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Selling to the Sunday Morning CEO, Part 1

Worship market is different from others By Kevin C. Barlow, CTS

Most veteran sales representatives in the audiovisual (AV) systems contractor industry have a decidedly set opinion when it comes to church buyers. Yet dealing with the house of worship market has a stigma that is not without cause. When was the last time you heard about or experienced a frustrating situation with a church trying to be a good steward with its available funds and ending up with a mess? You probably dont have to go back too far.

As with any vertical market, you must clearly know your prospects purposes, the key players, and even the driving passion behind their buying decisions. Only then will you be able to formulate an effective plan for delivering the necessary AV system to meet the buyers needs. When selling to most church customers, long-term success will best come with understanding this distinct vertical market and appropriately adapting to the challenges it presents. For this, persistence and patience are mandatory. Because many churches continue to invest in technology and expand their presentation capabilities, my goal is to help smooth the road to fruitfulness for fellow AV professionals and their religious customers.

Understand the Purpose
Everyone knows why a university has video projectors and speakers hanging in lecture halls. You are familiar with restaurants and bars using similar technology as giant televisions. From the corporate meeting space to the school classroom and from the concert hall to the entertainment room at home, the purpose of todays video projectors and hi-fi sound systems is usually straightforward. Yet whats the deal with churches? What makes them so unlike the rest?

A significant difference between church use of multimedia projection, sound and lighting (a.k.a. media ministry), and most other uses of these technologies is that the big screens in church are there to enhance the music and the message. They are support tools typically meant to augment and direct attention toward the worship and the teaching. With few exceptions, the projected images are not intended to become a focal point of the service.

This is not the case with most industrial display applications in the corporate, government, and education sectors, nor is it the case with home theater or almost any other projection market. The majority of the time, projected images are supposed to capture your attention. On the other hand, the goal of media ministry is to help inspire appropriate thoughts, emotions, and responses without compelling viewer attention toward the screens. Therefore, special consideration must be made when designing and implementing multimedia into a worship space.

Remember that using media technology during church services has been a revolutionary concept for most congregations during the past ten years. In some denominations, there are many who struggle to welcome and embrace the existence of PowerPointŪ over the traditional hymnal. Yet more than ever, todays affordable presentation tools are helping pastors and worship leaders reach the ?sight and sound generation with power and appeal. 

Know the Players
Churches are nonprofit ministry organizations, yet each one still operates as a business. Most have specific mission statements, guiding bylaws, and weekly staff meetings just like in the secular world. For many, the senior pastor functions as their Sunday morning CEO. This individual may report to an overseeing committee, a board of elders, or some regional authority depending on denomination. Ultimately, the pastor is charged to lead the congregation and give the church direction. This is a primary person who can help you succeed or hinder your hopes when it is time to close the sale.

When you begin establishing rapport with each prospective church customer, spend time doing a little personnel research. It is critical for you to learn which people influence the decisions and what their roles will be relative to your objective of becoming their media technology vendor. In going through this process, try to find one or more key people with whom you can develop a sincere connection. Having someone champion you on the inside will improve your chance of earning and keeping their business. Never presume who is and who is not important. I have seen a sizable AV system booked because the dealers account manager paid polite attention to the pastors administrative assistant. A few kind and sincere words can often go a long way.

Beyond the pastor, there are usually one or two other lead decision makers waiting to spend money. This almost always includes the music minister or worship leader and, for larger assemblies, a media minister. Another individual who should not be overlooked is the executive pastor or church administrator. This is the person who may authorize the purchase and write the check. Meet and get to know each key player to the degree that you have time and access.

Aside from budget, the greatest obstacle to overcome in the selling process is likely to be the infamous church committee. It could be the finance committee, the media ministry committee, or the building fund committee. Even worse, it could be multiple committees, all of which may be hoping for a Mercedes solution on a Volkswagen budget. Many churches function through committees to help make weighty decision with greater accountability and, hopefully, wisdom. This is where you will really benefit from established relationships with the key individuals. If you can become the committees outside expert to provide technology guidance, then you are halfway there.

Coming Soon: Part 2.


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Kevin C. Barlow is a regional sales manager with Sharp Electronics. He has been involved with professional sales, marketing, training, and systems design in the AV industry since 1985.
Related Keywords:audiovisual, AV systems, contractor, church, house of worship market, frustrating situation, Kevin C. Barlow

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