The consultation you have with potential clients to present your services as a wedding photographer and learn about what they're looking for is a critical part of the job. Learn how to handle it with this excerpt from the Marathon Press Professional Photographer’s Management Handbook, Portrait/Wedding Edition.
This excerpt from The Professional Photographer's Management Handbook, Portrait/Wedding Edition is provided courtesy of Marathon Press. To purchase the book and learn more about the publisher, visit the Marathon Press website.
The Purpose of Wedding and Portrait Consultations
The consultation is important because it provides:
- An opportunity to get to know the prospect and, if you wish, to extend hospitality in the form of refreshments.
- An opportunity for the prospect to observe the quality of your work and to become comfortable in your environment.
- An opportunity to educate the prospect about your work and to gain the booking.
Most consultations occur in the studio, but if you don’t have a formal business location, it is possible to accomplish both the consultation and the eventual sales session in the client’s home.
The Wedding Consultation, Step One: Preparation
The purpose of the wedding consultation is to book the wedding. Don’t schedule a consultation with parents or the bridal couple until they have been "qualified" (usually by a telephone inquiry) during which you reveal a price range or lower level of pricing. Like all consultations, you must be totally prepared to “show and sell” with necessary samples, hand-out materials, and a step-by-step sales strategy designed to achieve a positive outcome. If you wish to offer coffee, tea, or soft drinks, make certain they can be served without a lot of fuss and bother.
Step Two: Greeting/Introduction
The next step is your introduction to the prospect. The first few minutes with any prospective client are decisive. You (or an employee) must develop interpersonal skills that allow you to put clients at ease and develop a rapport with them. More than any other clients, wedding couples and their families need to feel comfortable with the organization that will be recording photographs on what they consider to be the biggest day of their lives.
Step Three: Gather Information
Involve prospective clients in your presentation by asking questions about their event. By posing well-thought-out questions, you will begin to uncover the couple’s needs and wants so that you can then steer the presentation to an explanation of how you can fulfill their expectations.
Step Four: The Presentation
The presentation itself is your opportunity to "show and sell" your story, avoiding a long monologue, and keeping the dialogue flowing by asking questions such as, "I can tell this is very important to you, isn’t it?" It is during the presentation that you handle any objections that might come up. If a price objection is raised, dig deeper to find out what the objection really means. Often a price objection simply means that you haven’t added sufficient value to your product to convince the prospect that it is worth the cost. Stressing benefits always is the best way to add value. Begin by saying, "I can understand that the price might seem high, but let me review what you are receiving for this price."
An information folder for prospective wedding clients who visit your studio is helpful in reinforcing the various selling points you discuss with them during the consultation.
Step Five: The Close
Finally, it is time to ask for the sale. Sales experts refer to this as the "close," and there are many different types of closes that depend on how the sales presentation has progressed. Simply asking for the sale often is the best starting point. "Are you ready to go ahead with the paperwork that will book the date for your daughter’s wedding, Mrs. Smith?" If a prospect wants to "think it over," try to learn what issues remain unresolved and continue the sales process by addressing these concerns. When the potential client plans to visit other photographers before reaching a decision, a "booking incentive" might give you a competitive edge. Explain the incentive as follows:
"Mrs. Smith, I certainly would encourage you to compare our wedding photography services to others. From what you have told me about your event, it is one that I would truly enjoy photographing, and I am confident that you will be pleased with the results. I very much appreciate your willingness to spend so much time with me this afternoon. I know that planning a wedding is terribly time-consuming, even though it isn’t scheduled until next June. As you might imagine, June is a very busy time for me as well. But I am willing to hold the date open for 24 hours, as well as honor our bonus of a cameo portrait of the bride that normally applies only to clients who book at the time of the consultation. How does this sound?" This straightforward approach often prompts the prospect to reveal what issues are getting in the way of making an immediate decision, and this gives you another opportunity to counter any objections.
Step Six: Booking or Presentation of Promotional Materials
If the prospect decides to book your services, ask for a deposit to confirm the booking, and have the couple or parent complete a contract. Even if the prospect doesn’t book, provide a client information folder of promotional information about your studio. In addition to your price list and promotional brochures or cards, include printed information that lists important selling points about your wedding photography, copies of newspaper articles about your business, copies of thank-you notes or testimonials from satisfied clients, and a list of wedding vendors who recommend your business. These materials will help to reinforce what you presented at the consultation and to remind the prospect of the strengths of your business when comparing it to that of competitors.
When you are unsuccessful in booking a wedding in which the consultation seemed to have gone well, consider calling the party and asking what factors influenced the eventual decision to use another photographer. Make this inquiry in a pleasant, non-intimidating manner, and you are likely to come away with important insights that will help to improve your presentation.
To formalize the booking, a contract should be drawn up that spells out the obligations of both parties—the photographer and the client. It should include such issues as payment for services, legal liability, and copyright ownership.
Keep client confidence and enthusiasm at a high level through contacts such as a thank-you letter mailed after the booking and an occasional call to inquire how plans are progressing and/or provide reminders about any pre-wedding photography sessions such as the formal bridal portrait.