Understanding Church Buyer Sentiment

featured-how-trendsIt’s obvious that I love helping churches. The columns here in rAVe provide years of insight and experience in the hopes of helping manufacturers, systems integrators, rep firms and A/V/L dealers understand — and profit in — the house of worship market. I’ve shared about the future of the church space in previous articles about what I see as new trends, interesting possibilities and even market conditions. However, this is the first time I’ve shared about a touchy subject: understanding church buyer sentiment.

When Price Is Everything, Your Product Means Nothing

If you’re in the “box sales” business, you may not care much about serving a church long-term. If you’re everyone else, then you know that much of the negative reputation the church market has is directly influenced by the “cheap church.” Like any noisy minority, they get a lot of the press, the horror stories are shared at tradeshows and reps have wasted time and money in vain. But that’s the truth: They’re the minority.

Typically, there are two groups of “cheap churches” — the very,very small, we-have-no-money group or the church whose finances are run by a group that hides under the phrase “we’re just being good stewards” to justify the efforts of getting blood out of a turnip. Remember, good stewardship has less to do with how much money they save and more to do with how much money they don’t waste trying to fix the original problem with additional, repeated purchases. Yet, even though the majority of churches in the U.S. have under 100 people in weekly attendance, my own experience is that they’re still made up of people who, like most of us, appreciate the value of something more than the price of something.

Of all the cheap churches, the ones that really, really frustrated me were those that insisted I give them my time or products for free or at cost — all because it was for a church. I’m all for the nobility of organizations helping people, but I won’t go out of business by giving the farm away! Look, these churches are not representative of the majority, but you do need to know how to identify when you’re dealing with one of these penny-wise, pound-foolish organizations.

The easiest way to discern if you’re dealing with a cheap church is by asking them to identify, by priority, what is most important to them about the technology/solution you’re offering. Price listed as number 1 isn’t the big giveaway; it’s when it’s the only thing or clearly the main thing. When price is everything, your product means nothing to them, and you’ll likely never get any follow-up sales or service contracts.

Working for the Sale is One Thing…

Churches, like other organizations, often go through a due-diligence process — especially with large-ticket items or installations. The size of the church or the time-frame of their project may have some impact on if you’re going to be spinning your wheels during the sales process, but be sure to ask the church buyer to pre-qualify themselves, whether through an online discovery process or through a sale presentation.

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I think salespeople working the house of worship market generally tend to try to move in, make the sale and move on. Taking time during the sales process isn’t indicative of a cheap church. If anything, good salesmanship requires pre-qualifying, qualifying, discovering and offering solutions to issues that present themselves. That can take some time and, to be sure, each sales organization needs to determine the amount of expected lead time on various project types. However, when clear, demographic-focused marketing meets a sharp sales team at the intersection of value and need, everyone wins.

In the same way I tell church leaders that it’s absolutely OK to fire volunteers, it’s possible to fire a prospect too. It’s all in how you do it. I’d never say to a volunteer, “Your services are no longer required!” I’d help them to understand the issue at hand, identify their needs and strengths and right-fit them into the organization. Similarly, helping a prospect identify the real issue (which almost always goes beyond the issue with technology) can gently help them go back and work on the problem from a different viewpoint. This saves both parties time and shows respect and value.

Maybe They’re In Over Their Head

All too often, a church will have a well-intentioned but unqualified person doing the research for serious technology initiatives. The education process is key both prior to and during the sales process. This is why I stress constantly here at rAVe the need to market to and train the very users that are recommending and buying products. When you help them realize they don’t need to know as much as you and that your organization will not take advantage of them, the trust equity built during this stage is directly proportional to the sales results down the line.

One of the most freeing things for a pastor is for you to show the pastor that they don’t have to become a ‘techie’ in order for the church to leverage technology well. With training materials, webinars and seminars at conferences, there’s ample opportunity for your firm to stand out as not only great resources for churches, but as a firm that has a strong value proposition for the house of worship market.

Marketing efforts aimed at churches need to identify the demographic, speak their language without speaking down to them, and provide a solid value proposition to keep price from being at the center of the discussion. This tees up the sales team to more readily identify likely prospects, more accurately estimate the sales pipeline and up-sell the client on greater value, not just more technology.

There is a massive opportunity here to debunk the myth of the cheap church as a whole, rightly assign the blame to the minority, and address this huge vertical market with insight, learnings and better technology solutions!