Selling a Roof to a Church
Hey Mike, this is Jason.
You called me a few weeks ago to answer some questions I had about closing some deals. I was the guy who moved from East Texas to come live with my wife.
Before I ask my question, I just wanted to say thank you again to you and Matt for reaching out. You were under no obligation to do so, and I really appreciated it. It helped me quite a bit.
2 weeks ago, I ran across a church that had major wind damage from the wind storm I had told you about when we talked.
When I decided to knock on their door, I was unaware at the time that the treasurer of the church board, was supposed to call a contractor to inspect the roof. He had apparently forgotten to do so.
So by shear luck, I pull into the parking lot one day, after seeing somebody maintaining the grounds. When I got out of the car, the man asked me “are you the guy that’s gonna fix the roof?”
I was stunned, but without missing a beat, I laughed and said “I’d sure like to be!” The man just happened to be the treasurer’s son, and he thought I was the man his father called.
After talking with him for a few minutes, he pretty much decided to let me go ahead and inspect the roof while I was there. And sure enough, not only did they have wind damage, they had hail damage as well, and they called their adjuster right there on the spot! We’re talking about a 150 square roof here!
Needless to say, I got lucky with being able to slide in and get this job. It will be a nice chunk of change to get me started in my new career. But it made me curious, how would I typically approach a church or other small businesses?
I’m really interested in finding out how, because it seems to me that churches have a “local community” aspect to tap into. Not only did I get the job at the church, I’m also inspecting the treasurers roof, as well as a few others in the congregation.
That’s a powerful pipeline to have!
And it’s great because there’s no corporate red tape. There’s no corporate red tape to go through like you would have to fight through if you tried working with apartment complexes and management companies, who are usually out of state. Usually, the financial decision maker is very accessible, or rather, more accessible than a typical business.
So my question is, how can approach churches and small business off the street? Do I approach them differently than when I go door to door? Do I say something different, or dress different? Do I ask for somebody specific?
I realize I’m still inexperienced, and still learning, but landing this job and getting a few others out of it, has got me really excited and enthusiastic about trying to reach out to others as well.
How can I get my foot in the door?
Most of you know that my Dad was a Gospel music singer, I had teenage aspirations of doing something similar, and I spent the first few decades of my life after college working in a church. I’ve been in and around churches my entire life.
I know the good, bad, and the ugly of church and how they operate. You can’t tell me a story about church that I haven’t already heard or lived in real life.
So, when you ask me how to sell to churches, I’ve got some insight that will help you tremendously…
Churches That Run Less Than 500
For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to limit my comments to churches that run 500 people or less in their main worship service.
That’s the vast majority of American churches with a percentile over 90%.
No Liturgical Churches
Also, I’m going to exclude most liturgical churches (e.g. Catholic, Episcopalian, etc.) These are churches where the service follows a strict structure of service and there’s a great amount of emphasis on ceremony, ritual, and using various forms of religious icons.
Basically, any church where the minister stands behind a podium to the left or right of center and wears a ceremonial garment.
It isn’t that Liturgical Churches don’t need new roofs too after a hail storm or high winds, it is just that you’re likely to experience a lot of red tape, resistance, and run around because the assets are ultimately controlled by a group of power brokers that do not spend time on the church grounds.
The exception to this rule are African-American churches.
In an African-American church, the Pastor, Bishop or Elder may wear a robe, but make no mistake about it… That man in the robe is THE MAN!
Make Your Own Luck
Before I tell you more about selling a roof to a church, I want to say this…
Jason may have felt like he got lucky running into the treasurer’s son, but he didn’t get lucky. He was just working hard. The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.
The Real Decision Maker
Think about this… The treasurer’s son was at the church, taking care of the church because that’s what the real decision maker told him to do.
Outside of regularly scheduled services, nobody is ever at the church, taking care of the church, working in the church, or doing anything else at a church, unless the real decision maker tells them, hires them, volunteers them or allows them to be there.
If you don’t believe, try loitering at an non-liturgical church that runs less than 500 people in their main worship service. Unless you’re praying, crying or begging, they’ll get rid of you pretty quick.
That tells you one of two things…
#1 The person I’m talking to on the church grounds is the decision maker.
#2 The person I’m talking to is subservient to the decision maker.
Not Always The Pastor
As in the example above, the real decision maker won’t always be the Pastor.
In fact, in a lot of churches, the Pastor is the low man on the totem pole. He’s only there because the real decision maker allows him to stick around. He’s allowed to preach, teach, pray, do hospital visits, and kiss babies, but a lot of times, he’s virtually powerless.
Before you think this is strange, I want you to consider this…
Pastors come and go. The people in the church don’t.
If you go to church, think about how many Pastors you’ve had. If you’re fortunate, just 1 or 2. If you’re like most people my age, you’ve had more than that. Can you name all of the Pastors you’ve had?
Every time a Pastor leaves, somebody has to be there to keep things going, mow the lawn, pay the bills, plant the flowers, open the doors, lock the doors, turn on the air conditioning, fix the toilet, vacuum and mop the floors, visit the sick, and kiss the babies.
Whoever that is, that’s the real decision maker.
They were there before the last Pastor was hired. They’ll be there when the Pastor you have now is gone. When they’re too old to do it themselves and when they’re dead and gone, their son will take care of the church.
Unless the Pastor started the church himself from scratch, somebody had to hire him… the real decision maker.
Maybe you’re thinking, our Pastor was hired by our board, church exploratory committee, trustees, elders or denominational governing body.
Maybe that’s true, but somebody is the ultimate leader of that committee… the real decision maker.
Maybe you’re thinking, our church voted on our Pastor. It was the congregation that voted for him.
Maybe that’s true, but somebody made the decision to allow him to come up for a vote… the real decision maker.
Founding and Long-Term Pastors
As I mentioned earlier, if the Pastor started the church himself or has been in that position for a long time, there’s a good chance that he’s the real decision maker.
He was there before the congregation, he’ll be there when the church people get mad and leave because the Preacher didn’t shake their hand.
If the church has a building loan, you can be sure that his name prominently signed the paperwork. He probably controls the insurance policy too.
Sink or swim, thrive or die, the Founding Pastor is The Man!
A similar phenomenon happens when a Pastor has been at the same church for a long time. He may not have all of the power, but he has a lot of it.
As the old-timers pass away, he gathers even more control. The longer he’s been there, the more likely that he is the real decision maker.
Who Has The Most To Lose?
Once you’ve identified the real decision maker, you’ve also identified the person with the greatest financial incentive to get the roof fixed.
If that’s the Pastor, he’ll be open to your pitch because every dollar you save him is one more dollar he can use for missions work, hiring staff, buying supplies, or paying other expenses. He’ll be open to you because you give him a chance to look like a Hero to the people he serves.
“The Pastor helped us get a brand new roof and we didn’t even have to take up a special offering or do a month of fundraisers. Our Pastor is the best!”
If that’s the Founding Pastor or a Long-Term Pastor, he’s interested in all of the same things as above, but there’s also a chance that the extra money will go into his pocket in the form of an unilateral raise or year-end bonus.
When you feel resistance here just know that it’s about the money. They may say, “It’s not about the money.” It is always about the money!
If that’s the real decision maker who has the most to lose (e.g. Treasurer, Head Deacon, Rich Layman, etc.), he’ll be open to you because he doesn’t want to be stuck holding the bag if/when the Pastor leaves… again.
You also need to know that the real decision maker will usually have a significant interest in one or a few specific church programs (e.g. Missions, Youth, Nursery, Choir, Sunday School, etc.)
Maybe their son is a missionary or their daughter teaches the children’s church. It is possible that their Father helped build the church with his own two hands.
Whatever that significant interest is, that’s the invisible tie that binds them to that church. Otherwise, they wouldn’t take on all that responsibility.
If you can figure out why the real decision maker is the real decision maker, you have just increased your odds of closing the deal because you’ll know how to angle your pitch.
Unlike the Founding Pastor, they don’t really have a way to directly and personally financially enrich themselves. That would look bad to the church.
However, the real decision maker will be exponentially more open to your pitch if you can show them how replacing the roof will serve their significant interest.
The Committee Excuse
When you approach the person you believe is the real decision maker and they tell you, “Those are things that we have to take to the committee.”, that tells you one of two things..
#1 They aren’t really the real decision maker.
#2 They are the real decision maker, but either…
- You didn’t capture their attention.
- You scared them talking about insurance.
- The pain of doing nothing is less than the pain of doing something.
- They’ll have to use their power to guide the process through the board they control, and they would rather save their power for something more important to them… like their significant interest.
If they aren’t really the real decision maker, you need to keep probing for that information. That can be tricky because they are still subservient to the real decision maker.
They’ll want to be loyal and protect that person. Otherwise, they’ll lose their standing with the real decision maker. Your job is to make the price of giving up that information less than what it will cost to reveal it.
If the person you’re talking to is the real decision maker, and they’re not interested, you’ve failed. Try again another way.
The Best Approach for a Church
Now that you have a better understanding of what’s going on at the church you want to approach, it is time to come up with a simple 3-Step game plan.
Step 1: Go to the church on a day and time when they’re not having a worship service or regularly scheduled program.
Step 2: Ask the first person you see who looks like they belong there, “Who’s responsible for taking care of the roof?”
Step 3: Find that person and give them your pitch.
If they tell you that the board, elders, trustees, or committee takes care of those things, simply say, “That makes sense. Who is the head of the board?”
If you’ve pulled up in your work truck with your roofing company magnet on the side, they’re going to figure out pretty quickly why you’re there.
There’s no sense hiding who you are and what you do, just walk in and start the 3-Step game plan.
You might not want to wear your Marilyn Manson T-Shirt.
Obviously, you don’t want to go out of your way to offend the people working at the church by what you wear or the words you use, but that’s just common sense. Dress just like you would if you were going to sell a homeowner.
One Last Church Selling Tip
If you’ve ever sold a roof to another church in their exact same denomination, it would be a good idea to bring a testimonial from that Pastor on their church letterhead.
It is almost impossible for a Pastor to become a Pastor without rubbing shoulders with other ministers in their same denomination.
There’s a good chance that they’ll know the other Pastor or know people from the other church. If they do, that’s a very good thing for you.
Also, some smaller communities have fellowships where all the Pastors from all the different churches will get together once a month, once a quarter or once a year. It’s a lot like a religious Rotary club.
If you’re working in a smaller community, a written note from another Pastor in the same town may also help you get your foot in the door.
Okay, that has to be the longest article ever written on the Roofing Salesman website. The valuable information is worth it’s weight in gold if you’ll go out and take action on what you just learned… if not, I’ll give you your money back. 😉
P.S. The 3-Step system works exactly the same way when approaching a small business. All you have to do is figure out who is the real decision maker… and subscribe to 101 Sales Tips now.
Mike CodayMike started selling roofs in '95 while working as a youth pastor at a small church in North Texas. A decade later he transitioned to speaking at industry conferences and training outside sales teams. Today, he works exclusively as the premier consultant to roofing company owners who are driven for growth.
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