“Can you come and fix our church AV?” This singular question is rife with implications for the audio, video and lighting (AVL) industry and one that needs to be addressed by manufacturers, systems integrators and rep firms serving the $1 billion (annual) church AVL market so that the pain experienced by all involved is properly diagnosed and solved. Manufacturers and systems integrators must solve three problems to increase sales in churches.
Solving the First Problem: Redefining Expectations
As I’ve written about previously on rAVe, the house of worship (HoW) market is one that is a curious mix of technologists and layman decision-makers. Perhaps unlike other vertical markets like corporate, education and government, dealing with local churches often introduces the added complexity of addressing both the technical influencer and the non-technical purchase order approver. Because of this common duality with two client representatives, the sales process can become convoluted.
As an AVL consultant to the HoW market, I learned that not only setting expectations, but also redefining expectations was one of my key responsibilities when it came to working with churches. In the AVL industry, we’re all too familiar with the term ‘value engineered’ to describe a reduction in project cost. What I learned about churches was that while cost reduction was easy to document and understand, redefining the expectations of the client was critical when documenting the project’s scope reduction, too. Over time, I added a new section to revised proposals that explained what was included and what was no longer included, along with any technical and/or operational ramifications induced by the cost-cutting. This section was highlighted to the church technology representative and the church budget approver, along with a line item signature by each paragraph in the Redefined Expectations section of the new proposal document. I can tell you that this one addition changed the minds of many decision-makers who realized the cost savings introduced a change in their desired expectations.
Money is not really the problem in churches; the perception of good stewardship is the real issue for the men and women responsible for spending donated funds.
When a manufacturer’s product is pitched as a problem solver, the systems integrator has the responsibility to ensure the problem solved includes a holistic solution that doesn’t create a new problem in the process. This synergistic relationship between the manufacturer and integrator is localized squarely at the client’s venue. The original expectation the church buyer had based on the manufacturer’s product promise must not be lost in translation as part of an integrated system. As a consultant, I saw the finger-pointing that starts when this relationship is not well maintained, and the church is forced to assign blame to one of the other. Frequently, the manufacturer gets the short end of the stick when the integrator is the one meeting with the client. I found that bringing in manufacturer reps early on in church projects helped cement the trust the church has in the vendor while also presenting a unified front for the church to see between the product creator and integrator.
Solving the Second Problem: Ongoing Service
When a church calls asking the question ‘Can you come and fix our church AV?’, what they’ve identified is a lost trust in the manufacturer and the systems integrator. Fair or not, both the product manufacturer and the integrator get lumped into the bucket of ‘unsatisfactory’ when a church believes their problem hasn’t been addressed by either party. That’s when a new integrator gets this phone call and a new issue must be addressed: ongoing service.
It is highly likely that the problem the church is experiencing could have been easily dealt with by the original integrator, had the relationship been intact through follow-up service calls and an ongoing support contract (beyond limited warranties). Of course, selling this add-on may seem hard to do when value engineered projects are looking to save costs. Adding the cost of ongoing service when prices are being cut is easily addressed by highlighting the cost-per-church-service (see my article ‘Cost Depreciation and the Amortization of Church AVL Technology’) and shifting the church buyer’s focus from the total cost to the total cost of ownership.
More than most client types, churches deeply understand the value of service; after all, they are a service-based industry relying on a volunteer workforce to get most of their mission accomplished. Framed in this way to the church decision-maker, the cost of failure of AVL technology in one of their venues is very, very high indeed, while the ongoing cost of ownership is a number that can be looked at over a number of years, making the money spent on service a proverbial drop in the bucket.
Solving the Biggest Problem: Church Market Ignorance
Looming behind the plea for help from a church needed AVL support is the underscored significance of how much ignorance exists in serving this market. Sure, a percentage of these requests to help ‘fix’ a church AVL system are minor tweaks to the system and major training needs for the church tech operators. However, even training issues can (and should) be addressed with ongoing service contracts.
An AVL industry reader need only look at the end-of-year roundup of ads aimed at the HoW market (2014, 2015, 2016) to compare what works for churches against the current ads and product marketing slicks your firm is producing to woo church clients.
Understanding the HoW market and grasping the estimated billion dollars per year spent on AVL by churches in North America alone is a potential game-changer for manufacturers and systems integrators alike. The technical problems churches are solving have a lot in common amongst and between churches, so it is important to help identify root causes instead of mere symptoms. There are three main reasons churches upgrade or outright add new equipment: When entering a new building program, when renovating an existing building or when expanding into new technology areas such as multi-site or online services. Beyond that, the issues that crop up are routinely focused on technology failure, inadequate training, or unmet expectations from the previous installation. All of it is addressable with proper redefining of expectations, ongoing service contracts and an intentional shift from price to a cost-per-service value proposition.
Do you have similar experiences with church clients? Share your opinions and experiences in the comments below.