This past weekend my husband and I went shopping for a chandelier for our living room, a belated birthday present for me. Now first let me premise this with the fact I have never been in the market for a chandelier before. We see this as a luxury item (only to be purchased once we completed our emergency fund!) and had a specific budget in mind. We knew we were not happy with the cheap imitation ones sold at Lowes and Home Depot for $100, but we did not want to spend over $500 on an extra- large elaborate one either.
After countless internet searches, and trips to locals stores, we finally turned to friends and family for recommendations. On the recommendation of his mother, we headed up to a town just 40 minutes north of us, to a store that specializes in lighting.
My experience buying a chandelier reminded my once again that my previous notions of sales always being an unpleasant, uncomfortable experience is unfounded and quite backwards.
I believe everyone at one time or another gets a bad taste in their mouth about sales. About not wanting to get “sold to” and not wanting to “do sales” for their own business. Weʼve seen the dirty car salesmen characters on TV and the underhanded will-sell-ice- to-Eskimos types out there in the world. The truth is they give sales a bad stigma. When you approach sales the right way itʼs far from dirty or underhanded – itʼs appreciated and can be a wonderful experience.
Now back to our chandelier shopping. We were greeted by a woman at the front desk upon entering and were given free reign to browse the selection throughout the entire store. At first it looked as if everything was out of our price range. Then we found the area where we noted four or five models that were made of fine Italian and Swiss crystals, yet under the $500 mark. At that point we knew we needed the help of a sales person on determining which was the best choice for us. Surprisingly, all the sales people were busy with other customers! We waited about 10 minutes for our sales lady, Rachel, to become available.
When Rachel approached, she asked what we were looking for and listened without interruption to what we had in mind, our budget, and which choices we were considering. I also had taken a picture on my phone of the living room and pulled it up to show here the space. She asked about ceiling height and gave her opinion that she actually thinks the bigger one would work well. The smaller one we liked was actually more expensive – so we knew she wasnʼt trying to sell us on a more expensive one! She stressed that it was ultimately our taste that should determine which one, with which finish, would work best in the room. She discussed with us how low it would hang, if it would be too big or two small for the room, their return policy, and checked their stock to see what was available.
We walked away with a beautiful chandelier that came in under our budget. It hangs beautifully in our living room now, after much appreciated help from Rachel.
There I said it: HELP. Sales is nothing but helping. Helping to educate. Helping to make sure every specification has been taken into consideration. Helping to keep us within our budget. Helping us choose the best choice for our particular situation.
A couple or family purchasing a nice leather album or a canvas wall display is not unlike us buying a chandelier. They are generally luxury items that we may not have purchased before. We may know nothing about them, what they cost, what they are made of, what the difference is between the expensive and inexpensive ones. Depending on our budget and taste, it is important that we have someone there to help walk us through these things to help us make the best choice. Rachel did just what a great salesperson should do: help. She did not impose her own agenda, appear pushy, nor pressured us to purchase outside our budget or taste. She simply helped.
Back in 2006 I made some big changes in the way I thought about sales and providing my clients with finished art pieces for their home. While I have hours upon hours of content on the topic, Iʼd like to highlight a few key points below.
Duty as an Artist
Someone has paid you top dollar to photograph their wedding or take a family portrait. What happens to those images after you take them? This is JUST as important, in my opinion, as taking the picture in the first place. If any of you have been through formal photography schooling, youʼll know what Iʼm talking about. Every Friday was critique day in the program I went through. As an artist we were responsible for choosing our film, subject, concept, location, actually taking the picture, processing the film, enlarging and developing the image in the darkroom, retouching the old-fashioned way with paints and pens, and then deciding how we would present it as a finished piece. It could be matted, on canvas, framed, on foam-core, or any way we dreamed fashionable. The point is that what happens after is just as important because the creative process does not stop once we press the shutter button.
In 2007 I spoke to an audience of 300 female photographers at a convention in the Bahamas. Of the 300 more than 70% of them were married when I surveyed them. Of over 200 wedding and portrait photographers who were married and had a photographer at their wedding, only THREE had finished wedding albums! I was shocked!
To prove this point further, letʼs take the example of my own senior portraits. My parents ordered a print package that cost over $800 which was a high price for the area where I grew up. It included the proof book, a bunch of wallets for me to give to friends, and an array of small and large prints. To this day the ONLY picture that has been displayed is a single 5×7” print that I put in a frame as a gift. That single 5×7” print still sits framed in their home. What happened to the 16×20” and 11×14” prints? They are still rolled up in a box in my parentʼs attic. Probably covered in spiderwebs and water-stained from one of the many moves. Why is this? Were my parents going to one day get around to framing it? Sure! Did they? No. Are they lazy or unlike many others who have prints made? No. Life just happens. And the photographer didnʼt sell it framed. Iʼve asked a dozen of our mutual friends who got married over the past few years, which of them have wedding albums and prints on their walls? None of them do. Not a single one. They have proof boxes in basements and frames with no pictures stored away too. Which brings me to my next point…
We are Retailers Too!!
We know how important it is to provide finished pieces to clients. Itʼs highly likely that if we donʼt, life will happen and they will simply never get around to it.
The fact of the matter is, large prints need frames. Or they need to be printed on canvas. Or made into an album. Otherwise they end up rolled up in a tube in a dark dusty place for eternity. Or torn and sun-bleached from sitting on the guest-room bed for months.
If we do not provide the frame to them, SOMEONE else will. The frame shop down the street is going to make the $500 sale on the custom framing job from your client. But your client is going to have to find enough time to go to the framer, talk to them about which frame looks best out of hundreds, consider the decor of their home (much like what we did while purchasing a chandelier) and then go BACK weeks later to pick it up. Then the frame is taken home and leaned up against a wall. Perhaps one day, six months or five years later, someone will put it up on the wall.
The question I challenge you with is this: why are you not helping your clients by providing them with finished art pieces? Why not offer custom framing to our clients, save them the run-around and headache, and actually go over there and help them put it on the wall? Someone is going to make a profit off the frame, it might as well be you! Someone is going to give their creative opinion, it should very well be you!
We all need to push those negative “sales is a dirty word” thoughts out of the way and put on our Rachel-hats. We need to incorporate lessons from your own positive purchasing experiences. Did the salesperson ask you what you are looking for, if you have a budget, and how they can help you find whatʼs right for you? How can you translate this to your own photography business? A good start is simply admitting that selling finished pieces to our clients is actually HELPING them.
People Buy What they See
Last but certainly not least, we have to be well-equipped in order to help our clients. The honest to goodness truth is people buy what they see. Try selling me a chandelier without me seeing it first – whether a picture, video, or in-person. In most cases, I donʼt trust buying something without seeing it first.
Why do you think eBay charges extra for more pictures? Experience and statistics show them that people are more inclined to buy when they have seen the product first, in as much detail as necessary.
In 2006 I appeared live on NBC for a special program where one lucky coupleʼs wedding was featured. I was their photographer, and was being interviewed about my services and products and the overall experience. The host of the show asked to see my albums which were displayed on the table in front of us. She happened to pick up a 40-page 10×10” coffee table album and flipped through the album on live TV. On my way home, I got a half-dozen inquiries from brides wanting to know about my wedding packages. Guess which album they all wanted? A 10×10” 40-page coffee table album like the one they had just seen on TV! I booked half of them the next day with that exact album in their package.
Iʼve been able to sell $6k and $10k album sets because I show the clients draft albums of that size or larger. Itʼs simply an honest representation of what a complete, comprehensive album is to us. They can choose to buy it as-is, start from scratch, make a few changes, or make it much smaller or larger. Itʼs completely up to them, but we show them what a “dream album” would look like with their own wedding images. If they tell us they only have the budget for a 40-page album, thatʼs what design for them.
My home is covered in wall displays of art (my own work of course!) so that when a client comes to meet with me they can get ideas for what theyʼd like to do as final art pieces from their wedding or portrait session. I encourage them to discuss preferences early in the process, so I can shoot with their end goals in mind.
This is not some sneaky sales tactic, itʼs common sense! If you do not have a studio or large space in your home to display wall art, take pictures and videos of what youʼve done for clients and post these up on your website. Almost every time we receive a finished art piece, before it goes to the client, we take pictures and videos of it. Then we photograph it again once we hang it in the clientʼs home. This way we can show lots of samples on our website without having to keep that many samples on hand. Here is an example of how we do this with our wedding albums, on our new website (not yet released/finished!) http://www.lianaphotography.com/#/wedding-albums/
I dare you to try selling finished art pieces if you are not already. I dare you to learn from your own experience shopping for luxury items, be it good or bad, and apply the good to your own business. I dare you to learn to love sales the way I do now. After all, itʼs simply helping others! You will be helping your own business in the process too. Itʼs a win-win for you and your clients when you operate under the notion that sales is NOT a dirty word!
Liana’s main job is to photograph Atlanta and Destination Weddings. In the winter months Liana can also be found speaking at major industry events and teaching Photo Biz Boot Camps throughout the US and abroad. Liana is one of the only professional wedding photographers who is accredited and actively teaching managerial accounting, finance, and business planning to other professional photography studios.