I hear from photographers on a regular basis, that one of the most challenging aspects of their business is sales. In fact, for a lot of photographers, "sales" is sort of a dirty, four-letter word. Here's the deal, it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, sales is one of the most important parts of your business. Every time you book a client, sell a package, sell an album, or really make any money at all - it's sales. It's a huge part of running a business, and it's worth getting right. On that note, here are a few of the common mistakes I see photographers make when it comes to sales:
1. Trying to sell too many products
Sales is really about helping clients solve a problem. It's about finding the right products for their needs, and nothing more. In fact, in sales, more doesn't equal better. Often times, we think that the customer knows best what they want, and if we simply give them enough options or products, they'll buy. WRONG. Your job is to be a curator of your clients' needs, and provide them with the high-quality products that meet their needs. Everything else is simply noise, that confuses the conversation.
If what you really want your clients to buy are large gallery wraps, focus the conversation around gallery wraps. Don't just sit them down with a menu of sizes, shapes, products, books, coffee mugs, calendars, key chains, 4x6's and albums.
2. You only sell what you show.
At the same time, if you want to sell large gallery wraps, you need to have large gallery wraps as samples. If you want to sell a handcrafted, linen-wrapped, flush mount book, you should show handcrafted, linen-wrapped, flush mount books. Forcing the client to imagine what you're trying to sell them is unfair, and unrealistic. The result is that they'll simply pass.
At the same time, just as important is how you show the images. If you want to sell large wall art, you have to be able to show your clients large images. Trying to get them to conceptualize what a 30x40 canvas will look like on their wall isn't going to happen. You need to be able to let them view large images so they can sense what it will feel like to have that size on their wall.
3. Showing too many images
Just as too many products can make it hard for a client to make a decision, showing too many images can be a huge barrier to sales for your client. We think "well what if they like this smile better than that one?" or "how do I know which images they'll really like?" Guess what, they'll like what you show them - and for the rest, they won't even know they ever existed. It is your job to curate the images you show, giving the client the easy job of simply selecting from the best.
No one needs to look through hundreds, or thousands of images - whether it's from a portrait session or a wedding. It doesn't enhance the experience to see too many images, in fact it often detracts from the type of experience you want your client to have. The goal is to tell a story, and one of the most important parts of story telling is editing. Often what you don't tell (or show) is as important as what you do tell. For portraits, I've found the sweet spot to be between 45-60 images. For weddings, we show the album pre-design, which is usually 25-35 "spreads."
4. Post and Pray (hoping someone buys something from an online gallery)
Online proofing and sales galleries have come a long way. They also play a very important role in the sales process - and it's a role that is important to understand. I use an online gallery for every wedding, so that extended family and guests can purchase prints. At the same time, I invite my clients (and sometimes their immediate family) to join me for a viewing session, where I'll walk them through their album pre-design, and personally handle ordering any prints or other products they may want.
The result is that I get to control the experience my client has, helping create an emotional connection to the images. Since photography is such an emotion-driven medium, this connection is critical to the sales process. If you're entire sales process is to post 1,000 images in an online gallery, and then simply hope someone buys something, you're leaving a LOT on the table.
5. Failing to create expectations
If you don't tell people what to expect, they'll make something up. It's true. If you don't help them understand what they should expect, they'll simply fill in the gaps on their own - and I'm sure we all know how that goes. Sometimes it seems obvious to us what the expectations are - but that's because we're the one that does this on a daily basis.
Think about it from your client's perspective for a moment. If they are a bride planning a wedding, this is likely the first time she's hired a wedding photographer. This is all new to her. If she's a mom with a brand new baby, looking for newborn photos, she has no idea what you do, or how you operate. Just because it's obvious to you, doesn't mean anyone else will know what you want them to do. It's far better to take the time to overcommunicate the process, then to think that someone else will just know what to do.
At my studio, I created a series of Client Guides, to help both my wedding and portrait clients know what to expect. In addition to explaining things like pricing, it includes helpful information about their wedding or session, information about viewing and ordering images, and information about important factors when scheduling their day. I'm also sure to include information about how to get answers to other questions they may have.
6. Asking the wrong types of questions
There are basically two types of questions: open-ended questions, designed to get information ("tell me how you feel about…"), and multiple-choice questions, designed to move someone towards action - or a decision (which of the following do you prefer). Often, one of the biggest barriers photographers face is not knowing how these two different types of questions can work for you.
Open-ended questions are the questions you ask when you want a client to tell you more information, as you discover their needs. You ask questions that start with "tell me what you think about…" "tell me more about…" "what are some things that are important to you…" etc. These questions help you understand what your client is looking for, and they give you information about their needs. These are the questions you ask a client during a consultation, or during a viewing session - after the watch a slideshow of images. These are the questions that allow you to help them make a meaningful connection with the images, and they help you learn how they want to use them.
On the other hand, multiple-choice questions are the questions you use to help a client focus in on a decision. These are questions like "are you planning to hang that over your fireplace, in your bedroom, or over the couch?" "Do you prefer a flush mount or traditional matted book?" "Would you like that framed print with, or without a matte?" Using multiple-choice questions move people towards action, and help you move closer to a sale. These are the questions you ask as you are putting together an order, and as you "close."
By the way, the most valuable multiple-choice question is "would you like to take care of that today with a check or credit card?" (conversely, the worst possible open-ended question you can ever ask is "how would you like to pay for that?")
7. Failure to close
On that note, so many photographers get excited about developing a sales process. They get excited about sitting down with their clients and showing them slideshows, and looking at albums, and canvases and prints. Then it comes time to actually "take and order," and "close a sale," and they are suddenly paralyzed. It's as if all language completely fails them, and they're unable to form a coherent sentence to ask a client for money.
My suggestion? Create a script, and memorize it. For me, it looks like this:
"First, is there anything else?"
You definitely want to be sure you haven't missed anything, and this is the last open-ended question you'll ask. It's actually the only acceptable open-ended question that's acceptable during closing.
"Okay then, based upon our conversation, I've put together your order which includes…. "
Let's review this to make sure we really haven't forgotten anything, and that the client knows, exactly what he/she is going to get. I also put their order in front of them, so they can visualize what I"m saying.
"If everything looks correct to you, we can get that into production, and we will have it ready for you in 2-3 weeks."
Unless they tell me otherwise now, I assume everything is correct and create expectations by letting them know what happens next.
"Would you like to take care of that today with a check or credit card?"
Multiple choice question to close the sale. The invoice is in front of them, so they know that the "price" is, and they have the option of paying with a check or credit card. You'll be surprised how much easier it is to close a sale when you remember that if you've done your job up until now, you've essentially put together an order for them, based on exactly what they told you they wanted, and now you're simply telling them what it will take to get it.
Want More Info? Tune in this weekend to Jared Bauman's CreativeLIVE workshop. It's totally FREE, and I'll be his guest on Saturday morning, talking specifically about SALES!
Also, from now until Monday August 5, you can save $100 on the Sales Made Simple 6-Hour Video Course, containing everything you need to develop a killer sales process for your photography business.