Church Market Relationships

Marketing and selling to churches requires a certain modicum of understanding and respect to traditions so as not to upset the sensibilities of churches that draw a line between worship and production. For those in the A/V/L industry, learning to work with the new breed of churches is an important element in selling products and services to this unique vertical market.

Selling to Churches Just Got Easier…

Churches have slowly adopted a production model that incorporates the workflow of a secular production in terms of media and technology. But be careful about using the term ‘production’ with every church –- especially mainline denominations –- to make sure you don’t accidentally offend their style of service. Still, the flexibility of today’s technology in a production environment means that your experience and expertise will translate well into the modified production model of a growing number of churches — especially those with multiple venues or campuses.

Applying technology that meets these flexible requirements provides manufacturers and integrators alike with a renewed opportunity to re-engage past church clients and increase exposure and sales in this unique vertical market with products designed specifically for multi-purpose venues. Every bit of A/V/L technology that goes into a performing arts venue will be equally at home in todays’ new churches, which is both a sales and marketing blessing for those targeting the house of worship market.

From an integrators’ standpoint, expertise in performing arts is a strong value proposition to churches that desire the flexible functionality and want to maximize their technology spend. Rather than focusing on specific technology components, the technical infrastructure becomes the greater investment opportunity, which leads to a long-term relationship of supporting the existing equipment and providing rental and new sales opportunities as the venue is used in ways their previous auditorium never could be.

In an interview with Scott Nelson, principal at HH Architects, the largest mega-church architecture firm, Nelson shared the following observation: “The folks who are best using their technology have a plan in place of how they want to use it. I think sometimes there are churches that believe technology is a cure-all for being relevant or current, but it’s those churches who know how technology fits into all spaces in their facilities that use it best.” Nelson’s assessment reveals a tremendous — and needed — education opportunity to help these churches make the right purchases.

…And Selling to Churches Just Got Harder

Though a trend for new construction of church auditoriums has shifted towards a production model, which makes selling into the market easier, the diversity of churches has only increased and now includes dozens of denominations and a group that simply prefers to be called “non-denominational” — even if they’re still a part of a denomination but not actively promoting the fact”. In this sense, it’s potentially a steeper learning curve to expand into the house of worship market, even for those with some success within this industry vertical.

Understanding and respecting various church beliefs and sensibilities means speaking their language. For example, it’s helpful to know what a “Narthex” is (and which denominations use this term), which church types will present proposals to a committee instead of the staff leadership or what it means when the “elders” want to meet to discuss the project scope. Educating sales and marketing staff of these nuances is an important ingredient in mixing up metaphors to church influencers and decision-makers.

And, for the record, churches don’t need or want your marketing to include phrases like “divine sound,” “faith comes by hearing” or “heavenly light.” Just because they’re in churches doesn’t mean the don’t know cheesy ads. Don’t talk down to them; just talk to them.

Build It and They Will Come

The relationship, that is. Let’s face it: Box sales are all about the Internet. Sure, dealers and systems integrators can and will get box sales, but the real value is in the service and expertise, not the product alone. Manufacturers get this fact, too, and are offering better warranties and even online training to help make the sale to churches.

The reality is that every church is similar to a NOC (Network Operations Center): They can’t go down. Every weekend is a mission-critical environment, and up-time is a high premium. In fact, if you’ve sold to a church previously, a second conversation is in order because no matter how good the system or products installed, technology can and will fail at some point. These church understand this acutely after experiencing a failure and are far more receptive to not “VE-ing” a project (“value engineering”) once they’ve limped through a weekend.

And, with the trend of churches building functional performing arts centers as their new venues, the technology has to also be have significant up-time for third-party usage of their facilities. All of this points to greater opportunity for not only more technology implementations, but even more service contract and rental options.

Here’s where both manufacturers and integrators can really reinforce the systems trinity: people, process and technology. Churches want options when it comes to up-time on weekends. For some, redundant systems are worth the additional expense. For others, having back up options (portable systems even) are a good fail-safe. And yet for some churches having a service contract with automatic rentals built-in is great insurance in case of last-minute failure.

In each of those scenarios is the opportunity for building a trusted relationship with the dealer and the manufacturer. The pastor doesn’t care what the solution is; they just want the solution to be quick and effective — and not experience another critical weekend failure! Remember, you may have to miss out on the first sale and still pursue the relationship through thought leadership and helpful education over time, but the churches that have experienced pain will remember you.

People First, Technology Second

To reinforce this point, another veteran of the church market, Ben Cating, senior consultant with the firm Acoustic Dimensions, shared his firm’s experience with helping churches make technology decisions. “The technology isn’t the hard part, really,” said Cating. “It’s the amount of content and the management of the technology that truly limits how effectively the church can use technology. That’s why we say the Triangle of Communication is focusing in on what the church’s culture is so that you’re not spending money on what they cannot afford or will not use very often.”

When it comes to technology, the answer is almost always ‘yes’… but at a price. Instead of starting with technology, helping define the church’s desired outcomes is a never-ending education point for those in this vertical channel. From a manufacturer’s perspective, this includes helpful trainings and free downloads on web and mobile platforms that includes both the presentation and the content aimed specifically at the needs and challenges of the house of worship market space (remember, talking to them, not at them). Integrators can take this a step further with local trainings and A/B testing product demos at existing church clients, as well as weekend loaner programs to introduce the church to what’s possible in the context of their needs and goals.

Ideally this kind of thought leadership, unique programs and co-op marketing opportunities should originate at the manufacturer level. But for the savvy and determined integrator interested in long-term sales and service contracts, re-engaging churches can be a wise investment that can pay solid dividends. No matter which CRM used, churches are the ideal prospect for setting quarterly and bi-annual sales call reminders because they are often able to make unplanned purchases after unexpected donations. By continually providing thought leadership, practical advice and helpful education content regularly, these sales opportunities can be closed when the time is right – but only if you’ve sown the relational seeds ahead of time.

The house of worship markets’ similarities to other production-oriented verticals makes them ideal candidates for much of the technology sold today. With the right education, thought leadership and relation-building, integrators and manufacturers can see more business opportunities through intentional effort.

A former staff member at three mega churches and church technology consultant, Anthony Coppedge has developed a respected reputation as a leader in technical and communications circles within the church marketplace. Reach him at anthony@anthonycoppedge.com or on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/anthonycoppedge

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