When I talk to a lot of photographers, they seem to think that business and creativity are at odds with each other. Being a salesperson and an artist just don't go together, right? I think we've just been mislead on what it really means to sell.
I remember my first sales training. It was 15 years ago, and the district manager of the RadioShack I was applying to sat across the table from me and told me to sell him his pen. This was supposed to be a teaching moment, but looking back, it felt more like someone putting on a middle school production of "The Wolf of Wall Street." But, I was young, naive, and overly optimistic about this commission-based sales job that would make me more money than I knew what to do with. What I got instead was a lesson in how to fail in sales.
I got the job — clearly not on the merits of my sales ability — and was promptly force-fed their sales tactics on how to up-sell customers, get them to buy our brand of product (higher commission if you do!), and so on and so forth. What I learned the most from this job is how much people hate being sold to. A few short years later when I decided to start a business of my own, I turned these tactics on their head and built a business on customer service instead of hard sales.
Now, going into my tenth year in business, I've got three tips that will make you enjoy the sales process much more than I did as a teenager.
It's Not Us Versus Them
Working in that environment never felt good. Customers were treated as "marks" and it was your job to extract as much cash out of them as possible. Nothing was about the needs of the customer, and everything was about the bottom line. That will suck the life right out of you.
I love my business as a photographer because I get to work with my clients, not against them. The best thing I can do for them is to give them what they need and to create work that we're both excited about. No pressure, no gimmicks, just providing the best experience and the best product I'm able to give. Sometimes, the best service is telling your client that an 8x10-inch print won't be striking as a wall print, and sometimes it's reminding them that a 20x30-inch print may be too large for the space they're wanting to fill.
It's not about the money, it's about the service. Stay on your client's team and you'll earn their repeat business and their referrals without even having to ask.
At the Shack, our job was to up-sell everything. Coming in for an extension cord? Why not have a look at our TVs! Don't forget the batteries. And isn't it time for a new cell phone? The constant barrage of product offerings and sales pitches were mandated by our higher-ups, and failing to recite all of it meant finding a new place to work. Customers couldn't get out of the store fast enough.
Photographers have a tendency to do the same thing in one of two ways: offering too many products and showing too many images. Part of being the expert (that's what your clients assume you are) is offering them what you know they need. Listing 17 print sizes on your price sheet is overwhelming and makes decision making difficult. Be there for your client and offer only the products you love. Your style and your brand should be reflected in the products you present.
The same goes for image selection. In the early stages of your business, it may seem like good customer service to show your client as many images as possible and let them decide what they like best (in both color and black and white), but that's a quick way to snuff out their excitement. One of the hardest parts of growing as a photographer is becoming a good editor, selecting and showing only the very best and cutting the rest. It's better to have a client completely thrilled about 30 images than digging through 300 to find ones she wants to purchase.
The old "Glengarry Glen Ross" trope of ABC (always be closing) necessitates that every second we have with the customer should be driving towards the sale. This mantra was tacked up in the back room of our electronics shop as a constant reminder that if we're on the floor, we had a mission: close the deal. With this, I can't disagree with the premise, but the execution we were prescribed was flawed.
As a photographer, your client's experience should be doing the selling for you. You are, of course, in the business of selling photography, but your focus should be on the client, not the sale. Did the client mention wanting a new image above their mantle? Make sure you show them the perfect photo for it. Get them excited about it from the moment you click the shutter. This isn't sales, it's giving your client what they want. They came to you for a reason.
In the end, the best advice I've gotten is to just sit back, shut up, and let the client make their own decisions. Of course, you should be there to make suggestions, answer questions, and make your client's time enjoyable, but when it comes time to purchase, remove yourself from the conversation. If you've done your job well, your client is well-educated about the select products you offer, they're being presented with images they can't help but love, and they likely already have a good idea of what they want to take home. Just let them.
The last thing they need at the moment of the sale is to feel coaxed. Remember, you're on their side and their happiness is the number one goal. If you've priced yourself properly, the income will follow, but it will never come if you don't have happy clients.
Doing these things has made my career both profitable and enjoyable, and I would never feel embarrassed if my clients read about my "sales techniques." I'll take that any day over where I started.