I’ll never forget standing behind the best salesperson in the online sales department as he watched the timer tick down from three minutes on his monitor during a phone call with a prospect. The VP of sales at a large systems integration firm had stopped my tour of the firm’s headquarters within the sea of cubicles for the company’s online sales team area. “Listen to this guy close a deal,” the VP said to me as we peered over the shoulder of the star salesperson, only hearing his half of the phone conversation, “in under three minutes.” Sure enough, as the timer on the computer monitor trickled down the seconds, the salesperson answered the soon-to-be customer’s query and went for the closing question of the sale. He had done it: In under three minutes from when the prospect had called in after visiting the online website reviewing video projectors, the salesperson had more than enough information on his screen of the prospects history on their website to deftly answer questions succinctly and go for the ask — and the sale of several thousand dollars was done.
At the time, I was the regional sales manager for the integration arm of the company’s Texas offices. My first visit to HQ had included this memorable visit to learn from and about the relatively new online sales staff. I was impressed with the speed of the sale I had just witnessed, but also felt slightly dirty that it had happened so fast and with such ruthless efficiency. Then again, this was the beginning of the decade of box sales, where technology was viewed as a mere commodity to be moved from inventory to shipping as quickly as possible. It was also before the days of Amazon and the online retailer’s dominant presence, so the lesson for me was to identify the difference between a quick sale and the value proposition of a systems integration project, over which I was responsible for tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue.
Though much has changed since those early days of sales that started online and ended in a phone call to the modern click-and-buy era of Amazon, the need for qualified salespeople with a knack for closing sales is ever in demand. Over the decades, I’ve had the privilege of working with some truly remarkable sales talent in a variety of market segments. The one nearest to my heart is, obviously, the House of Worship (HoW) market, which is why Gary Kayye has had me sharing my insights to the manufacturers and systems integrators who want to succeed in the church market AV space.
There are several common characteristics I’ve found to be solid traits of consistently successful church market salespeople, and I’ve shared them below to help your firm identify the talent you’ll need to be successful in the HoW market.
They Know How Different Churches Operate
I once took on a sales management role that included some pre-existing salespeople in vertical markets. One of the people I inherited was a guy who was a devout Catholic. He knew the Catholic church inside and out, but the Catholic church doesn’t buy even a tiny fraction of the technology that Protestant churches do, so his sales were slow and with lower margins than his peers selling into other verticals. The firm I worked for thought this was ‘just the way it was’ with church market sales, so they never bothered to try and improve their HoW sales business. I trained the guy on the various differences and nuances of churches he didn’t know much about and it helped him to improve his win percentage, but not his margins. When I reviewed his sales reports, he simply thought that churches wouldn’t pay more than cost plus seven percent, so he simply quoted a price he thought they would buy at. They did buy, but the company wasn’t going to be profitable if the margins were kept so low.
Over time, I taught him and (as well as hired new church market-savvy sales people) that the key to closing the deal wasn’t the price point, but the value for the church. Training my sales team to understand the return on investment — what I refer to as return on ministry for churches — could be easily calculated by dividing the total cost against the number of services per year, per venue to help the church arrive at a ‘cost-per-service’ value.
They’ve Been on Staff at a Church
It may seem obvious, but hiring sales people who not only attend church, but have also worked for churches on staff is one of the best ways to set your HoW sales up for success. This applies both at the sales level for systems integrators and for the manufacturer’s reps who specialize in the church market.
I’ve found that, on average, the church technical director role is staffed by young leaders in their late twenties to mid-thirties. For most churches, there’s simply no place left to go upward in the organization for someone in this role, so they end up leaving to pursue another career path that offers future opportunity and income potential. More than a few of these guys and gals end up working for the very systems integrators they hired when they were on a church staff.
Knowing the technology is less than half of the battle when it comes to church market sales; it’s really about knowing the subtle language nuances between and among denominations (or non-denominational), when to upsell based on senior leadership vision and how to close the deal with integrity.
Just about anyone with a bent for audio, video and lighting technology can sell gear. But it takes someone who knows and cares about the local church to make a truly stellar salesperson in the House of Worship market. Now I’m not advocating raiding your church clients with out-of-the-blue job offers for their tech arts staff as that would be penny wise and pound foolish. However, it’s completely safe and smart to build such strong relationships with key church clients that your firm becomes a realistic option for those technical artists looking for the next step in their career path.
If you want to sell more into churches, having a native influencer speaking their language and embracing their culture is a savvy business move.