The Church Market Competitive Advantage

What does it take to sell to the church market? What is the competitive advantage that gives you the edge? After having served as a contractor for better than sixteen years and completing more than two hundred fifty projects, I believe the answer is quite simple. The answer doesn’t lie in the latest and greatest piece of gear or the lowest nationwide price: it can be found within one’s self. Simply speaking, every church committee is looking for three characteristics: integrity, loyalty and compassion in their respective markets, in their salespersons, as well as in their membership.

One must first realize what the church stands for: in most cases, whether Southern Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian or other, the church proclaims and promotes honesty, love and commitment. Not only do churches promote such characteristics, but basic human nature desires these traits. No one wants to be taken advantage of or out smarted by someone. Everyone wants to be told the truth, to be cared about and to gain a sense of genuine commitment.

Integrity

Too often selling carries a negative connotation. The mind picture of a used car salesman comes into play, trying to sell you a car, but you question the automobile’s integrity. In today’s information age, few desire to be sold anything. Customers are well informed and tend to prepare themselves prior to shopping. Information is readily available to all. What is not readily available on the Internet or in trade publications is someone to be held accountable for the end result. Most churches know what they desire as the end result and try their best to convey that to the prospective contractor. Your job is to decode their information and in return explain to them how you can be trusted to assist them in reaching their goal. The prospective client is seeking someone they can trust.

Trust is earned over a period of time. You cannot buy it; it is not a product that is sold. Those who try and sell trust are quickly revealed as imitators. A simple rule is to practice never saying, "Trust me". Anytime you have to preface a statement, a condition follows. I’m always amazed at the number of salespeople who say, "Let me be honest with you." Okay, that tells me up to this point in our conversation you have been less than trustworthy. I realize this statement is a cliché, however I count it to be a waste of words that have no positive meaning. Last but not least, if you truly want to zero your chances of landing a contract, simply ask your prospective client, "What is your budget?" You should simply tell them you would like to know if their project is monetarily worth your time. Or better yet, just tell them you don’t do jobs that are less than "x" amount of dollars.

Rest assured, the decision makers will formulate their opinion based on what you say and how you say it. And yes, people do judge people by the words they use; however, statistics tell us that communication is primarily 7% words, 38% tone and 55% non-verbal. Pay particular attention to your tone of voice and body language. Combined, these two forms of communication speak 93% of what is heard.

Integrity and trust are characteristics you must display with each and every prospective client. Once you have gained their trust you simply must maintain it. How do you do that? Again, a very simple rule applies. Do what you say you will do; anything less than that is a lie. The quickest way to lose someone’s trust is to lie or not follow through with a commitment. Your clients are seeking someone they can trust; a person of integrity.

Consider the last major purchase you made. Analyze the salesperson. What was it about that person that made you feel good about trading with them? Did you believe what they said or did you question their motives? Did you sense that person could be trusted? What if your transaction was via the Internet? Did you trust the "secure" website to encrypt your credit card properly? If so, why? What communicated a sense of trust? If we were not so concerned with integrity, we wouldn’t question someone misusing vital information traveling down the information superhighway. Think about why you purchase products and services from the vendors you deal with. Integrity and trust are bound to be the major players.

My point is this; people buy people. People buy people they can trust. People buy people of integrity. People also buy companies. Aren’t companies organizations made up of people providing goods and services? During my years as a contractor, I tried my best to focus on the needs of the client rather than the possible profits and recognition that would come from the project. In so doing, I communicated an authentic sincerity that conveyed, "You can trust me to meet your needs." Trustworthy employees are the basic building blocks of a successful company; a company built on integrity.

If you are seeking to gain a competitive advantage in the church market, be yourself! Don’t try to sell anything. Communicate integrity and trustworthiness. Your communication skills and what you say will determine whether or not you can be trusted. Integrity is the key. Sensing integrity is a natural process that occurs, but is easily identified when imitated. Don’t be a salesman, be yourself!

Loyalty

Money isn’t everything. Being the best you can be is worth more than multiple digits before the decimal point. Consider this question. When you are interviewing for a prospective design-build project, what reoccurring thought runs through your mind; how much money you could make on this job or how good a job you could do with what you know? Why have you been invited to meet with the church? Is it because you are the lowest priced contractor in town or is it because you have a reputation for knowledge and integrity?

Loyalty is a commitment to excellence and a requirement of those desiring to be the best they can be. How many contracts have you been awarded when you were not the low bidder? If you answer none, you may consider asking why you were not selected or request the bid tabulations. What competitive edge did the competition have that landed them the project? We all know that first impressions count. I tend to believe that perception is everything! Having won numerous projects where I was not the lowest bidder, one comes to mind that hit home. Upon receiving news I was being awarded the project, I met with the owner of this particular restaurant to review my contract documents. The owner expressed to me how impressed they were with my proposal package. They went on to say they showed my package to my competition and said, "Now this is a proposal!" I was so proud, but better yet, I realized the importance of perception. Perceptions and impressions begin the moment you first begin communicating. Whether over the phone or in person, your prospective client is reading you like a book. The key is to maintain the impression and build the relationship. Strive to improve your impression. Build on the strong points and refine the weaker. Commit to becoming better in each and every area of your presentation and communication.

When you win a bid and you were not the lowest bidder, rest assured you were perceived as one who is not only trustworthy, but also loyal to your calling. Your impression worked. You were perceived as one who is committed to excellence in your field of expertise. This is a sign that points to gaining a competitive advantage. Remember, people buy people, not products.

Most church committees are looking for the "best" contractor, not necessarily the cheapest. I’m reminded of the bum on the street corner holding a sign saying, "I was low bidder on every job." The challenge is to take your eyes off money. Focus on the needs of the client. When you are committed to being the best you can be, it shows. Focus your efforts on new technologies. Seek knowledge and instruction. Review previous projects. Identify what could be done better next time. Always seek to be better at what you do. When you invest in yourself, people will notice without you saying a word. We are living in the information age. The Internet is a vital tool that can be used to gain understanding and knowledge. Working with other professionals and attending seminars and conferences contributes to the learning experience. Staying up to date with new technology and incorporating common sense into system design is a commitment everyone should make if they are truly seeking excellence.

Keep in mind that competition is a driving force. It can cause you to commit to excellence, that is if you desire to stay in business. It is embarrassing when the church sound technician raises a question in the interview that stumps you. Typically those questions come from the previous interview with your competition. Oops! Do they know something I’m not aware of?

We must also take caution because competition can breed arrogance. You never want to leave your client with the impression you are arrogant. Avoid coming across as a "know it all." Be careful not to criticize your competition. We all know if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. There are ways to professionally challenge other ideas and create a question in the minds of those you are addressing. There is nothing wrong with saying, "That is an interesting concept, however I have found over the years…….." The simplest rule to remember is compliment, don’t criticize. Be honest with your client. If you don’t know the answer, admit it! When you are humble you begin to build not only character but also trust and integrity. I prefer someone to be honest and tell me the truth rather then try and sell me a lie.

The Bible states, "Pride goes before the fall." (Proverbs 16:18) Those who profess to know it all tend to exhibit arrogance. Arrogance questions loyalty. Why would anyone desire to be better if they are already the best? Think about the last "know it all" you met. Were you impressed or depressed?

Confidence is a by-product of knowledge. The Bible says, "Teach a wise man and he will become wiser; instruct a just man and he will gain understanding." (Proverb 9:9) Commit to excellence. Be the best you can be. Admit the best job you will ever do will be the next one. I cannot remember one project that I didn’t learn something that wasn’t a benefit to my next client’s project and me. At today’s fast pace of technological development, contractors that are not committed to excellence will slowly fade away. The status quo will eventually close and lock the business door. I once heard the audio industry generated total revenues (annually) that were equal to 4% of the potato chip industry. Wow! Don’t focus on money. This isn’t Frito-Lay. Focus your efforts on being the best you can be. You will not only increase your knowledge, but you will gain another competitive advantage.

Compassion

As I mentioned earlier every client is seeking integrity and loyalty. The third characteristic they desire is compassion. Compassion is the genuine care and concern one has for another. Genuine care helps us define the true meaning of love. Oops, did I say love? Yes. Compassion is another word for love, which means, meeting one’s need. Isn’t that what the loyal contractor of integrity does? Or are contractors simply businesses pushing products on a tight time basis trying to cover the bottom line?

I realize it’s not manly to talk about love to contractors, but the fact remains if you want to gain a competitive edge in the church market, you better identify with their beliefs. The church is founded on Jesus Christ and His teachings. Of those teachings He said, "Abide in faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13) Just as He has met our needs, we too are to reach out and meet the needs of our fellow man. We do this by putting their needs before ours. Simply put, you should be more concerned with the client’s needs then yours. "Don’t worry about money", I use to say to my salesmen, "Focus on the needs of your client. The money will come." I can honestly say, when you build trust with your client, commit to being the best contractor you can be and truly strive to meet the needs of your client, you will have gained the competitive advantage so few will every achieve. During the last ten years of my contracting career numerous industry friends would ask me what was my goal in contracting. I would simply respond, "I want to be the best contractor in the country, not the biggest." Integrity, loyalty and compassion have been the keys to my success and will continue to be my competitive advantage.

Chuck Walthall is an independent design consultant specializing in training, consulting and system management. His email address is: cmwj@pcola.gulf.net