Stop sabotaging your photography sales
Fear. It’s a prevalent theme in professional photography, and an all too common refrain among photographers discussing the fundamental problems that drag down their businesses. Fear of rejection. Fear of following your true creative inspiration. Fear of charging what you’re worth. Fear of being able to sell your art. For creative professionals trying to make a living producing art on demand, fear can creep into many areas of the creative and business processes.
“Well, this is the business we’ve chosen,” says Jeff Dachowski, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, portrait photographer, photography business consultant, and speaker on sales techniques. “If we don’t move past our fear and make some sales, then there is no business.”
The key to success, then, is recognizing that fear, addressing it, and overcoming it. That’s a process that Dachowski and Allison Tyler Jones, Cr.Photog., CPP, outline through an educational program called “Sales Sabotage.” The system is based on what they call the three P’s: predict, process, and product.
It’s not difficult to predict the questions and objections customers will have, so prepare responses to their concerns that will help move the process along. This isn’t about slick sales language or selling people something they don’t want; it’s about addressing concerns. It’s about removing doubt so people who want to buy something can feel good about it.
“We know certain questions and objections are going to come up during the sales process,” explains Dachowski. “We know what they are going to be. Shame on us if we’re not prepared.”
Dachowski recommends making a list of frequently asked questions and preparing answers so you’re ready when people make those queries. For example:
- Why are these so expensive? We produce portraits that are in line with the décor and style of our clients’ homes.
- Do I get digital files? We are happy to provide images to share on social media.
- How long will these be on file? We retain all the images you order today.
- Can I buy these online? There’s so much at stake here, and we’ve found clients are happiest when we collaborate.
It’s important to note that questions and objections during the sales process are natural. They don’t indicate that the customer doesn’t like you or your work. People just want to feel comfortable. The key, says Dachowski, is to treat simple questions as nothing more than ... simple questions. And simple questions deserve simple, straightforward answers. When you can answer customers directly and respectfully, you move yourself one step closer to the sale.
“If you know these questions are coming, then they can be addressed in your consultation, your pre-session phone call, during the session, and at the point of sale,” says Dachowski. “It helps to find ways to address these issues ahead of time, so even if you’re providing an answer the clients don’t like, it won’t be the first time they’ve heard it when they ask during the sales session.”
An effective process is all about control and clarity.
Control emerges from consistency. When you don’t have a well-defined sales process, your customer’s experience is inconsistent. Things become disjointed and disorganized, and you give up control of the sale. By contrast, when you simplify your sales process and clearly define each step, you maintain more influence over outcomes.
A common pitfall is offering too many sales options—online galleries, call-in orders, in-person sales sessions, etc.
“We used to offer all these different options,” recalls Dachowski. “But then it occurred to me that we were getting such inconsistent results because we had abdicated control. We had to think about what our goals were and then improve our process to fit those goals. So we got rid of online galleries. They didn’t work. People looked at the images on a small screen, they didn’t compare one pose to another, there was no urgency to buy, and maybe worst of all, there was no artistic direction from us.”
People want to be sold, insists Dachowski. They’re looking for a great experience. They want professional guidance, not to be put under pressure to make all the decisions. So give them that guidance, and use it as an opportunity to build a relationship.
Clarity is the other part of a good process. The process should be clear and understandable to everyone involved. Clarity begins by being honest with the client and honest with yourself. For example, from your first client contact, be direct about what you provide. If someone calls to ask for a family portrait session because she needs a couple of 5x7 prints and your studio specializes in large-scale wall portraiture, then be honest that the request isn’t something you can accommodate. As painful as it may be to turn away business, sometimes it’s necessary. Provide that clarity so you’re not wasting each other’s time.
Clarity also means being straightforward about how you conduct your business. Communicate your terms up front. Be open about what you hope to accomplish at each session and how you see the process unfolding. Establish clear messaging, and make sure all customer-facing employees understand that messaging. If everyone is on the same page, your chances of building a productive sales relationship improve dramatically.
Your product should be consistent with your brand. The customer experience should also be uniform. Are you putting clients through a top-shelf boutique studio experience and then handing them prints in a manila envelope? Are you spending all day on a location shoot, doing hair and makeup, multiple outfits, and then referring subjects to an online gallery to buy digital files?
To avoid these disconnects, consider what you sell and how that product fits into your customers’ lives. Dachowski suggests thinking about your products in context. If someone buys a $5,000 couch, they don’t want to hang an $85 portrait above it. The wall art above that couch should be commensurate in décor and price.
Dachowski recommends asking yourself the following questions every time you consider offering a new product:
- Is it consistent with our brand?
- Is it simple?
- Is it profitable?
If you can answer yes to all three, then it’s probably a good addition to your product menu.
From that point, consider ways to take price out of the buying decision. Make the client’s choice more about style and preference and less about cost. For example, Dachowski offers three different presentation styles for wall portraits, but by the time they make it to the wall, comparably sized images are all the same price. So people choose based on presentation style, not price, and later leave feeling that they got what they really wanted rather than with a nagging suspicion that they might have just bought something they didn’t prefer because it was less expensive.
Your product is the embodiment of your business, and it’s OK if it’s not right for everyone. Not everyone is your ideal customer, and just because someone doesn’t want to buy what you offer doesn’t mean you’re not valued. Consider high-end brands like Louis Vuitton. The company creates products of great value; they know their products’ worth in the market. Most consumers will never buy a $1,000 Louis Vuitton wallet, and that’s not a reflection on the value of the brand or the quality of the design. It’s a reflection of the reality that a $1,000 wallet isn’t the right choice for every consumer.
“Photographers need to understand that concept,” says Dachowski. “Someone’s buying decision isn’t a reflection on you or your talent as an artist. Once you understand that, you can move past the fear and create things that truly inspire.”
Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.