Turning a $300 Order into a $2000 Investment

I had a request to write about increasing the size of a client’s portrait order, so here it goes.  First all, I won’t use the words always or never, since I have often said only an idiot uses the words always or never in a creative profession.   I started out in this profession not knowing a thing about selling.  I put the 4×5 paper proofs into a envelope with my price-list and sent them home with the client. This same technique is still used today by many photographers, whether it is sending out paper proofs or images on a CD.  First rule of selling, you don’t allow images out of your studio because they are valuable.  You don’ t see jewelers sending home a selection of diamond rings for consideration, because they have value.  When a photographers allows his or her image to leave their studio without a non-refundable deposit that is in the hundreds of dollars, they are saying to the client their images have no value!  Second,  No sale can ever reach it’s maximum potential without a salesperson to help guide the client through the sales process.

If a client is left to their buying process, they will spend about $300.  That is a comfortable number for most clients that go to a professional photographer.  There are several ways to increase that number to a more sizable investment.  Before we talk about them you have to understand that most people fear selling and fear being sold.  You are not selling, you are simply finding out what people want and helping them to get it. Recently (the night before Valentines Day) my wife and I went to look at a Range Rover that our car broker had in.  She had an SUV that was a few years old,  paid for and she was in no hurry to buy another new vehicle.  The Range Rover turned out to not be what she wanted.  I suggested we go look at the BMW’s across the street, after all she has always liked the 700 series BMW Sedan.  The BMW salesperson wasn’t selling anything, he explained the car and everything it did and let us discover how cool it was.  We were their for 3 hours, (two-hours after the dealership closed) before when we decided to buy a 750IL.    The salesman made a sale because he found out what we really wanted and then helped us to get it.  It is really that simple.

There are many factors to consider when you want to raise the size of investment your clients will make.  First of all to raise the size of order you must increase the sales of wall portraits and products.  No client is going to buy $2000 worth of 8×10’s and smaller units. Secondly you must learn to direct your client through the sales process without adding to and hopefully eliminating their confusion.  Third, you must use their excitement to your advantage.  Excitement is the strongest emotion in the first steps of the buying process.  If Mark (BMW buyer guide) would have told us “We are closed, let’s make an appointment for you to come back tomorrow”, we would have never bought that car.  We would have slept on it and reality would have subdued our excitement.  We would have started weighing the pain and pleasure involved in this purchase, $100,000 for the car!…..but it’s really cool….that’s a lot of money…..but we have always wanted one.  Sooner or later logical thinking would have convinced us that no one in the world really needs a car like this, but while we were test driving it and looking at from the sales office after the test drive, it sure felt like we needed it!

I use excitement to my advantage, I have clients view right after the session is over.  This works because we shoot to make it work.  I shoot very consistently throughout my studio and only shoot a realistic number of images to view, I use corrective lighting and posing to make the client look fantastic without Photoshop (the name of one of my books that you can purchase by clicking on the book which is a link) and we shoot perfect quality jpegs to make uploading fast.  I have tested different methods of selling and for us our sales are  25 – 30% more viewing right after the session.  It’s not only about excitement, it also the fact you have all the decision makers at the session (which in most cases was hard enough to schedule, now you want to go through this again a week after the session is over?)  It is the most effective means of viewing we have ever found.

Selling wall portraits is the single easiest way to raise the size of your orders.  Projection is the best way to sell wall portraits, but “projection with a purpose”.  You project images onto a large screen you entertain your buyer with your projection system, however if you put an empty frame on the wall to project into you have focused the buyers attention on a portrait and the size of that portrait, because portraits belong in frames.  If you want to sell projection systems and make everyone envious of yours, use as large of a screen as possible and you will impress everyone with your screen and have them ask to come over and watch the next game at your studio.  Put up a frame and you are establishing in the buyer’s mind what the correct size of portrait will be.  Typically the first thing a client looks at is what they want to buy.  This works ‘for you’ when you project an image into a frame, it works ‘against you’ if you project onto a unframed screen and start off with a slide-show.

We tried using slide-shows and throughout the entire sales process the clients kept asking me to buy the damn slide-show, because that was the first thing they saw and it made a lasting impression. You project the client’s best image into a 40×60 frame and that will make the first impression.  Wouldn’t you rather have clients asking to buy a 40×60 instead of a slide-show?  This is a very long post, but selling is a complex subject that involves many steps, so read on.

The next step and one of the single most common mistakes that people helping others “get what they want” make (otherwise known as a salesperson) is not directing the client on a clear path from seeing the first image to giving you their credit card.  Clients can only make one decision at a time, you bring up things that don’t pertain to that one decision and/or don’t keep the client focused on that one decision, you will often walk away from a sales appointment with no sale being made.  First decision, select the single best pose (for a portrait client, the single favorite pose and the 7 runner-ups for the senior client because almost everything we sell is based on 8 images) while marking down the favorite image of every pose or background change (for books, slide shows and other products that require more than 8 images). This takes a while, which works in your favor, the longer that client looks at her images in a 40×60 frame the more “normal” those portraits look at that size.

Once all selections are made, you bring up the single favorite image into the 40×60 frame and they decide on the size of wall portrait that goes into their home.  Refer to the portraits by price not size.  “This portraits would be $18,000 (I wish), how do you feel about this size?” Let them answer and deal with their objections, which they will have, and most of the time about the price! continuing… The next size down (while making the image the next smaller size with the lens of the projector) is Only $12,500, but you lose some of the details that you see in this size and go back up to the larger size?  You continue this process until the client makes a decision.  If you start off with a portrait (not a slide-show) in a 40×60 size,  a 24×30(36) will seem small to the client that has been looking at a 40 x 60 for the past 45 minutes through the selection process.

Once the client decides on  a size, write it on an order form and clarify, “so you want this pose in a 24×36 size which is $15,000” correct?  Once the wall portrait is sold, you have made your large order, so relax and sell the smaller gift sizes, frame upgrades and products.  Products are a huge source of increasing order sizes, but you must be careful that the cost of the products aren’t so high that a decent profit is not possible.  Many speakers talk about high sales averages, but then use very expensive albums to raise the over all sale, but the high price of the album makes a normal mark-up impossible.  If you offer a custom, press printed album that costs you $400, how much can you realistically mark it up to have a purchase price that your client will pay.  If you find your clients will only spend $800 for this album that not much of a profit (and then you have to take the time to set up the images for the album!).  Portrait collages and grouping tend to be more profitable and raise the size of the order without sacrificing your profit potential.  Frames and folios can also add to the final sales, but select what you offer to insure a decent profit.

Incentives are another excellent way to increase the size of orders.  You offer a product, template, folio or collages at a deeply discounted price if the clients buys a certain package or spends a certain amount.  This is very effective when client’s order is close to the level they get the incentive.  The way you set up your packages or pricing structure also allows you to increase the total order size.  In our packages for seniors, we found that wallets were everything to one senior and not that big of a deal to another.  We took the wallets out of our packages and set up wallet packages so clients could get exactly what they wanted.  This reduced the cost of the packages making the prices more competitive with other studios, while most seniors added the wallet packages raising our overall order size.

There are so many theories about selling and this is one area you must try out to see if something works for your studio.  There are speakers and educators that insist they have the best selling system to use, but they might have a business structure that you do not.  Some low volume children photographers have an actual relationship with each client.  There children even play together!  The clients knows and trusts the photographer completely because they are actually a friend.  A person in this situation can suggest,  not sell, because their clients have complete trust in their opinion.  Most studios don’t have that relationship, if you suggest, you will have a $300.  It all goes back to finding out what people want and then helping them to get it.

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~ by jeffsmithbooks on March 4, 2010.

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