the hospice center in your community has been carrying the baton. They have cared for it and handled it kindly. And they want to be able to trust that you will do the same when they hand it off. And the only way they will be comfortable doing this is if they know you and know your story.

Take some time out of your day to engage with your allied professionals in your community. Tell them your story. No one should be giving guidance about your funeral home if they don’t have the information to. Become professionally assertive… don’t just make contacts, but make relationships.

Look for New Opportunities

Last, but not least, look for active opportunities in your community that will help you better educate your families, form relationships with key partners, and will establish yourself as the go-to funeral expert in your town. It’s not solicitation to be caring and compassionate to the other businesses in your town, offer your expertise and guidance, and say, “we’re all in this together.” So take proactive steps.

Here are just a few ice breaker ideas that will bring you closer to your community:

  • Provide a list of your favorite grief resources to local hospice centers, hospitals, counseling centers, churches, etc. List your phone number at the end for additional assistance during a time of grief.
  • Host relevant events and education seminars at your funeral home, such as grief and counseling workshops, or even hosting hospice bereavement programs.
  • Share 365 Days of Grief Support emails with your local hospice centers or churches, so that they can share it with their own networks and families. (To learn how to get 365 Days of Support for your families, just click here.)
  • Give appreciation gifts to important members of your community that you work with regularly


How is YOUR funeral home taking steps to form better relationships with your community and shape the future of funerals? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!

Also, a big thanks to Michael J. Watkins for the great insights and session at ICCFA 2017! To learn more about Michael, click here to visit The Signature Group’s website.

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