Entries and Categories

The Sweet Way To Sales:
Keeping The Customer in Mind

Last evening Marathon's Bill Camacho and Mark Weber and I had dinner with Steve Troup, whose Buckeye Color Lab was hosting a Marathon Strategic Marketing Workshop in Columbus, Ohio. We dined at P.F. Chang's. Earlier that day, I had presented a workshop section on the branding tools that are part of "The Marketing Mix" . . . the time-honored 4 P's of Marketing: Product, Promotion, Place and Price. Just when we were about to tell the waiter that we didn't care to have dessert we knew he was about to offer, we observed the 4 P's at work in a very effective marketing twist. Instead of asking us if we cared to have dessert, the waiter presented us with a beautiful tray featuring 8 innocent-looking mini-desserts attractively presented in shot glasses. He skillfully informed us that these delicious-looking deserts were only $2 each. Now who can turn down such an delectable idea! We jumped at the offer.

When you think about it, what's are the major objections to dessert?

1. Even if you love dessert better than life, you're already stuffed, and now you are forced to prove to your friends that you have no will power. Heaven forbid you should be the first one to give in to your sweet tooth!

2. No one needs the extra dessert pounds. The size of the average dessert today blows every rational eating plan out of the water. And the guilt it leaves behind . . . oh my.

3. The cost: Dessert is now as expensive as a main course was not too many years ago.

So in one clever offering, P.F. Chang's has solved all three problems, approaching the Marketing Mix in a brilliant fashion:

Product: It's cute and non-threatening. One shot glass of dessert won't hurt anyone. Why not have two . . . or maybe even three? Besides it's much more fun to have your cake and Tiramisu too!

Promotion: All it took was a few words from the waiter . . . then we created further viral buzz by telling our class about our experience. We shamelessly made their collective mouths water.

Place: Our experience at P.F. Chang's was very positive, and this literally put the cherry on the top of the evening!

Price: Two bucks for dessert . . . No problem.

So what's the lesson here? When you put yourself in the consumer's shoes by providing something the consumer really values, then it's amazing what can happen. According to the waiter, this outside-the-box approach to dessert has tripled dessert sales . . . a sweet reward for everyone involved!


The Problem of Husband Sticker-Shock

Recently I received really great question that was posed this way:

In my children’s portrait business, my clients (upscale moms) will pay on average $800-$1500 with me. However, I often hear comments like “my husband’s gonna freak,” “My husband’s probably going to divorce me,” “I’d better pay out of 2 different checking accounts so my husband doesn’t find out I spent this much on pictures,” and “When I told him how much I spent, he thought it was outrageous.” The feedback afterward, however, when the  husband finally sees the photos or canvases is very positive . . . he loves them. But I’m unhappy with the negativity attached to the experience for my female clients, both in anticipation of telling their husbands and in enduring their husbands comments until he sees the photos. I know that it’s much easier for a woman to make an emotional purchase than it is for a man, but . . . can you suggest any language I can use/pass along to my clients to help offset this husband sticker-shock?

I can certainly understand this photographer's upset and the negativity being directed at her business by a "third party" — in this case the husband. My experience has been to get the husband involved from the beginning if at all possible. If he participates in the design session, he becomes as committed as the mom. And typically he's the one who ultimately will defend a larger purchase.

But I also wanted to ask Houston photograph Carol Andrews, my good friend and fellow Studio Management Service consultant, for her viewpoint on this, as I consider Carol to be the "Female Finance Diva." Here's what she had to say:  

"I educate my clients IN ADVANCE of the photo session to help identify a budget for "them." This gives my clientele a security level. Generally, I will ask the female client is she is comfortable going out to buy a new couch or china cabinet without her husband. If she says yes, then I'll say great, so he'll be comfortable with your decisions without being present. If she says no, I'll suggest that its very important that he be involved in the decisions, and won't feel left out and resent HER decisions, so we'll find a time when he can be present also. I'll tell her that I want to respect their relationship, and do what works best for them.

"It works beautifully, no problems. Very smooth. There is a problem only if Dad gets sandbagged with a huge surprise on the Visa bill. How would the wife feel if Dad goes out and buys the biggest screen Hi Def television, has the furniture moved and the monster media center installed? Stand in our customers shoes . . . 

"The entire key is to handle the situation IN ADVANCE . . . get everyone on the same playing field, with the same rules. Stanley Marcus used to have a sign on his desk that said 'no surprises.' Our businesses run much more smoothly with that philosophy

Great answer Carol! If this wisdom doesn't work with your client, then let her give you a "subterfuge payment." After all . . . it's her marriage. Thank heavens we're not responsible for this issue!

Are You Using Payment Plans?

No matter where I teach, I always learn something from the students, and my recent Guerrilla Management Class was no exception. The most interesting thing I learned this time is how important payment plans have become as a means of increasing sales, and how much clients appreciate the opportunity to spread their payments over a designated period. The studios with baby plans were the most experienced with payment plans, which they say are a great fit for parents who want quality portraits of their children, but who have so many current expenses associated with the arrival of the baby.

Implementing a payment plan might seem like a daunting task, but it is not for SuccessWare users. The software now includes a tab associated with the Client Order function that allows you to automate payment plans through credit card processing. This is possible because SuccessWare is connected to EFS Net, a merchant service company. Your client's primary credit card is stored securely in SuccessWare, along with as many back-up cards as the client wishes. With the client's permission, SuccessWare automatically charges their credit card on the pre-arranged due date. This new feature allows you to create any number of payment schedules according to your needs or the client's wishes. The feature also allows you to update client records and view pending payments. To learn how the payment plan feature works,
click here to go to SuccessWare's "What's New in SuccessWare 4.3" page. Click on the second movie on the list.

According to class members, one of the most important benefits of a payment plans is it encourages repeat business. Traci Brennan, a workshop participant from Mundelein, IL, put it this way: "Once a parent sets up a payment schedule with you for a baby plan, when the plan is finished, it's easy for parents to decide to have you continue additional sessions, as your studio is already part of their family budget."

The same is true for wedding clients. Since bridal couples typically book their photographer as much as a year or more before the wedding, why not set up a payment plan for the couple? A payment schedule greatly facilitates your ability to sell more expensive wedding services and to add substantially to after-sales totals. Remember the old adage: Money spent is money forgotten.

The experience of these class members more than convinces me that payment plans are a wonderful tool for photographers!

When Clients Question Your Prices . . .

Recently I heard from one of my Studio Management Services clients who was really down about some of her original clients who are upset that her prices are now much higher than they were when she first opened her business. Mind you, her original prices were absolutely rock-bottom and could not sustain a business.

I believe that everyone faces this problem during the development of a business. And when you are new in business, it is normal for every criticism to be hurtful. You are trying so hard to please clients and to do the right thing, that any little comment can seem like a failure, and it's so easy to become defensive. Defensiveness about pricing, however, never works. Your issue really isn't about your pricing, it's about learning the proper sales technique to handle this "Objection."

Good sales people love objections, because they enjoy the challenge of turning objections into assets. In this case the objection is about price, so just confront the issue directly. With a pleasant smile on your face, and with confidence you can gain from practicing this little "choices" speech over and over, say the following:

Joan, I can certainly understand your concern about my prices, as setting a value on my work is something I don't take lightly. When I started my business I had a lot of learning to do: about photography and about how to operate a business. Yes, my prices were lower then. But what I have learned as my skills have grown, is that every business reaches a turning point in which the owner has to decide whether to stress low price or high quality. I knew that the only way I could be happy and my clients would be satisfied is to choose the quality route. It's a harder type of business to run, because you have to earn the trust of your clients with every single session, but I believe I've made the right choice. I hope you will agree that I have.

Remember this: When a client comes at you with a complaint, they are pushing on you. They expect you to push them back. When you come back at them with a big smile and a lot of confidence, it helps to disarm them.

One other thought: I believe it helps to soften clients' attitudes toward higher prices when you give them something extra or something unexpected when they pick up their finished order. This, combined with treating them like they are gold when they are with you in the studio, will help them focus on the experience as well as the quality of your photography. It's strange but true that clients can sometimes remember the little kindnesses that you do better than they can remember which portrait session it was.


Learn To Sell The "Walden Way."

I receive a lot of questions about what resources exist to help photographers improve their sales skills. One of the very best is "
Solving the Puzzle of Successful Sales," a 2-CD set by Beverly Walden. It's a wonderful resource because it takes you through the sales process from beginning to end, and it is written and spoken by one of the best sales pros in the business. What I love about Bev's approach to sales is that 90% of the sale is made before the client ever steps into the salesroom to view the portraits. Therefore there is no hard-sell involved, and no buyer's remorse to worry about, because a good sale is simply a foregone conclusion. What a great way to do business . . . and to make friends with your clients in the process!