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About ten years ago I was buying a new vehicle. I went to three different dealerships. All three sales personnel had very different approaches in their technique for sealing the deal. While I was not a sales person myself at the time (life prior to being a photographer), I understood the behavior. This is the same in the photography business, and there is so much to learn from all three approaches as to why you may or may not be gaining clients from inquiries.
The Three Types of Behavior
Dealership A had a very aggressive approach. The sales person appeared like a ninja and immediately bombarded me with questions about the type of car I was looking to purchase. I was very clear about my intentions about the fact that I was just looking, yet he put me in front of a new model minivan. His words, "You can be the envy of all the soccer moms," struck a nerve. He assumed things about my lifestyle. After many other attempts that were invasive and aggressive, I left. For weeks (and even months later) I received phone calls and emails about purchasing a car from this dealership. While the typical sales culture needs to be numbers-driven and competitive, this attempt was too aggressive for me.
Onto Dealership B. This approach was teetering on a scene from the Walking Dead. The place was vacant enough of sales personnel I wondered if they were even open. Try as I may to find someone, the moment I did they responded as if they did not need my business. This aloof approach to sales brought the fear that even if I bought a car from them, I would be doing a lot of the leg work for assuring titles, etc. Dealership C, or as I like to call it, the best of the three little bears, used a low-pressure approach sales. They made it a point to approach me casually with the assurance they were there if I needed any help. After sometime of finding what I was looking for, they made the process flawless and comforting. The salesman was calm and collective in his thoughts, approachable and funny. He even suggested that I take the car home for the weekend to test it out. Overall, it was a brilliant approach to sales in that he left me with the product to look over during the weekend.
Needless to say, I am still driving that car.
What the Heck Do Car Dealerships Have to Do with Photography?
The sales approach from all three show the classic signs of sales behaviors. Understanding which behavior most likely represents you will help guide the type of client that will be coming through your doors.
Last week I received a message from an Fstoppers member who wrote, "I get lots of inquires from women and couples, but only about 5-10% end up scheduling a shoot." He wanted to know if he should be following up more aggressively. In the genre of boudoir, however, the aggressive approach is not going to always be the way to gain clients. Boudoir is a whole new ballgame as it is extremely intimate, especially if the client is still nervous about the idea.
Most likely the aggressive approach is going to work in one of two ways. First, it may scare off the potential client altogether. Second, they might feel compelled to shoot but will have buyers remorse as they were not quite ready emotionally or financially. Either option will leave the client with a bad taste for you as an artist.
The second behavior (as in dealership B) may come off as non-existent in their session. Creating a relationship with potential clients is necessary for the booking. Emails with only your price list will not sway them into wanting to work with you, regardless of how amazing your art work may be on your website. Connecting with them on the phone or even through a questionnaire to get to know them through email will hopefully show you both if this relationship is the right fit.
The third behavior is the middle ground. You are there, but you are not pushy. You create a space in which they can ask questions without the fear of having to backtrack a conversation to remember how they spent $3,000 without even meeting you, first. Meeting in your studio or even in a coffee shop will up the percentage of client inquiry to booking ratio. Not only will it aid in bookings, but it will also help you as an artist to steer clear of a client who is not best suited for your company (yes, I am saying you can and should say, "No," to a client that is not right for you).
What Others Have to Say
I thought perhaps I was being biased on my own work when I said that the low-pressure approach was the best option, so I asked the members of the Association of International Boudoir Photographers (AIBP) to share their thoughts. While there may be a client for which the high-pressure approach works best on, the majority agrees that the low-pressure sales approach will gain a solid client on the books.
Susan Eckert, who I had the pleasure of interviewing a few weeks ago for the "Body and Soul" article, reiterates a solid point about initial contact for all leads. This of course does not just apply to boudoir photography, but it's an important business practice for all studio owners.
There are several points to make sure to hit, but perhaps the main thing: make sure the prospect leaves the telephone call (yes, actually speak over the phone so both get a sense of the other person and to see if you can make them laugh in the process) fully understanding what distinguishes your studio/service from the rest. Have your main points of distinction clear in your head and be sure to weave them in throughout your discussion regardless of what specific questions the client may be asking. They must leave the call knowing why they should go with your studio."
Emily Scott Pack has a phone number requirement for her leads and contact page. She makes certain to call every prospect. "They need to hear your voice and know that you are a genuine person and passionate about the art you are creating with them! It really helps to calm their nerves just to talk with you about the experience you provide."
Donnamaria Robinson Jones of Circa Life Images wrote, "Start with gratitude. I make it a point to thank them for considering me and my studio for their experience. There are so many different techniques, but what I find significant is listening to them and getting excited with them about their ideas. Once we've established that we're both just dying to shoot together, I then start asking more detailed questions as a way of routing them down the best path for their session and getting them anxious to come in and look around."
Stephanie Tadlock makes sure that after the initial phone call they are in the studio to fully immerse themselves in the territory they will be shooting in. This gives the sense of familiarity prior to shooting.
I ask them what works best for them (during the day or evening) to come in to see the studio, get to know a little about each other before I ask them to take their clothes off (usually makes them laugh), and go over all the beautiful products we have to offer and, most importantly, walk them through their day after we plan out their amazing dream session. Once they're in my studio for their in-person consultation, we go over everything: wardrobe, shoot prep, products, and pricing. And they answer my little "Get to know you in five questions" and talk about how they'd like to be photographed. I ask them how soon they'd like to do their session and pull out my calendar to reserve their date and take their session fee (Always assume the sale – 99 percent of them book and pay their session fee before they walk out of the door."
Jana Vallone explored the reasoning of why we need the low-pressure approach to boudoir sales. For her, it's about "making them feel safe and helping them to push through the fear that comes with this kind of session. It's about strengthening their mind while in fight or flight mode. So there is not the option of flight. To me, it is the art of healing them from the inside."
These clients, for the most part, are coming in to heal for some reason or another: weight loss, life changing events, or even just a boost in confidence. Being aggressive and hounding them for the booking will push them away to another photographer.
Perhaps my favorite quote was from Jessica Rae who wrote, "I'm all about relationship building. I don't expect or try to book a client on our first interaction. Being personable, relatable, and having empathy go a long way for me and my business model. I try to be as transparent as possible. My clients that book with me all say I made them feel comfortable from the very first email or even just browsing my website."
This approach is not only working to lower pressure for the client end, but also for the photographer as well. This method of understanding that you will not be able to book every client who contacts you is vital to your mental stability. Without this you will always be on the defense when a client hires someone else. Not every client is right for you, just as not every photographer is right for that client.
So How Aggressive Is Too Aggressive?
I always go with the saying, "If it feels forced, it probably is." If you have an inquiry and you speak with them, but they have not responded, give it a week and follow up with an email. After that, allow them to come to you. Perhaps they are not quite ready. Keep them on the email list (with permission) until they are ready to book. If your work is what they are looking for, they will indeed book. Although even if you are so persistent it is teetering on the crazy stalker side, chances are you will not be getting that client in your doors.