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The Only Question You Need to Ask to Sell More Prints

The Only Question You Need to Ask to Sell More Prints

Selling prints is a tricky business with seemingly infinite reasons for someone to decide they don't want to purchase your image. But one simple question can dramatically increase your odds of convincing a potential customer to pull the trigger on investing in your art.

"What Is Your Budget?"

It's a straightforward question that can be uncomfortable for many people to ask, particularly artists who usually traffic in emotion instead of numbers. But it's a powerful question that can give you, the business owner, a great deal of leverage in completing a potential sale. 

Unlike a painter, whose finished product can only be sold as is, we photographers are lucky in that we can print any image in just about any size (within reason, of course). We can also print it on any number of materials. And that versatility is our biggest advantage when talking to a customer. 

There are several considerations an art patron must take into account when looking to purchase a photograph. What kind of space they are looking to fill will determine the size that best meets their needs. Do they want a classically framed image, or something more modern such as an acrylic mount? Will the image be housed in a brightly-lit room where reflections will be an issue? All of those considerations are important, but they're all completely secondary to one thing: the customer's budget.

And because we can print the same image at almost any size, on almost any medium with various finishes that can reduce glare, we can meet any of those desires. The only need we absolutely must meet is the customer's budget. 

Large, medium, or small, you can print an image at any size to fit any budget.

That's why I've taken to asking customers nearly up front how much money they are looking to spend. Of course, I try to connect with them first. I talk to them about the art, what they like about it, why I made the image, how I made the image, and so on. But I don't wait very long before asking what their budget is. It's the apex question in a sales triangle: How much?; What size?; What medium?

In much the way ISO, shutter speed, and aperture play off each other when making an image, price, size, and medium play off of each other to create a sale. I can't make a 40x60-inch print face-mounted on acrylic for $200. I would take a bath on the sale. But I can fit a 12x8-inch acrylic mount into that budget, or perhaps a 40x60-inch unmounted print. Or maybe even a 16x24-inch canvas print. The point is, I can make some sort of a print to meet just about any budget as long as the customer is willing to consider various sizes or print materials. 

Once you have a customer saying "yes" to the most important part of the sale — the price — it's easier to find compromises on size or medium to reach a deal. And a customer who wants your image on their wall will do just that — compromise — if it means getting your art into their home at a price they are comfortable with. 

So next time a potential customer inquires about your pricing, ask them first how much they're looking to spend and see if you're able to convert the sale. 

Do you have any tips for making more sales? Drop a comment below and let us know how you get your customers to say the all-important "Yes." 

Lead image by Steve Kampff and used with permission.

Brian Pernicone's picture

Brian Pernicone grew up admiring the coastal waters of New England and that influence is evident in much of his work, which focuses primarily on coastal landscapes, boats, New England wildlife, and water sports.

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Not a bad idea!

Umm. We are producing luxuries. People spend money on different luxuries, and there is no reason I shouldn't get some of the money they would have reserved for some other luxury. I honestly believe my work is worth giving up six months of Starbucks.

I find that "budget" for what is essentially a luxury can be very flexible and governed wholly by desire. What they thought was their budget walking in can be affected in our favor by desire.

Desire is stoked in a number of different ways, but I try to stoke desire before I start talking about "budget."

I'll stoke desire by showing images large from the start. "When they see it, they will buy it."

I've used a number of different ways over years. Right now I'm using a 65-inch LED screen that I can rotate from horizontal to vertical. But in the past I've even used a handheld projector that I actually took to their homes and projected images in places where I thought a big print would look nice.

When I start talking about budget, I'll have a large image showing. Something that has worked very well for mothers (and grandmothers) is to walk into the sales session with a 30x40 of my selection already made. Rarely will a mother let me leave with it. And even if she doesn't like that one, having seen it will stoke her desire for one in that size of her choosing.

I love the idea of bringing a projector to someone’s home so they can “see” your image in their space. Seems like a really effective sales tactic.

When asking "What is your budget?" you're not saying that they had to budget this expense as though it was a car payment or something. It's really just a polite way of saying "How much were you planning on spending" or "what price range are we talking about" or "what's the most you're willing to spend".

It's handy in several aspects. On one hand, you can get the maximum sale amount, and on the other, you're able to maximize the value to the customer based on what they want.

Some people don't care if it's canvas, metal, or acrylic - they just want a giant print. Others know exactly what they want, in both size and type. Knowing their "budget" (price limit) allows you to decide if you want to discount the price down a little to fit into that budget instead of stepping down a size and losing out on part of what they could afford to spend.

For example, if you know the customer is willing to spend $500 and your 30x40 is priced at $550, they might just pick your 20x30 at $300 instead if they are just looking at a price sheet. If you know their budget you have the option of saying "You know what, I'll give you a discount on the 30x40. You've now made a $500 sale instead of $300 - a $200 difference for something that might have only cost you $60 more to produce.

Now, when talking to a commercial client, yes, find out what the budget is right up front and let that be a factor in determining how you're going to handle the job from the beginning.

But I disagree with doing that at any point when dealing with a retail client.

What "budget" means dealing with a retail portrait client is setting a priority against other luxuries. I want them to set portraits above that trip to Las Vegas. I want the mother to set portraits above the 10th anniversary diamond ear-pins. I want them to splurge on portraits and economize on something else.

My point is that I don't care what they thought they were willing to spend when they walked in because I want them to spend more than what they thought they were willing to spend.

Most importantly: I don't want them to set a concrete target figure for what they're willing to spend. That is absolutely counter-productive to the sales effort. I don't want to hear the husband say, "We've already decided on $500--we TOLD you that."

If you ask them to set a budget, ask them to say it out loud, that means you're then trying to move them away from a concrete figure--it would have been better to have let that stay wishy-washy while building desire first.