Published in April 2006

Communicating With Church Leaders Part 2
By By David Lee Jr., PhD

Winning the contract.

Editor’s Note: This is a continuation of David Lee’s “Contractor’s Corner” discussion about working with church leaders, published in April 2005.

    The Ninth Annual Worship Center Survey conducted by Sound & Communications [mailed with the March 2006 issue] indicated that the House of Worship market is one of the most prominent purchasing sectors of new communication technologies in the United States and will be continue to be for many more years. This continues to be good news for systems integrators.
     I spoke with more than 500 church leaders in 2005 and early 2006, and I found that many are trying to understand and address the communication needs of people in the experience culture that prevails in the early part of the new century. They are also trying to decide how communication technologies can be used within existing worship traditions. In addition, local church leaders are struggling with the decision of who they choose to help them decide which technologies they need to purchase.
     As systems integrators, Sound & Communications readers obviously believe that you can help local church leaders select and use media technologies that can provide worship experiences desired by many people in the early part of the 21st century. The question is, then, during the innovation-decision making process, what attributes does your organization have that can persuade local church leaders to award you the contract? If I knew the absolute answer, I would be a gazillionaire. However, Everett Rogers has developed a theory that has been found to be reliable in more than 5000 case studies (see Diffusion of Innovations, Fifth Edition, by Everett M. Rogers, Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group) that can help us address this question.
     Rogers describes an innovation as an idea. Your company then is an “innovation.” During the innovation-decision process, a decision-maker—in our context, a church leader—must obtain a significant amount of information about an innovation (your company). This information helps the decision-maker become persuaded that the innovation he adopts will be the best for his organization. In this new century, a church leader can obtain information about an innovation from numerous communication channels, such as television, the internet, brochures, salespeople, friends, and from both unhappy and happy users (the most effective source of persuasion).
     For a church leader to decide to adopt or reject an integrator, he must obtain critical knowledge about the company. It is up to you to provide that information through communication channels. Rogers argues that perceived attributes found within your information and your actions generally determine whether or not a church leader will adopt your skills to address his communication needs.
     Rogers’ theory suggests that five primary attributes help to explain the adoption or rejection of an innovation: (a) relative advantage, (b) compatibility, (c) complexity, (d) trialability and (e) observability. Applied in our context as systems integrators, these five primary attributes can explain (and in some cases predict) why a local church leader rejects or adopts your company and gave you the contract to consult and upgrade his facility’s media technologies.
    "Relative advantage” suggests that an innovation is perceived to be better than a competing idea. “Compatibility” suggests that an innovation is perceived to be consistent with the existing values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters. “Complexity” is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to use. “Trialability” is the opportunity to experiment with the innovation on a limited basis. “Observability” is the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others. In brief, innovations that are perceived as having greater relative advantage, compatibility, less complexity, trialability and observability generally would be adopted over other innovations or, in this context, your competition.
     Let’s apply Rogers’ ideas and additional food for thought to help determine a thoughtful approach toward winning the contract. First, consider what advantages your organization has over your competitors. How and through what channels can you communicate these advantages to church leaders? My tip: Building genuine face-to-face relationships with church leaders is the strongest form of communication. Although it requires a lot of effort, this provides a greater advantage toward winning the contract over integrators who rely more on less personal forms of marketing.
     Next, consider compatibility. How do you know that your ideas and values are compatible with the church leader and social system at the church? My tip: Do your homework. Visit services at the church, identify the church leaders, study the denominational values, style of worship, and even identify which of your employees might best adapt and relate to the particular congregation.
     Third, consider complexity. Is your company able to respond quickly and clearly to the church leader’s needs? My tip: Be professional. Present a sense of calm and confidence, adapt to ever-changing scenarios, and clearly communicate ideas and plans. Make the relationship as comfortable as possible.
     Fourth, consider trialability. How can the church leader and others in his social network get to know you and test-drive your abilities? My tip: Set up a scenario where they can test you. An effective company website with promotional incentives to church leaders offers a good introduction (and they can gain a sense of compatibility). Send the church leader and support cast a handwritten note, your company T-shirt or coffee cup, along with your email address and/or cell-phone number. And lunch works well once you get in the door. Your actions and words are your test-drive.
     Fifth, consider observability. Think of local church leaders you have served successfully. My tip: Get the church leader in contact with other worship clients who are happy with your work. Their positive recommendations are the strongest form of persuasion.
     The version of perceived attributes theory that is applied here provides us insight into the mind of the church leader during the persuasion stage of the innovation-decision process. Clearly, winning the contract hinges on both our genuine skills as systems integrators and our ability to find creative and credible ways to display our best attributes to local church leaders. There is no doubt that this requires a significant amount of work. There is also no doubt that working smart and hard at communicating with church leaders that you are best suited to meet their needs offers the greatest opportunity for you to win the contract.



David Lee, PhD, is CEO of Lee Communication Inc., and a member of
Sound & Communications’ Technical Council. He travels extensively around the
world consulting with churches, organizations and governments. Send any
comments to him at david@leecomm.tv.

 

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