1. Genuine relationships are the pinnacle.
At the ground level, forging a genuine relationship with your customers is the most fundamental and essential step to greasing the sales wheels, photographers tell us.
“For me, I’m building a relationship with a senior before their senior year even starts,” says Tomayia Colvin, founder of the Houston, Texas-based Tomayia Colvin Photography. “I’m not worried about the sale—the sale will come,” she says. Colvin will show up at school during holidays (like Valentine’s Day) with gifts for her subjects. Then, when it’s time to purchase, there’s an immense amount of good will built up between the photographer, the subject and their parents.
Melanie Anderson of Hagerstown, Maryland’s Anderson Photographs often directs clients to less expensive packages that she knows will suit them better. “I’m not trying to squeeze them for every last penny,” she explains. “It’s about nurturing that relationship,” because the word-of-mouth that follows is more valuable.
2. Get your pricing in the open early.
Tracy Moore shares pricing info with her clients multiple times, and she starts earlier than you might think. “I never want sticker shock,” she says, so clients hear of prices three times: before they book, when they book and again when she shoots the session. Her opening package includes 12 gift prints, one 11 x 14 wall print and one 5 x 5 album. At the high end, she delivers 25 gift prints, a 24 x 36 canvas, a 12 x 12 custom album, a 5 x 5 mini album, 50 digital files and a custom phone app.
Anderson agrees. “Educating clients is so vital,” she says, and she will insist that any financial stakeholders are available for the sales session to avoid scenarios such as one spouse dropping several thousands of dollars on prints without informing the other.
3. Show them what they could have.
Randall Roberts, of Randall Roberts Portraits in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, likes to bring clients into a “controlled environment” where they can see their images in a larger format—whether printed, on a 65-inch LCD display or a projector. “Once they see it large, it makes a big difference, it makes an impression,” he says. This approach helps him sell mounted art board prints and canvas wraps ranging in size from 16 x 20 to 24 x 36 inches. He’s also begun offering a 24 x 36-inch framed leather wrap, which is similar to a canvas print but printed onto leather.
“If you’re on location,” Anderson says, “you should roll up with a Tupperware bin of products so people can see and touch them.” Her various collections, which include gift portraits, wall art, image collages and brag books are mounted in her studio, and she uses Fundy Designer to show clients what wall art would look like in various sizes, from 11 x 14 to 40 x 60 inches, on the walls of their homes.
After learning about a “Reveal Wall” that Sue Bryce spoke of at WPPI, Moore began to incorporate it into her sales pitch as well, with impressive results. “We fully edit 50 images from the shoot, print bordered 4 x 6 prints and show them to the family,” she says. “Everyone loves it.” And when the sales session is done, the parents get to keep the proofs.
4. Lead with print, but don’t forget digital.
“Always start with print—it’s non-negotiable,” Colvin advises, adding that 90 percent of her customers purchase an album of images that span not just from a single photo shoot, but an entire school year’s-worth of photo ops orchestrated by her.
The essential, go-to products among the photographers we spoke to tend to boil down to an album, wall art (typically a large-format canvas or metal print), graduation announcements and an assortment of prints for relatives. Digital images or photos posted directly to Facebook, however, are included inside print packages.
Most of the formative experiences of photography among parents were print-based, but the Instagram generation is different. “The clients, the girls, they want digitals,” says Moore. She threads the needle by putting digitals copies in three of her five packages.
5. Don’t sell too many products.
If there’s one unifying theme in our discussions with senior photographers, it’s this: You can’t sell what you don’t believe in. In practical terms, it means you shouldn’t sell every conceivable product under the sun. A tight, curated assortment of items works best, Anderson advises.
“People come in with no idea what they want,” she says. “It’s our responsibility to show them. In my studio, you don’t get to choose a variety of finishes, album styles and sizes—it’s more cut and dry. I have six collections and I mostly focus on two or three of them.” This also helps Anderson keep tabs on her prices and expenses. “It alleviates so many decisions and helps keep us efficient,” she says. “I’m just guiding them and educating them toward one or two collections.” By doing that, she’s able to ensure she’s meeting her sales goal of $3,000 per client.
Moore concurs. She offers five collections—a nice odd number built around human psychology, she says. “Eight of ten people land in the middle,” she notes, “so that’s where I put the good stuff”—that is, Gift Prints (one of anything 8 x 12 or smaller, or a sheet of eight wallet prints), a 20 x 24 canvas print, an 8 x 8 custom album from Kiss, ten digital files and a custom phone app.
6. Find your groove in formal vs. informal meet-ups.
Our sources were divided on whether to treat a sales session as a highly formal event or something more akin to a friendly chitchat. For Anderson, an in-person sales session is strictly business. “I don’t have a couch,” she says. “People sit on stools around a high table. This way, everyone knows it’s about business.”
For Roberts, in-person sales need a more informal touch. Seniors and their parents come to his home and view his own family photos on his walls. Moore, too, likes the personalized touch. “We sit [clients] down in my seating area and I have wine for the parents and snacks for the girls.” There are tissues, too, for the inevitable waterworks.
7. Don’t let clients haggle prices.
Anderson admits she’s been bullied in sales sessions but says you have to separate your emotions and can’t be intimidated. “Price haggling just comes with the territory but it only takes a few times of ‘being nice’ before you can’t pay your monthly expenses.” Being flexible helps, too. In one instance, Anderson says a wife spent several thousand dollars without informing her husband, only to call Anderson back hours later to cancel the whole order. Anderson waited until the morning, then called and offered to put the customer on a payment plan. “I preserved the sale while the client was able to dilute the financial impact over the course of several months.”