The Future of Selling to Churches

featured-future-howAs an entrepreneur, I’ve discovered, lived and taught that change is a constant. When I started consulting with churches, the focus was on audio, video, and lighting system design. This tech-centric focus increased with the addition of teaching and speaking opportunities where I was able to rattle off the latest model numbers and point people to the coolest technology. And, by rubbing shoulders with manufacturers and reviewing their products, my consulting practice morphed to include training vendor’s staff on what kinds of products churches needed; which led to product development, product training, sales training and market research about the house of worship market buying habits.

Something I’ve learned along the way is that when you make people’s desired outcomes the focus of your sales efforts, the resulting processes, priorities and passions of that particular organization becomes clear. Obviously, this extends beyond the House of Worship market.

If you want to help each church become more effective, start by helping the church’s tech leaders themselves become more effective through education, training, and consultative selling.

Trust me, I’ve tried it the other way around. I’ve helped churches get the right technology. I’ve shown them how to make the necessary process changes. I’ve spent countless hours designing new systems to make things more efficient. However, do you realize an important important truth about a local church? None of that matters — and your technology solutions may even fail for certain churches — if “what they’re doing” isn’t preceded by understanding “why they’re doing it.”

Don’t Sell What – Sell Why

Here’s how manufacturers and systems integrators often present their technology solutions to churches:

  • The What?We have great technology. And yet, great technology does not overcome the lack of a consistent operation, thorough training, and tremendous product support.
  • The What?We market specifically to churches. A solid marketing campaign won’t matter if the church doesn’t connect their local predicament with your technology application.

Instead, when you focus on the people using the systems, it helps your firm understand what makes each church organization unique. As you begin to listen and understand their uniqueness — their DNA — and understand their unique vision, you’ll help the people behind the scenes at these churches. This has the best chance of presenting them with the right application options within their context. This kind of consultative sales approach is based around making sure the right technology is in place in the right systems configuration with the right training to make the most impact.

It is possible to provide a church with the right tools, training, and resources, but still not help them with the understanding of “why” and “how” to implement technology strategically. Done this way, they could easily spend a ton of money and not get the results they really needed.

Short answer: more technology isn’t necessarily better. More is just more. Better means a decidedly improved process with greater results (and might just include more equipment). However, by making zero assumptions and reviewing their unique context and culture, you’ll find that the right technology solutions are easier to define, implement and apply.

Because every design/build firm sells equipment to churches, there’s a natural tendency to sell what they either have in stock or buy direct for maximum margins. Sometimes this results in a situation where a church doesn’t get exactly the technology they should have had, but instead technology that was similar or almost good enough. Yes, there are some design/build companies who I know personally that are very ethical and put the church’s needs before their own convenience or maximum profits. There are also firms where, if you get the right salesperson and project manager combination, you stand a good chance of having the church’s best interest taken to heart.

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Consultative Selling vs. Sales Consultants

Another issue that has cropped up in the design/build world has been the term “Sales Consultant.” If you’re in product sales, calling yourself a Sales Consultant has about as much credibility as saying a Best Buy hourly employee is a “Sales Engineer.” By its very definition, a consultant is one who only sells their time and expertise. The moment a product or installation labor is sold, it’s no longer consulting; it’s sales. I was a sales guy at three design/build firms. I was even in sales management and I didn’t let my sales team call themselves sales consultants.

In the church market in particular, integrity matters. There’s no shame in sales, so intentionally misleading terms like “Sales Consultant” is just an attempt to muddy the waters. Churches deserve clarity, not marketing shenanigans.

Though I am a consultant, I’m still a fan of design/build firms, as it can sometimes result in a great project for the church. And, most importantly, these firms can enjoy a long-term relationship not only for future sales but for the all-important service that is always necessary when adding technology.

There’s no singular way to do this, but since integrity really, really matters in this market, do yourself and the client a favor with above-board, accurate descriptions for your sales staff.

Get to Know the Engineers

In my business, I’ve had the chance to get to know a great number of people at thousands of churches and hundreds of manufacturers and systems integrators. One particular group of people I’ve met and grown to know are the engineers and designers of the products and services that churches utilize. I’ve earned the respect of these men and women by being fair in my input on their products and engaging in a conversation that helps me stay on top of the new tools, as well as helping them understand the huge and multi-faceted church market and the various nuances of it.

Just this morning, I was reminded the inordinate amount of favor I’ve had with many of these technology companies over the years. They let me get the inside scoop on new technologies well before they go public. The favor I have with many companies benefits my church friends because I am in a tremendous position to help them to make better long-term decisions and, usually, act as better stewards of their resources. So, it dawned on me: If you’ve earned favor, you then also have the responsibility of stewarding that favor.

Even in the Internet of Things that’s quickly materializing around us, the discernment of appropriate technology solutions is directly proportional to your insight into how these engineers are planning on their technology being utilized.

Together, redefining the what to the why, employing consultative selling, and building strong relationships with manufacturers in order to more appropriate serve the house of worship market will be the future of selling to churches.