Sometimes the smallest change in our business can deliver the greatest results. I wrote about this a while ago in the article “Increasing Prices as a Photographer“, but in this article I'd like to discuss how small changes in our communication can be a catalyst for massive business growth.
If you're like most photographers, then you probably do a good amount of communication with your clients and prospective clients through e-mail. In fact, if you're anything like me, then most of your inquiries probably even come in through e-mail first. Well, first of all let me just say that e-mail isn't necessarily the best form of communication from a “sales” perspective. It is very noncommittal, it lacks emotion and tone and energy is hard to communicate through the text-based medium.
E-mail should be used to convert the conversation into a more intimate and personal medium.
My first recommendation for you would be to always use e-mail as a stepping stone to the next stage in the process. I wrote an article for Sprouting Photographer called “Designing a Killer Customer Experience” where I talked about the flow of a client, and I'd suggest designing a flow or path for your sales process as it applies to a new inquiry.
For me, here's what that path looks like for a typical wedding inquiry:
E-mail inquiry > Phone meeting > In-person meeting > Booking
Sometimes in the wedding context, I'll go right from the e-mail to the in-person meeting depending on whether I feel the client is properly qualified or not. If I want to further qualify the client and set the expectations, then I'll use the e-mail to book a phone meeting and then from there invite them into the studio.
For a typical portrait client, the path would look something like this:
E-mail inquiry > Phone meeting > In-person design consultation > Session > Ordering appointment
Again, the key is to treat e-mail as a temporary communication vehicle to get to the next step which would normally be the phone meeting. In this article, I am going to share some language and verbiage that you can use to better convert your e-mails into that next step. From there, it's up to you! That is, of course, until we dive deeper into that aspect of “sales” in a future article! An article that you may find helpful is the one that Robert wrote about called “How to educate your clients at the first call without selling” a couple of weeks ago.
The importance of language
Small hinges move big doors, and language can make a big difference!
The topic of language and verbiage is one that I am personally very passionate about. It's incredible how such a small change in our communication style can completely change the context of an idea. To start, here are some suggestions that you should consider substituting in your vocabulary:
Replace shoot with session
Replace pictures with images
Replace prints with wall portraits
Replace fee with investment
Replace packages with collections
Replace disc or USB key with archival files
Replace full resolution with high resolution
Replace small prints with gift prints
Replace free with complimentary
Replace consultation with meet and greet
Replace buy with choose
Replace come over with visit the studio
Replace framing, canvas, mounted (initially) with presentation
Two other bonus words that you should try to incorporate are collaborate and schedule.
As a case study, let's look at the difference between the following example sentences. First, let's look at the “default” response a photographer may send out before considering their verbiage:
After our shoot, you can come over to look at the pictures. This is when you can buy your prints and pick your free 8×10.
Now let's consider the verbiage suggestions above, and see how that looks in comparison:
After our session, we'll schedule a time for you to visit the studio and see your images for the first time. You can choose your favourites and we'll collaborate to find the proper sizing and presentation for your wall portraits. This is also when you'll be able to pick out your complimentary gift print that was included with your initial session investment.
Big difference, wouldn't you say? Note that these are changes that you should make in all of your communications, not just through e-mail. You will find that this will have the biggest impact through e-mail though because it's normally the first point-of-contact where the expectations are set.
Finish with a question
This next step is the most important change you can make in your e-mail process: finish your e-mails with a question or call-to-action. I hear photographers telling me all the time that they often don't hear back from e-mail inquiries and don't know what to do. Often the biggest reason is because they don't give their prospects anything to do once they've read the e-mail. Always end your e-mails with a question or call-to-action.
The Yes/No Question
I want to make two clarifying points with regards to asking questions in a sales context, specifically as it applies to e-mail. First, avoid the yes/no question – don't give them the option of saying “no” when you ask a question. Here is an example question that you may end a first inquiry e-mail response with:
I'd love to schedule a time for you to visit the studio for a meet-and-greet, is that good with you?
This is better than not asking a question at all, but it can still be improved upon. By asking the yes/no question, you are giving them a reason to say no, or to not answer your e-mail at all. Avoid this and don't ask a yes/no question.
The Open-Ended Question
Most of the time in a sales context, it is suggested to ask open-ended questions. The second clarifying point is to not ask open-ended questions in a e-mail thread. E-mail isn't the right time to get into the emotions, feelings or a detailed responses, and that's what an open-ended question is set up to achieve. Use e-mail for it's purpose as I've defined it earlier – to convert to the next step. Here's a better version of the question we asked earlier with an open-ended question:
I'd love to schedule a time for you to visit the studio for a meet-and-greet. When would be good for you?
Aside from the fact that it's completely open-ended and noncommittal, it also has two negative outcomes:
- It'll bog down several e-mail threads (and time) as you go back-and-forth trying to schedule a mutually convenient time.
- It sets the expectation that you are always available and always willing to meet. This is the wrong message to send. You don't want to make it seem like you don't have any other work, any other commitments and that you're desperate for the work, do you? You also don't want them to think later down the road that you are always available for meetings. Setting the right expectation is key.
The Either/Or Question
The best type of question to close off your e-mail with is with an either/or question. Specifically, I'd suggest giving them two or three choices. This eliminates the “no” option (with the yes/no question), it eliminates too much thinking or detail (the open-ended question) and sets the expectations right from the get-go. Here's the best iteration of the question we've been using:
I'd love to schedule a time for you to visit the studio for a meet-and-greet. I have next Tuesday and Thursday open in the morning, or if an evening is better for you, then I have next Wednesday available from 7pm-8pm. What works best for you?
The suggestions in this article are all small changes, and can be adapted right away in your business. Use them as a part of your “sales toolkit” to better communicate and convert. I have five more examples of “closing” questions as well as a follow-up article that I'd love to share with you. I'll be releasing it one week from today via e-mail only and so if you'd like to receive it, head on over here and subscribe to receive it FREE next week!
What to do next
Define the “sales flow” for your inquiries, and how you'd like to communicate with them.
Replace all of the words (above) in your vocabulary.
End every piece of correspondence with an either/or question.