I did something this week that I haven’t done in over twenty years. I played a round of golf.

Mike Cyplik, the head of business development at Funeral One, invited me to join him at a charity golf tournament in Houston. It was a fundraiser for the National Museum of Funeral History, and quite a few industry vendors were participating and sponsoring teams.

When Mike invited me to join him on the trip, I told him I wasn’t a golfer anymore. But after thinking about it for a bit, I decided to tag along. If nothing else, I figured it would be a chance to meet new people and support a good cause.

Many years ago, I played golf once a week during our short golf season in Michigan. I was never good, but I did enjoy it. However, when my wife and I started having children and life became hectic, golf didn’t fit my schedule anymore.

It had been over twenty years since I’d played a round of golf. The last time I played regularly was probably thirty years ago (i.e., the age of our oldest child).

But we’re now empty nesters, and I finally have time for a few hobbies. With that in mind, I accepted Mike’s invitation and found my old clubs stored in the rafters of my garage.

I went to the driving range once before the trip. For some reason, my golf swing hadn’t improved with age. My drives were slicing and hooking all over the place. It wasn’t a pretty sight. 

I noticed when watching the other golfers at the driving range that clubs had changed a lot since I bought mine 30+ years ago. So I did some research later and learned that the sweet spot on clubs is much larger than it used to be. That’s the place on the club that you should hit the ball with to get the best results.

That means the chances of hitting a good ball are much higher with newer golf clubs.

Armed with that tidbit, I decided to rent a set of clubs at the tournament rather than lugging my old ones to Houston. That turned out to be an excellent idea.

The first time I teed off at the tournament, something miraculous happened…the ball went straight. Then, the ball went straight when I used an iron on the fairway. Even my putts were relatively straight.

I still wasn’t close to being as good as some of the players on our team, but I wasn’t as horrible as I had expected. Using clubs with a bigger sweet spot meant that even someone who hasn’t played in 20+ years could enjoy a round of golf.

On the flight home, I was thinking about how golf and the funeral business are similar.

To win at golf, you have to master three distinct parts of the game; driving, fairways, and greens. First, you use a driver to hit the ball as far as possible from the tee onto the fairway. Then use your irons to get the ball onto the green and a putter to put the ball in the hole.

The grow a funeral home, you have to master three distinct parts of the business; marketing, arranging, and serving. First, you use marketing to connect with a family who needs your help. Next, you use an arrangement meeting to win the call, and then you provide services to the family.

In golf, the three distinct parts of the game require very different skills. You can hit your drives 300+ yards, but if you can’t hit your irons well or putt, you will not improve your score.

The same thing happens in the funeral business. If you can’t market your funeral home, your phone will never ring. If you can’t make arrangements, you either won’t win the call, or you’ll have a lot of direct cremations with no service. And if you can’t do a good job of serving the family, you’ll get negative reviews, and your phone will stop ringing.

My point is that you have to master all three parts of the funeral business if you want to grow.

Golf has changed significantly during my twenty-year hiatus from the game. The clubs and balls are both different. Plus, new technology, like rangefinders, takes much of the guesswork out of the game.

If you compare today’s funeral business to what you had twenty years ago, you will find an even bigger difference.

Twenty years ago, the most important marketing tool for a funeral home was the Yellow Pages. Today, it’s Google and Facebook.

Twenty years ago, the arrangement meeting focused on collecting the information for the obituary and scheduling the service. Today, it’s a life review and event planning exercise.

Twenty years ago, serving a family meant preparing the deceased and getting everyone to the church on time. Today, it’s providing a personalized funeral experience that honors the story of a lifetime and meets their emotional, spiritual, and relational needs. (that’s a mouthful!)

Increasing the sweet spot size has revolutionized the game of golf and made it possible for mediocre players ( like me) to enjoy the game more. It’s an important innovation that will have a lasting impact on the industry.

What’s a similar innovation that will have a lasting impact on the funeral industry?

I believe it is Funeral Directors who embrace their new role of helping families navigate the roughly thirty-day period after losing a loved one.

The embalming skills you worked hard to master are not important to a family choosing cremation. But what that same family desperately needs is someone who can help them understand their needs, make some decisions that address those needs, and then guide them through the rest of the experience.

An arrangement process centered around vital statistics and scheduling a church service has a shrinking sweet spot. You will succeed with families who want a traditional funeral, but you’ll lose everyone else.

When you embrace your new role as a guide or consultant, your sweet spot will grow, and you will have the opportunity to serve more families.

Families need an expert to guide them through the experience of losing a loved one. That’s the new sweet spot and the good news is that it’s getting larger rather than smaller.

Until next time


PS: Thanks again to Mike Cyplik at Funeral One. It looks like it’s time to buy some new golf clubs!


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