Your Dream Studio: Your Sales System in Action: Inquiries and Consultations with Jeff & Lori Poole
Putting Your Sales System Into Action
For the past several months in The Business Corner, we’ve been building your sales system from the ground up in order to get you to your target sales average (see The Business Corner article from August 2018 for a discussion on determining your target average). We started with cost-based pricing (October), then demand-based pricing (November), then strategies for digital files (December). Next, we built your sales system using your à la carte list (January), your bundled options (February) and your upselling strategies (March). Now it’s time to put all your hard work into action. It’s time to craft your client experience workflow to maximize your sales potential. That workflow starts the moment a potential client inquires.
From Inquiry to Consultation
Responding to inquiries
Your prospective client, or lead, will often inquire with something along the lines of, “I love your work! How much?” You must respond as quickly as possible. No one likes to be kept waiting. I know my leads are going to ask about price, so I have an autoresponse that sends them starting pricing information via MailChimp. I then follow up with a personal response as soon as I can.
When they ask for pricing
We should not be offended when our leads ask for our pricing. I often see a Facebook topic along the lines of, “My lead asked for my pricing before agreeing to meet with me. They are obviously so not my client.” This is just silly. Photography can cost anything from $50 for shoot-and-burn all the way up to tens of thousands for a single portrait. It is not unreasonable for leads to want to know where you fall along that spectrum before wasting their time or yours.
Should you put your prices online?
In most purchasing scenarios, the shopper can find basic pricing information online before speaking to a human. I hate going to a website for information and being unable to find any pricing without speaking to a sales rep. Likewise, today’s leads appreciate photographers who list either a starting price or an average spend on their websites.
I do not recommend listing your entire price menu on your site or sending your full price menu as soon as a client inquires. For one, you want your leads to contact you so you can follow up. Two, you need to control your lead’s experience with your brand. Three, your lead will not likely understand everything on your menu. If at all possible, get your lead on the phone. Begin a conversation in which you establish rapport and control the brand message. Many creatives panic at this stage. I have actually seen a post in a Facebook group for photographers saying, “Help! My client wants to talk on the phone. What should I do?” You should call, that’s what.
From inquiry to consultation
In our studio, Jeff and I strive to bring serious leads in for a consultation. We achieve the best sales results when the client is willing to commit the time to come in, when we can build a rapport and when we can demonstrate the value and quality of our products and services. For us, this is more difficult (though not impossible) to do over the phone. This year, we’ve also been experimenting with live video chats for long-distance clients. We know of other photographers who do well with phone consultations alone, but it hasn’t been our experience. Therefore, the aim of our correspondence with the lead is to schedule that consultation.
Generally, we start the inquiry conversation by asking the lead lots of questions. Direct your questions in a way that encourage the lead to consider why a portrait session would be valuable to them. “Tell me why you’d like to have a portrait session.” Grab onto and elaborate on emotional connections. “I love that you’re doing this as an anniversary gift! He’s going to absolutely love this. Seriously, you win Wife of the Year.” Get them to envision the results of the session. Offer ideas and inspiration based in the information they tell you.
When they inevitably ask about pricing, the conversation can be summarized as: “Our session fee is $X, with products starting at $X. Some of our most popular products are “product 1” and “product 2”. The next step would be for us to get together and plan your session at a complimentary consultation. You’ll be able to see/touch/feel all of our products, and of course I will go over pricing, we’ll talk outfits, locations, etc. When can you come in?” Notice I didn’t ask if they wanted to come in, I simply informed them that coming in is the next step. This is called an assumptive close.
The Consultation Begets the Sale
Up until now, the goal of the conversation with your lead has been to give them enough information to decide if they like you. Do they get a good feeling from talking to you? Can they afford you? If you did your job during the inquiry stage, they should already know they can afford you on a basic level, and are now coming to find out the details. The nitty-gritty information is divulged at the consultation. But not without a little foreplay, so to speak.
This is likely the first time your lead will be meeting you and visiting your studio (or sales space/showroom). First impressions count. The place you are meeting should reflect your brand. If meeting at your studio, make sure it is clean, neat and appropriately decorated. If you’re meeting in a public place, choose a venue that reflects the right vibe. Starbucks is not your only option. Dress according to your brand. Look good, smell good. You get the idea.
If at all possible, attempt to touch all five of your lead’s senses. Use an air freshener or scent warmer. Play music. Display beautiful samples and decorate well. Offer refreshments, comfy seating, textures and samples to touch. Keeping all five senses engaged makes the consultation an immersive experience.
All in all, your lead should feel that there is a match between your website, your presence, your branding, your vibe, your value. They should subconsciously understand you’re worth the prices you’re about to throw at them.
Talk about them
People respond well when you let them talk about themselves. Use the same techniques you did over the phone to let your client speak. They want to tell their story; they want to make sure you understand what they are looking for. Ask questions. Listen.
Explain your process
Gradually segue the conversation into how you can meet their needs. Explain your process. The consultation is for planning the shoot, answering their questions, getting to know one another and reviewing pricing. Explain that your next step would be the shoot, and then in-person sales. Make sure they understand that you will provide the best service by meeting with them to help them choose their products. In other words, the images aren’t going online and you aren’t giving files away.
Clients love this portion of the session. Discuss location, wardrobe, unique ways to reflect their story in the images. This is your chance to make sure clients don’t show up in unflattering, mismatched, wrinkled clothing. It is also when you will give advice on time of day, the best location, whether you prefer props, address whether you’re open to working from a shot list/Pinterest board. Tell them all the things you want them to know in order to shape them into your ideal client. Take the reins here. They are hiring you for your expertise.
And finally, pricing
Throughout the inquiry stage, and up until this point in the consultation, you’ve been demonstrating your value. From your website, they see you take great photos. Over the phone, they’ve begun to trust you and like you, and they learned you’re within their budget. Now they see your professionalism and expertise. Somehow, you just “get” them. Your products are beautiful. They want you. It’s time to reel them in.
Start with your session fee. What does it include? What doesn’t it include? How much is it?
Now the à la carte list. For those clients wanting only the basics, here they are. Show-and-tell each product on this list. Let them touch it. Without getting too deep in techno jargon, explain the features. Does it have leather? What sizes does it come in? What do you as the artist love about this product? How much does it cost? See our January 2019 article for more information on à la carte lists.
Once they fully understand the à la carte offerings, move into your bundles. Remember that a bundle can be a package, a create-your-own-collection or any other system that encourages the purchase of multiple products. If built correctly (see February), your bundle system will sell itself and your client will quickly gravitate toward a bundled option.
Assume the close
The easiest way to move from price list explanation to booking is to assume they are going to book. Instead of (awkwardly) asking if they want to book, ask which product option they are going to go with. This puts them into decision-making mode.
Allow them to ask questions. Make sure nothing is misunderstood. Keep no secrets. Be genuine and forthcoming, and guide your clients into the options you think best fit their desires. Do not try to push products onto your clients simply because they are the most expensive. Maintain the trust your clients have placed in you.
You want your clients to do the majority of the number-crunching and left-brain activity now. I am perfectly happy to scratch out on paper various combinations of products and tell my clients a total price. Get sticker shock out of the way. Give them time between now and the actual sale to get comfortable with the big number.
Bonus points for prepurchasing
Once I’ve asked my clients which products they’re interested in, I throw them a sweetener. This encourages the client to make a minimum product purchase up front (in addition to the session fee) in exchange for a session upgrade.
The minimum product purchase doesn’t have to be huge. Mine is half of my target sale. There are several ways you can encourage the purchase:
“If you prepurchase a product credit of $X or more…
“If you prepurchase Package B or higher…
“If you prepurchase an 8-inch or larger album…
Assume they are booking today: “If you prepurchase X when you book today, you’ll receive…”
The carrot you dangle should be low cost to you and high value to the client, and something that won’t cannibalize the product sale. I offer an upgraded session. That way I’m not giving away a product my client might have purchased otherwise. And if I shoot longer, I’m going to have more images that the client will want, which will also help my sales: “You’ll receive an extra 30 minutes in your shoot, which will give you time for one more outfit. This upgrade is a $150 value.”
Note: The upgrade you offer should be listed on your price menu and discussed as one of the options when you review your session fees. By discussing it early, odds are, your client secretly wants the upgrade already. You’ve given them just the excuse they need to prepurchase their products.
Why have prepurchase incentives? Money spent is money forgotten. By the time of their actual sales appointment, their bank account will have replenished and they will be more willing to spend on upsales. You can offer a presession payment plan. Allow your clients to break up their product payments over the weeks leading up to their session. This may allow them to purchase more than they would have been able to afford in only one payment. Clients are much less likely to cancel their session or their sales appointment when they’ve paid up front.
It’s All Downhill From Here
If you follow this style of inquiry management, you’re doing the majority of the sales work before the actual sale. Use the inquiry and presession consultation to establish your value and explain your sales system. Your sessions become easier with preplanning because your clients trust your judgment and follow directions better. But best of all, when it comes to the in-person sales appointment, the hard work is already done. The only thing left to do is help the client choose their images and ring up their final purchase.
Join us in a future issue as we discuss how to conduct the in-person sale.