Churches — The Art of the Sale

featured-how-trendsAlmost all manufacturers and systems integrators have had at least some experience selling to churches, though those who have mastered the art of the sale to the house of worship market are surprisingly few. I’m going to share my two decades of sales experience in this oft-misunderstood vertical niche and help you know when a church is really ready to buy, when they’re making excuses, as well as when (and how) to go for the close.

Church Buying Signals

“Let us pray about that” is a phrase likely every salesperson has heard when making a sales pitch to a church prospect. It may sound trite, or even come across as a wave-off signal, but it’s just one of the unique points in the buyer journey for almost every single church. Contrary to the assumption that it’s a deferral from moving forward with the sale, churches actually should make this a part of their purchasing decision process, as they believe that God is actively involved with the stewardship decisions of how church leaders manage the finances entrusted to them by congregants. From this viewpoint, it’s completely understandable and underscores one of the unique aspects of the house of worship market.

Church buyers, like any other group of humans, have real buying processes and must weigh the value of a sale against the return on investment; the difference with churches is that the ROI looks a lot more like ROM — Return On Ministry.

It bears repeating that the sales journey with churches often follows a similar path to a lot of other vertical markets: from prospect to lead, from lead to marketing qualified lead, from marketing qualified lead to sales qualified lead, from sales qualified lead to a sales opportunity, and, finally, from a sales opportunity to a closed/won sale. What’s different in this sales funnel process are the things you’ll hear from churches that indicate a buying signal from making excuses.

The Difference Between Buying Signals and Excuses

I started off with the church phrase “we’ll pray about it” as part of the buying journey, and for good reason: It represents the uniqueness of this sales process. However, while it can often be heard at the final stage of the sales journey as a legitimate last step before signing a purchase order, that same phrase uttered early on in the buying cycle can also be a clear wave-off signal from the church when they’re undecided on their options or when a vendor has surprised them with a scope or budget that greatly exceeded their expectations.

Similar phrases are also important to know and, equally as valuable, when they’re said during the sales pipeline process. Here are several that I’ve experienced as both legitimate points in the sales cycle and as wave-off signals when a client wasn’t as serious about purchasing as I first assumed.

“We need to run this by our deacon/committee/pastor.” — Church polity is such that many of these organizations have an accountability structure in place that requires them to submit all large purchases to either a single person, or more frequently a group of staff and/or volunteer leaders appointed to supervise church funds expenditures. Unlike corporate business sales that often include the decision-maker in the sales process, a large percentage of churches will go through an entire sales journey before bringing in the decision-makers. This can be frustrating for the vendor unprepared for this eventuality, but make no mistake that it’s not common to for most churches to avoid talking to the decision-maker(s) until the very end. It is often not possible to accelerate the process without endangering the sale.

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“Whatever insert-name-of-large-church-here bought, we want that, too.” — I have heard this so many times that it no longer surprises me. It does say something about the power of a brand, but it also identifies churches that don’t really know what they need and simply assume that identical technology will somehow always be a right fit for the physics of their environment. A savvy salesperson can leverage this to align the with brand (manufacturer) if there are other models in that line-up that make sense for the church. The unscrupulous salesperson will see a quick sale and quickly slide an estimate across the table to blindly fulfill this ill-advised request, but will also likely lose any future sales opportunities and potentially harm their vendor’s reputation for the inevitable negative referrals.

“We have a building campaign budget to stay within.” — There’s actual truth to this statement because quite a few churches use building renovations to add in technology purchases. However, the scope of technology within the project has more to do with physics and usage requirements than it does with artificial budget percentages, so the key here is to educate early and provide scalable solutions that clearly articulate the expectations against the limitations of the venue. You may be able to stay within their budget, but it’s more important to ensure their requirements can be met than it is to hit an abstract dollar amount. Churches often can find more money when the case has been presented and the facts are clearly documented that warrant additional funds. It is still easier to get funds during a building campaign than it is for a strict technology purchase.

When to Go for the Close

Given these examples of buying signals from churches, timing is the key to know when to go for the close. It’s generally not what the churches say — it’s when they say it. As I’ve said many times before here in rAVe [Publications], the key to church sales is understanding the buyer sentiment and selling the value proposition over the features and benefits. Churches have this in common: They want to be good stewards, so value is a high priority for their purchase decisions, and so it should therefore be a high priority for vendors selling into this unique vertical.

Frankly, I’ve experienced thousands of sales to churches, so what I have learned is that they may be closer to government sales than any other vertical in that they often have a ‘hurry-up-and-wait’ mentality or a ‘we want to buy NOW’ mentality. The phrases mentioned above, and the timing of them, provide key indicators of when to go for the close, but the actual close may be very fast or very slow, depending on the church polity.

Educating the church influencers is key to presenting a viable proposal to be presented to the decision-maker(s). I’ve previously written about how to understand the selling stages and technology drivers for this vertical market. See the following articles for further insight:

How are you selling to churches? And what are the phrases you’re hearing from church buyers?

Share your views and opinions in the comments below and be sure to click the share buttons for social media to put this in front of your church clients.