Sunday, July 15, 2007

Marketing and Salesmanship: The evolution of my approach

I just finished up a 4 day show, and it was a great success. I'll talk about my experiences there in a few days, but for now I want to talk about something thats fresh on my mind: marketing my work, and actually taking on the role of salesman. Over the last 8 shows (since my first show ever in June 2006) I've noticed how some changes to my selling style have impacted the results of my business.

Interacting with I started out
I'm on my second year of shows...5 shows last year, and 3 so far this year. At my first show, I was standing in the booth or right at the front, because being new, I hadn't thought to construct a doorway to a back or side space. So I stood the only place I could. I talked to a lot of people that came in and greeted everyone.

After talking to other artists at my first couple shows, and observing what other photographers tend to do, I started changing my approach. First, I added my little doorway so I could sit behind my booth. Second, as I noticed MANY artists seemed to take a hands-off approach, often even sitting in chairs on the opposite side of the street from their booth, I really started to believe I had the technique all wrong. So I too started to take a more hands off approach, and really only engaging in conversation whenever initiated by the patron.

I followed that model for several shows and saw my sales drop each time. While I realize there are other factors to that (some I can identify and others I can't), I can't help but feel that my change in sales technique in some way (even if only to a small degree) contributed to that decline.

Going contrary to common practices

In most businesses, there are set of common practice...things that pioneers over the years have figured out worked well, and thus became adopted by most everyone one. However, throughout my life I've talked to many very successful people that have become successful simply because they bucked the trend. They had the audacity to throw knowledge out the window that had come to be commonly accepted as correct. I've been wondering if this hands off sales approach I've seen so many artists taking was actually the wrong thing to do.

I just finished a 4 day show last night, and I really tried to get out there and talk a lot more. It ended up being my most successful show so far. Again, I realize there were a lot of factors involved, including the length of the show and the high traffic level compared to other shows, but like before, I can't help but feel my sales technique was a contributing factor.

How I interacted with people

My general approach was to sit as little as possible...stand in doorway in the back corner of the booth. As soon as someone makes eye contact, say "hello" or "how are you doing" or something equally greeting.

After looking around at all the photos on the wall, or after finishing looking through the print bin, before they could even begin to attempt exiting the booth (basically...when I suspected they were just about to exit) I would ask if they had any questions about any of my work....where it was taken, or whatever. Even though all of my photos had name tags labeled with the location, it seemed so many people (even many that looked at the tags) didn't realize where the photo was from, and often that got a response of "oh my gosh..that came from THERE? I LOVE that place" and conversation ensued.

If people looked through a bin (and whether or not I had already greeted them) and seemed to stop on some image for several seconds, or if they pulled it out and held it up, or went to flip it over to read the information on the back, I always stepped in and said "that was taken at so and so" and if I had any sort of quick story to go with it, I immediately volunteered it. I did this even though they could have quickly figured out the answer on their own from the back of the print. From that brief interaction, I could usually very quickly realize whether it was the type of person that enjoyed personal contact or wanted to just browse in peace. If they wanted peace, I just stepped back and let them finish uninterrupted. But if they seemed to enjoy my interjection, I then stayed right there and told them the location of any photo that they spent more than a second or two looking at. If they continued looking at the same photo, I often elaborated on it, telling something of my experience there, or how the scenery has changed since I took the photo, or how much I like the surrounding area.

If a pair/group of people were browsing through the bins and seemed to be discussing suitability of photos (as in "no....thats really not the right color") or anything that suggested they might have something in mind, I always asked "do you have any questions about the photos, or is there a particular type of subject you're looking for today" and very often that would lead somewhere. The downside of this is that if they are looking for something particular and you say you don't have it, they often stop looking and leave. It's always possible that something they weren't looking for could have caught their interest, and that you actually just sabotaged a sale, but I suppose that works both ways.

Likewise, if a pair or group were debating the subject matter, I tried to join in the conversation, to tell them where it was, what angle it from, etc.

In summary, I used any slight opportunity I could to inject myself in the conversation (or start a conversation where none existed). If they seemed receptive, I expanded on it as best as I could. I was always passionate about what I said. I never let on that they were the 237th person I had given that exact same explanation to that day.

The results of those interactions

There were several instances where I remain convinced that the sole reason a person purchased something was because I had spent so much time with them and/or because I really created some sort of personal connection to the photo (even if they had never been there in their life...perhaps they had turned my story into some grandiose mental image). Sometimes that sale was only a $5 greeting card, but $5 for 15 minutes when I had nothing better to do (plus possible enjoyable conversation that came out of it) is a welcome sale.

There was actually 1 instance where a lady really appeared to like 1 of my greeting cards, looked at the price, and sort of made a "you have to be kidding me" face and put the card back. I then walked over and started up a conversation with her about that one card, asking her if she had ever been there, and then asked about her experience, shared mine, and went back and forth telling each other about places we didn't know about in that location. She was initially too appalled at the price to buy even 1, but ended up buying 5 card from that location.

Why does this interaction work

Part of that, I think, can be attributed to people not realizing just what goes into the work. I think we've all had those people who come by and say (and I quote a patron from this most recent show) "all he did was stick a picture on a card and he wants $5?".

I am amazed by the number of people that show surprise when I inform them that I in fact took all of these photographs myself. I sometimes wonder if these people initially think I'm just buying stock photography off of, printing it up at the drug store, matting it up, and then having the nerve to charge exorbitant prices for my $1.50 investment. Perhaps they've just become so jaded by all the cheap buy-sell "artists" at festivals that they assume everyone is doing the same.

My top end product right now is a bit pricey compared to a lot of other items in my booth (though still cheap by many other artist's standards). I've had a number of people express near outrage at the price. But as soon as I explained the work that went into it, how all the decorative matting details were hand cut, the high quality of the materials used, etc, suddenly many of them changed their tune and even wished they could afford one for themselves. I honestly expect there were still going to be a handful of people that maintained their stance with a mocking "still, that IS a lot of money" response, but not once did I get that response.

When they realize just what goes into it, most people are understanding of the price, and some of those people are suddenly receptive to a purchase. Whether its because they suddenly value it more, or they realize the uniqueness, or perhaps they appreciate and want to support a true artist, I can't say. All I know is that it works.

Did I forget to mention...

I'm terribly shy and introverted, horrible at marketing, horrible at understanding how people think, and just all around not a very good people person. If I can do this, I have to think that anyone (or at least those with enough guts to sign up for a show in the first place) can do this too.

1 comment:

Jen Went Green said...

Hi Ron--I just started the "business" side of photography, having been a hobbyist for a while. I wanted to drop a comment and tell you how very much I have enjoyed reading your blog. It's full of great information--I really appreciate all the advice you've given.