by Skip Cohen
I found a great quote from Steve Ballmer at Microsoft, which seems a little ironic, considering the public's on and off attitude that Microsoft has often been out of touch. Regardless, it rings true for everyone in business today.
"We can believe that we know where the world should go. But unless we're in touch with our customers, our model of the world can diverge from reality. There's no substitute for innovation, of course, but innovation is no substitute for being in touch, either."
So, here's the question of the day: Are you in touch with what your customers want? Are you really listening to them? Or, are you providing what you think they need based on information that's long since changed. When was the last time you did your own informal survey to find out what your customers really want? When you're meeting with a client do you really hear what they're saying?
Here's a good example: One of the greatest ways to get to know a prospective bridal client is just to ask whose dress she's wearing. The brand of the gown tells you how much the bride is willing to spend on something she feels is important. Second, if you make it a point to know your gowns, the type and design of the gown will relate to the style of photography, being more traditional and conservative or more contemporary.
My buddy, Doug Box, does a great demonstration about defining what your customers are really asking. If a customer calls you and asks, "How much are your 8x10s?" What will you answer? Most photographers just put a price out there.
Now, pretend you're a baker and somebody calls and asks, "How much are your cakes?" Your answer is going to be preceded by a series of qualifiers: "How many people do you want it to serve? What flavors do you want? Do you want anything written on top of the cake? Do you want it delivered or are you going to pick it up? Does anybody have a peanut allergy? Do you want an ice cream cake or...and the list would go on and on. Well, none of you are bakers, but you know what to ask the person buying a cake.
Sadly, we sell short the customer we know best who's calling for pricing on prints. Why isn't everybody asking all those same types of qualifiers as the baker? Do you want just an 8x10 or did you know we have a special that includes other sizes? How many 8x10's would you like? Does the image require any touch up - we have a terrific reputation for custom work. Would you like a portrait sitting as well? Would you like the image framed? We have a full selection of frames and we'll do all the work. Is the image black and white or color? The list of potential questions is extensive, but over and over again, you too often fail to further qualify the customer and pull them into your entire "product line".
Very few photographers, from commercial to children's portraiture and everything in between, take the time to think about their product line. Your skill set and the vendors you have available make up your "inventory" and thanks to technology, in the history of photography it's the most extensive it's ever been.
From the type of photography your skills allow to the thousands of techniques in Photoshop, film vs digital and the hundreds of vendors offering you lab services, albums, frames, canvas prints, paper prints, slide shows, mixed media and hosting services - you have an inventory that beats Sam's Club and Costco combined! But, odds are you've never thought of them as your product line.
Right here at SCU you've got Venice Album, SmugMug, Ilford and Photodex. Each company offers you the ability to extend your line with an extension of the actual products and services you offer your clients. But the responsibility to get the message out there rests with you each time a client asks you a question about photography.
There's a great example that comes out of Disney. Ask anybody working in the park where something is and they'll tell you, followed by a suggestion of something else that's great along the way. They never give just a one word answer. They're trained to anticipate your needs and enhance your Disney experience.
Start thinking about the diversity of the products and services you offer. Before your next round of workshops or programs at a convention, take the time to visit the websites of the speakers you're going to hear. Look at the way they position their own products and services. Their programs will make a lot more sense if you know more about them.
We recently added the complete series of SCU's Summer Session profiles and each instructor is in the Faculty Gallery with links to their pages. Look at what everyone offers their clients. When you walk into a program, the speaker you're about to hear isn't there just because they like to teach. They're on the podium because they're successful and as trite and simplistic as it sounds, they learned a lesson from McDonald's. They always ask,
Would you like fries with that?
Illustration Credit: © Stuart Miles - Fotolia.com