The Church Market for AVL in Two Words — Big Opportunity

featured-future-howCompared to huge government contracts or big commercial deals, the church market may not seem nearly as compelling for manufacturers and systems integrators selling audio, video, and lighting technology. And while there won’t be $50MM dollar AVL deals in the House of Worship space, there also won’t be the massive complexity and low margins of those ginormous RFPs, either. Instead, there’s a big opportunity to sell into a vertical market that has a need for the technology, design, installation and ongoing service for years to come.

Today’s modern church in North America, and increasingly around the world, is tied to AVL technology. Video on demand, theatrical lighting, high levels of system automation, production studios, and quality audio systems for venues big and small are all needs and opportunities of portable churches, growing churches and, of course, the mega churches (2,000+ weekly attendance). Even in many mainline churches, technology has become more of a focus as venues are updated and new, young clergy are added to leadership, eager to bring their congregations forward with technology.

Churches and SLAs

Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are a term the AVL industry is familiar with, but they’re not associated with churches. This is a big opportunity because churches have a zero tolerance for AVL tech failure during events and services. More and more often, churches have insisted on redundancy in their systems to ensure critical AVL technologies continue to function without interruption. A smart manufacturer should either build in some level of redundancy (stackable projectors, extra lighting instruments, backup power supplies for mixing consoles) as an option or simply offer these as ‘standard’ equipment specs for church venues. I often double-stacked projectors and ran both in low-power mode for this exact reason. If a lamp or power supply failed in one, it required only a single button push to send the remaining projector into high power mode.

SLAs for churches should include a guarantee of minimal system/equipment performance for the hardware and software. Additionally, no SLA is complete without the define ‘if/then’ parameters to provide a clearly defined set of actions that happen if a failure occurs. Here is the big opportunity for an SLA to call out the service contracts and emergency personnel that systems integrators have long made a staple of their business. For churches, this will require weekend support and service options, as well as short windows for response and recovery.

It may surprise some readers to learn that more than a few churches rent external generators for instant backup power for church AVL systems during what are known as ‘high attendance weekends’ — such as Easter, Mother’s Day, and Christmas. With the chance to make a great first impression, these churches understand the importance of keeping the lights on — literally — during these weekends and will spend the extra money to ensure the technology remains on. This could easily be part of an SLA for systems integrators to promote to churches, as a simple cross-rental saves the church the time and headache of coordinating these high voltage backup systems.

There’s a big difference in selling something ‘extra’ as opposed to selling something that ensures consistency and dependability. When the stakes are high — and they are for weekend services — and the price of failure is either fiscally quantifiable or has a high opportunity cost, the need for redundancy becomes clear. These are not line-item expenses listing ‘quantity: 2’, but proper technology and system design that ensures continuous performance for weekly services and events.

As with any venue during a live event, major technical failures are a worst-case scenario. And like other venues, they feel the pain just as acutely. I’ve written about this before here on rAVe in my article “Mission-Critical Upgrades.”

Sunday comes every seven days. Churches have less than a week to either completely solve the problem or come up with a viable temporary solution.

Manufacturers would do well to consider adding SLAs as options to their equipment purchases as both a profit center and as a means to both support and supplant the typical product warranties.

Systems integrators should be introducing SLAs early into the conversation with church prospects to plant the seed of a disruption-free technology offering.

Churches Need Training

Amazing technology needs amazing training to help produce amazing results. A missed big opportunity manufacturers and systems integrators alike is to provide training — at tradeshows, at lunch ‘n learns, at church product demonstrations, and at on-site church training sessions — so that the largely volunteer-enabled staff has the insight to leverage the AVL technology with consistent results.

The initial training provided during a new installation or upgrade is nice, but what these churches need is consistent training so that their staff is better equipped and the turnover of volunteer ranks benefits from the ongoing training opportunities. I’ve often hired freelance professionals to spend several weekends with church tech staff and volunteers so that the repetition of instruction helps make the training ‘stick’ for these operators. There’s a great deal of comfort that comes when the Front of House (FOH) position changes from ‘the hot seat’ to the fun seat!

Churches need your expertise: Demonstrate, then Educate. Educate, then Initiate. Don’t Sell, Illustrate.

I simply cannot overstate this enough. Don’t lead with your product or solution – lead churches to it. The biggest problem I’ve personally experienced during many manufacturer training sessions is the propensity for it to be a soft (or hard) sales pitch for even more gear. This is a huge mistake and one that churches would like to avoid.

When – not if – gear fails, wouldn’t you rather have your brand noted for great training and service than blamed (right or wrong) because an operator didn’t have the expertise or experience to solve the issue? Of course you would, and churches will pay for peace of mind.

This is why I can sum up the church market for AVL in two words — Big Opportunity. Provide peace of mind and continuity of service through SLAs and training. You make money coming and going and the church has the confidence in their solution (and your brand). That is the very definition of a win-win scenario!

Are you providing SLAs and training for churches? Share your views and opinions in the comments below.