What Churches Want and Need from AV Sales

In seven years of sharing practical insights on how to sell audiovisual (AV) to churches, we’ve posted over 70 articles focusing specifically on the opportunities and challenges of selling to buyers and influencers in the house of worship market. During that same time, the church AV market has gone from hundreds of millions of dollars allocated annually to technology in churches to over a billion dollars earmarked yearly for church AV tech. The barrier-to-entry for manufacturers and systems integrators alike has never been lower, yet the HoW AV market is still likely the most underserved segment in all of ProAV.

The Best Sales Practices Stand the Test of Time

Culling through dozens of articles, I came to the conclusion that while the church market has grown substantially for the AV industry, there remains a disconnect between what AV integrators and manufacturers do for other market segments and how they approach the church market. The recurring pattern is one that’s as easy to solve as it is to identify: the AV industry doesn’t treat the church market differently from other vertical segments.

The best practices stand the test of time because they are practically timeless. In the church AV market, those best practices provide a playbook of sorts for the AV industry to follow. Below, each of these best practices helps AV firms increase their sales pipelines and engage a market that is nearly recession-proof (people give to churches when the economy is good out of their abundance and when the economy is not-so-good out of their hope for a better future). 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.

Churches Think About ROI Differently

Church buyers, like any other group of humans, have real buying processes and must weigh the value of a purchase against the return on that investment; the difference with churches compared to businesses is that the ROI looks a lot more like ROM — Return On Ministry, which is a function of stewardship. Churches do not ‘make’ money; they receive it from donations. As such, pastors should understand that the money they budget and spend is more than ‘revenue’; it’s a literal sacrifice from the donors. In churches, being a good steward of these financial resources is incredibly important.

Good stewardship is less about how much money was saved, and more about how much money wasn’t wasted. Buy a system three times? That’s poor stewardship.

More than a few churches associate good stewardship with cost savings. However, if a church saves some money on a cheap system that doesn’t meet their needs, it’s just a matter of time before they have to buy again (or replace what didn’t work). There are even situations where a church buys a system three times before they finally spent money on what actually worked for their ministry. That is the antithesis of good stewardship, but because the expectation of technology was not properly set to achieve a predetermined outcome, the church buyer doesn’t understand that quite often in ProAV, cutting costs (so-called ‘value engineering’) often leads to incomplete systems.

If you can, go ahead and actually adopt the language of the church buyer — add the term stewardship to your sales vocabulary. When you would normally talk about cost and ROI, use the term cost-per-service. Speaking in the language church buyers and decision-makers use helps them hear how much you really understand their perspective.

The ProAV industry can help churches be good stewards by selling them value. Let the price be what it is: the summation of what it takes to create their desired outcome. Good stewardship will often not be the lowest price. When manufacturers and systems integrators can demonstrate value with actual representative data, they’re helping church buyers demonstrate good stewardship to their senior leadership team.

Sell the View of ProAV Systems, Not Just the AV System

With IoT and networked AV technologies working together, it’s easier than ever to create diagnostic, operational, and preventative maintenance dashboards to highlight the value of their ProAV system and catch issues before weekend services. Churches need these dashboards to get ahead of the curve and proactively prepare their budgets, personnel, and facility for the ongoing costs of maintaining a fully operational ProAV church system.

For the thousands of churches with multiple venues, both on the same campus and at satellite/multi-site campuses, a visualization dashboard could report, in one screen, the overall health of each AVL system, in each venue, and which technologies are in use. This provides the technical teams with instant access to their overall AVL infrastructure and allows for troubleshooting from any location as well as instant notifications to key staff of any issues. Further, it represents a holistic viewpoint for seeing utilization patterns for noting preventative maintenance and setting automation to turn off any AVL technology that is accidentally left on (think projectors burning expensive lamps, moving light fixtures and even digital signage left on during off-peak hours.

Lead Churches To Your Solution, not With Your Solution

Seemingly counterintuitive, the best way to win a complex sale to a group is to not lead with your product or solution, but to your product or solution. By helping the church properly define the problem they are trying to solve with a complex technology solution, you will often need to show them what they think is probably incorrect (or at least incorrectly defined) and that the solution isn’t merely about solving the problem they think they know, but to bring them to a place where they’re addressing root cause issues.

Selling to Churches Is Simply Selling to People

The sales journey with churches often follows a similar path 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.

There are three main reasons churches upgrade or outright add new equipment:

  1. New construction projects
  2. Facilities renovation projects
  3. New technology-focused initiatives

In addition to three main types of church buying initiatives, there are four reasons a church is in a buying cycle:

  1. Break/fix – something is broken or breaking and it needs to be replaced and updated
  2. New budgets – new fiscal years bring new cash for making updates
  3. Windfall – financial giving is up and extra monies are available or a donor is being extra generous
  4. Campaign – building a new building or remodeling another one means big money is being spent and tech upgrades are a part of the scope

Asking the right questions to churches is the best way to align expectations with your technology solutions and align with the church buying cycle. To achieve this alignment, your sales should focus on key questions to qualify the AV system.

Start with questions that evoke strong emotions and recall impactful memories aid the prospect in identifying the problem or opportunity they’re trying to solve rather than pitting them against the salesperson looking to maximize the dollars spent. These powerful questions are game-changers not only for the vendor but, more importantly, these questions help the church buyer reframe the conversation focus away from the pain point in and of itself and re-orient their thinking to focus on the underlying issue.

If the same technical AV issue came up tomorrow, what would you do? The acute pain point may be so powerful that they would do almost anything to avoid it happening again. This is a key performance indicator of what they value and how you can help them address (and solve) it.
What do you think your team needs to do first in order for us to get started? Often the church will not consider any training, remediation or processes because they’re reeling from a pain point. Helping them see there are some steps that could help, such as creating a signal flow diagram, in order demonstrates empathy with expertise while not making the church buyer the failure and you the rescuer.
What have you tried so far that hasn’t worked? This powerful question is both a good discovery starting point and a helpful introspection tool to frame the conversation around solving the problem and not merely the symptom.
How could you define success for your future church AV technology initiatives? One of the most powerful questions invites them to consider their preferred future. Their version of this may look far different from your approach, so be sure to listen well to their response and align your solution to their desired future state.
What is the opportunity cost for your church if this issue isn’t resolved soon? This question covertly addresses how much value they place on a solution. This value then helps inform the budget rather than having the client set a budget that may not be able to solve their problem.


Don’t Sell the System on Price But on Cost Per Service

As stated above, the lowest priced AV systems often result in poor stewardship. Instead of leading with price, reframe the sales conversation to a term every pastor understands: weekend services.

For example, if a system costs $100,000 (equipment and installation), then that cost is divided against the total number of weekends, multiplied by the number of services per week/weekend for the expected number of years of service. So, for a church running three services per weekend at 52 weekends per year, that’s 156 services per year. Over 10 years, that’s 1,560 services at cost of $64 per service.

But what would it cost per service if preventative maintenance and support service was included for 10 years? If the service contract progressively changed by only one-half of one percent per year starting at .05% in year one to 5% in year 10 on that original $100,000 system, that equals $33,500 in service and preventative maintenance over 10 years.

This means the total cost per service including preventive maintenance and support for 10 years comes out to only $84 per service! That’s the original system plus 10 years of maintenance and support to maximize the investment and ensure the system works every single weekend.

What Churches Want and Need from AV Sales

Pulled from over 70 articles in seven years, these truths will help any ProAV system integrator or manufacturer add HoW market sales from the one billion dollars spent annually in what is likely the most underserved segment in all of pro AV. What churches want and need from AV sales is a conversation around good stewardship framed as the cost per service to meet their expectations.

HOW sales are out there, waiting for the right dealer to come along and really understand their unique needs. By applying just a bit of effort into understanding what matters the most to church buyers and using the right language to communicate that understanding, you can do very well in this underserved market.

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