Asking Churches the Right Questions

featured-how-trendsI’m not a fan of link baiting titles (“Five ways to better…three steps for…”, etc.) but I was tempted to entitle this article “The Five Questions to Ask Churches” because, well, that’s what I’ve written about. However, there’s a warning that comes with this article: These are not sales techniques, but are a paradigm shift for firms willing to embrace the church market.

Q1: How do you want to use technology?

This question sounds straightforward, but it’s leading into something greater than any single technology; it’s the motivation of the church leadership that’s revealed by the answer. The reason I don’t ask “why do you want to use technology?” is because it sounds too obvious and could confuse the church into trying to answer about a specific brand or type of technology. Instead, by asking how, you’ll often hear answers that reveal their beliefs about the role of technology and their expectation for what technology will solve a perceived issue.

Understanding the motivation is a lot like peeling back the layers of an onion; the broadest, most generic answers are easily peeled away to get to the real issues at the heart of the matter, which are much smaller and more precise. Identifying the underlying beliefs and core issues helps you provide technology solutions that don’t simply Band-aid an issue, but solve fundamental problems that provide greater value than any one gear sale ever could.

Once you know what a church believes about using technology, you are positioned to help educate and influence the design for long-term solutions that posture the church for greater results. Building rapport and establishing trust is key, and this first question sets the stage for you.

Q2: What is your biggest technology pain point and what is your desired outcome?

Identifying their afflictions and aspirations shows that you’re listening and not simply waiting to sell them what’s in your warehouse inventory. Hearing their pain points will help you to grasp the symptoms so that you can use your experience to get to the root cause; hearing their desired outcomes gives you insight into their preferred future. Be sure to ask for clarification if their desired outcome is limited to stopping the pain. We all want to be pain-free, but it’s better to be able to do more/grow more than simply stop an aggravation.

It’s telling when a church answers this question because it’s a two-fold approach wrapped up in one; they have to consider ‘why’ and not just ‘what,’ even though the why question wasn’t actually asked. Keep digging until you get this one fully answered!

Q3: What will this allow your church to do?

Often, a church is so accustomed to technology introducing as many new issues as the ones it solves that they’ve not ever considered how technology could impact their effectiveness. Of course, this speaks to the reality that when others have only band-aided problems in the past, the church was conditioned that their issues could never be truly solved. But by helping them to imagine a better future through the application of technology that not only solves problems, but prevents new ones from happening, you’ve begun the process of re-framing the conversation from a price-point (what will it cost to fix this issue?) to a value proposition that’s focused on them and not the technology.

Once freed from the shackles of belief that technology only solves problems, the future of your relationship with the church can take on an added dimension: using technology proactively.

Q4: What does a successful vendor-client relationship look like for your church?

You will undoubtedly be compared to other vendors. The key here is to stand out from the rest by transcending the perceived relational bounds from technology-provider to church advocate. Your sales pitch may be solid, your marketing materials top-notch, and your references stellar, but when you shift from being the person selling something to the advocate giving them the right to define success, the change is significant.

Think about it this way: If you got to tell every vendor you work with how things needed to work that benefited you as much as it benefited them, how likely would you be to choose that vendor over the competition? Yeah, it’s that powerful.

Now, here’s where you have to be certain your firm can and will stand behind this inferred promise: If, at the end of the project, you are not truly representing the church as an advocate, this will end up being abusive salesmanship and your reputation will be hurt, not only with this church but also with their network of other churches.

Q5: What would you want to tell your pastor friends about us when this project is over?

Gulp. You’ve not yet landed the project, they’re just getting to know you and — wham! — you’re asking how they want to talk about you after the project is over? It may sound assumptive, but think about it from the church client’s point of view: You’re asking what they want to say. That’s powerful, because it gives them all of the power. They can imagine being satisfied before the project has ever begun! And they’re associating being satisfied with you, not just the project. This is a risky question because it’s setting you up to deliver and make the entire experience terrific — no small task. But it also means you get to know exactly what it will take to make the client happy. That’s a huge advantage you’ll have over your competition, who will only know the project goals, not their personal goals.

I’ll tell you now: If you’re in sales and you think you’ve just heard a ‘killer sales pitch,’ be warned that without complete buy-in from your leadership on working as described above in this market, you will fail. It’s easy to over-promise and under-deliver, which is why these five questions are posed as how to engage this market when you’ve transitioned from being a gear-seller to a client-advocate, solution-oriented firm.

Is this a commitment your firm is willing to make? Can you see using the five questions as a new paradigm for selling and succeeding in the house of worship market?

Share your views and opinions in the comments below.