Business Trends
Making More Effective Sales Calls

Sales calls are not dead but they are different. It seems that non-personal marketing appears to have taken over personal sales calls in today's self-promotion mix. Everyday you read about the extensive use of photographers' web sites, direct mail, and promotion pieces--all non-personal promotion tools. Certainly, these non-personal promotion tools are useful but what can you do about making more valuable personal sales calls? Face to face visits are still the most effective form of marketing, but the calls are difficult to get through to prospective clients and the appointments are much harder to get.

First, let's look at the distinction between the consumer and the commercial photographer. More and more wedding and portrait photography firms are doing better "qualifying" before they take the client's time and their own attention to a personal presentation. With target marketing and positioning to a prescribed client type, the amount of time wasted without getting a booking can be cut down.

For the commercial photographer, this qualifying is also done but more as a matchmaking process. Having the kind of photography portfolio the commercial client needs (not just showing pretty pictures) not only saves time but also reduces the rejection factor of making the sales calls. So, if you are making fewer but better sales calls, you are on the right track to success.

Another important matter is the different treatment of current clients vs. prospective clients. Your current or regular clients are the number one source of your new work. In the business world, there is the saying, "Your next best job will come from your last best client." Your current clients get top priority when it comes to your personal attention. Whether it is making a phone call, taking them to lunch, or a more formal presentation, you should be in personal contact with your current clients on a regular basis.

Be sure to schedule time to make your sales calls. They won't happen if you "wait" for the time, you must make the time. If you wait until there is nothing else to do, it is probably too late anyway.

How you manage your sales calls to current clients will depend on two factors:

  • If you are a photographer working alone, you will need to have good time management and a solid marketing plan to give you the time to visit with clients at the same time you are busy with work.
  • If you are a studio with some staff, then you can more easily schedule spending personal time with current clients and learn to delegate more of the production work.

Realistically, you know you can't see each of your current clients in person often enough to make sure they keep giving you work. Learn to set priorities and if you have one type of contact planned, always have a "Plan B." For example, a personal visit is better than a call, but a call is better than a note. A personal note is better than nothing.

Sales calls to prospective clients are where I have seen the greatest change in personal contact with photographers. The biggest complaint from photographers seems to be how difficult it is to "get in" to see new clients. Consumer clients are shopping in malls for photographers. Commercial clients are merging and purging companies and if they are not already familiar with you they are quite pressed and stressed for the time and energy to interview you. So often you will hear the comments, "We're happy with the photographer we are working with," or "No, we are not looking at those portfolios just now," when all they really mean is, "We are too busy to interview you."

Once you have selected a pool of prospective clients, your best bet to overcome these factors is to "warm call" rather than the traditional "cold call." Warm calling means that you go ahead and use your non-personal promotion tools such as direct mail and advertising to expose (warm-up) these prospective clients to your services before you start calling. Select a small "pool" of prospective clients receiving your direct mail or seeing your ads (you can't call everyone) and create a sales call cycle that helps them connect your mailers and ads to your calls. Even if you are just leaving voice mail messages, let them know what you can do for them and how they can reach you.

Also, in the reverse situation, you should make sure that everyone who responds to a mailer, an ad, or your web site gets thrown in this "pool" for personal sales calls. Sales calls for an appointment or for follow-up have a higher success rate once they know who you are and what you can do for them. Even if you don't get an appointment or a job on the spot, you can get a drop off or mini portfolio in their hands to help them remember--you are the one to call when they have the work!