Most photographers dislike sales. This is partially because of the natural disconnect between the creative part of our brain and the part that requires us to go into “business” mode. In a recent interview with Jerry Ghionis for Episode #20 of the Sprouting Photographer podcast, we encourage you to look at the business side of photography as a creative outlet, and when you do, you will not only come to peace with it, but you’ll learn to enjoy it.
One of the core reasons that photographers dislike sales is because they associate “selling” with having to pressure, trick or be sleazy. Traditional sales training teaches tactics around psychology, body language and verbiage and it’s easy to be turned off by some of these ideas as they are often pushy, unnatural or uncomfortable. The bookstore shelves are full of sales training books that will show you how to excel in sales, but the general consensus among creatives is that many of these traditional tactics are outside their comfort zone.
Sales is just the process of communicating value to someone who has asked us to do so.
The basics of sales haven’t changed, though, what has changed is the context – photographers are uncomfortable having to sell, and consumers have grown increasingly aware of sales techniques and are overly sensitive to not be sold to. This leaves us in quite the conundrum – the business owner doesn’t want to sell, and the consumer doesn’t want to be sold to.
With that in mind, I’d like to present an alternative option.
What is a sales session?
First, let’s re-define selling. For me, instead of referring to meetings as a “sales session” or “consultation”, I call mine them a “meet-and-greet”. There’s really no reason that it needs to be anything but that – you are simply meeting with a prospective client who is looking to see if you are a good fit for them. A “sales session” doesn’t have to feel like an “interview”, either. Instead, let’s look at sales as simply talking about what we do with someone who has expressed interest in hearing about it.
It really is as straightforward as this:
Sales is the process of communicating value to someone who has asked us to do so.
Consider this for a moment – in a sales setting, we aren’t cold-calling clients or going door-to-door and having to justify ourselves. Instead, when we sit across the table with a prospective client, we are doing so because they have already given us permission to talk with them about our photography. They’ve come to visit us and are asking us to tell them more about what we do.
When we look at it this way, it takes one of the mental blocks out of selling.
What is an objection?
The term “objection” is used in traditional sales training, where we’re taught that objections are simply a “false stall” in the process and that every objection brings you “that much closer” to the sale. I prefer not to look at it this way, because this presents “sales” in a context of power and manipulation.
Let’s step away from the conversation for a moment and comment on the fact that often entrepreneurs look at ideas in an echo chamber where we listen to other entrepreneurial advice. I find that business education sometimes makes assumptions without necessarily looking at the external influences. I’m personally a proponent of looking at ideas from the outside in – what do our clients think? What do they intend? How would they like to see things? This is a much better way of looking at things instead of conceptualizing and making up our minds about our customers without asking them.
Normally we look at “objections” as internal ideas (how can we overcome objections?), but I am suggesting that we look at them as external ideas (what are our clients really trying to ask?) instead. In a “sales” setting, our clients don’t come to us telling themselves that they are going to “give an objection” just to test us. Instead, they come with legitimate concerns and questions because they don’t know any better. They are uneducated as to all the intricacies in our industry, and they have uncertainties. They aren’t aware of the process or the options, and how could we blame them? They don’t live and breathe this stuff every day like we do.
An objection is really just an uncertainty that has been undiscussed.
If we looked at “objections” this way, then we really can frame them as truly being just questions. There’s no need for us to get all worked up about them – they’re simply opportunities to describe a part of what we do.
Let’s not confuse objections (in the context that I am defining them here) with what I call deferrals – an objection that clearly states that the client is not comfortable with the process and needs time and space. This is where I’ll vary from much of the traditional sales training – I personally believe in no-pressure selling, where we treat our clients with respect and integrity, always with the purest intentions. In my business, I never want to come across as having a “power trip” by using tricks of tactics to “close” the deal.
A few specific examples of deferrals include:
- I need to think about it
- I need to ask my fiancé/partner/spouse/parent’s
- We’re not too sure which collection we’d like to go with
Traditional sales training will say that when your client says something like “I need to think about it” that you should push forward with something along the lines of “tell me more about what you’re not comfortable with here” or “how can I help you make the decision today”. I don’t know about you, but to me, these are uncomfortable situations to be in and I personally don’t like going into this high-pressure “icky” sales position. So I simply don’t.
I don’t want to pressure my clients, and in fact, I normally don’t want them to book on the spot; they’re making a big decision and I want them to be 100% comfortable with it. I don’t want them to feel like I’ve pressured them to make their mind up and then they end up regretting their decision or feeling resentment towards me.
I suggest that when a client gives you a “deferral” that you simply accept it for what it is and not try and slime your way around it. Know that your client isn’t comfortable with booking at that point and give them the space they need. Respect your clients wishes and you’ll in tern gain their respect as a professional.
The only 3 objections you’ll ever have
If “deferrals” are just a plea from our clients for more time or some third-party approval, and objections are defined as legitimate concerns or questions that our clients have, then we can put all of these objections/questions into three categories:
There are really only three objections – person, product or price.
I’ll spend some time later equipping you with some ideas as to how you can overcome these objections, but let’s first define them a bit further.
Objection #1 – The Person
This is a personal objection to you, but don’t confuse this with being something you should be offended by, though. This is when a client either doesn’t connect with you (personality conflict) or when they don’t have enough information to feel that they can trust you.
Objection #2 – The Product
This is an objection that is based on the product or service that you provide. The first and most obvious product objection would be that they don’t connect with your style of photography. Other product objections may be that they don’t like the physical quality or variety of your products (albums, prints, etc), or that they prefer something different. A very specific product objection that most photographers encounter often is when a client thinks that they want the digital files when you want to be a full-service studio.
Objection #3 – The Price
This objection is (obviously) based on price, but it is often misunderstood. When your client gives you an objection that your prices are too high (or implies this), it’s actually not that they think you’re prices are too high. Seem confusing … ? Look at it this way – when a client indicates to you that your prices are too high, what they’re really saying is that the value they put on you, your work and the experience they think you’ll provide isn’t worth the prices you charge.
Dealing with Objections
Four quick tips that you can use to overcome objections.
Let’s come to terms with the fact that almost everyone will be faced with some combination of the objections above, but when we look at them as simply conversation points instead, it makes them much less daunting. For me, I actually enjoy when these kinds of questions come up because it gives me a reason to go into a certain conversational direction and clear up any uncertainties.
Here are four quick tips that you can use to overcome objections and handle these kinds of questions:
- Always be clear on the question that they are asking. Ask them to clarify if you don’t full understand their concerns. Be aware that often what a client asks and what they mean are two differnet things, so be sure to read between the lines and really listen to what they’re asking you.
- Don’t oversell. Much like how when you tell a lie, you tend to give too much detail, don’t feel like you need to over-justify yourself when these types of conversations come up. Be genuine, honest, to the point and purposeful.
- Use stories, examples and testimonials to show proof and explain.
- Include your client in the conversation and engage them. When possible, help them come to the conclusion on their own.
Ultimately, if we can know that going into a client meet-and-greet that we will end up with these objections (questions), then we can be prepared for it. Don’t let it throw you off your game, and don’t feel like you need to go into “salesman” mode when these objections come up. Remember that objections are just a clarification or entry point for conversation.
I suggest writing a list of all objections you may be faced with and spend time preparing well-thought-out answers for them so that next time you’re in that situation, you can know exactly what needs to be said.