I get two questions all of the time:
1. How do I convert more email inquiries into actual customers & clients? (Who ideally have zero credit card limit and maybe even a mullet because wouldn't that be fun?)
2. How do you manage to stay looking so young?
Obviously no one really ever asks me the second question, so let's focus on question number one: How do you get more of those “just exploring my options” inquirers to pull the trigger? Otherwise known as converting a prospect to a customer. Otherwise known as really important for you to memorize.
Before we dive into this rat's nest, let me just put it out there that I could write an entire book on the topic. Or a trilogy. Can you imagine if I had a trilogy? There would be at least 14 people who would think I was telling them I have my very own threesome, and then they'd either walk away impressed or disgusted.
Speaking of threesomes, there are three things you need to know. Let me try to organize this like an essay or something so no one has a seizure.
1. There's a difference between marketing and sales.
Marketing is the process of getting people interested in buying from you (and, thus, prompting folks to send the ol' inquiry email); sales, on the other hand, is the process of taking those inquiries and turning them into PAYING CUSTOMERS. So essentially, this is a sales issue–not a marketing one. And the reason why I'm telling you this is because a lot of people, when trying to figure out how to convert more prospects into customers, think about things like their website design or their copywriting or their price points or their lover's panties and how it all fits together–when really, those are marketing functions. Not sales functions. THEREFORE – you don't need to worry about that, because you've already got people INQUIRING. So your marketing is doing its job. And that, of course, means that if you are getting a lot of inquiries (bravo), but not converting many of them into paying customers, you've got yourself a sales challenge. Capisce?
2. This means you need to get better at selling–not marketing. Hold the barf.
How well you sell yourself is what's going to make or break you. I know you don't want to hear that. I know your “work should speak for itself.” <–Worst sales strategy in the world. But the fact of the matter is that customers & clients have a million and seven options. There are other people who do what you do. There are other products they can buy. So–what's going to make them buy from YOU?
Here's an annoying analogy I like to use: Imagine you've never drank a glass of wine in your life (the horror), but here you are at a fancy Italian restaurant, tasked with selecting a wine for the table. The waiter brings you a wine list the size of the Bible. How on earth do you know which one to pick? You don't know the difference between Merlot or Cabernet or Malbec or Tempranillo (one of my favorites); medium bodied to full bodied to notes of boysenberry, for god's sake. They're all just filed under “wine” in your brain.
So what do you do?
Since you have no real reference point, you end up selecting based on the only thing you do understand: PRICE.
Because what else are you going to go by? So you go for one that isn't the most expensive, but isn't the cheapest, either. You go for one in the middle and hope for the best. DON'T LIE TO ME I KNOW THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT YOU WOULD DO.
Now–take that analogy and realize that when prospective customers are sussing YOU out, it's the equivalent of staring at that wine list, feeling totally overwhelmed and with no idea how to choose.
Take wedding photographers for example. In a prospect's mind, all photographers are merely filed under “photographers” in that person's brain, and they don't have much of a reference point to know which nuances make for a good
wine photographer versus a bad one and so forth. So you know how THEY end up deciding? By PRICE. To them, a photographer is a photographer is a photographer, right?
And that? Is a death sentence for any photographer, AND you. You never want to compete on price, because it's always going to be a losing battle. You need to be competing on almost anything else except price. And this, right here, is why everyone goes on and on and on and on about picking a niche or specializing in a style and becoming KNOWN for something. Because it gives you something else to compete on.
If I'm looking for a wedding photographer, I'm faced with a sea of wedding photographers, and I don't know how to pick. If, however, I come across one that specializes in, say, wedding photography for tattooed chicks, AND I'M A TATTOOED CHICK, I'm going to feel like ET just phoned fucking home. It's going to instantly resonate, because I feel like this wedding photographers GETS ME. And guess what? I'm going to be so excited about it that I'm going to email her immediately. Now it's just a matter of finessing the sale. And here are three pointers for doing just that:
a) Don't commit the mortal sin of just giving them the information they're asking for.
Never, ever, ever just respond back with your prices, or whichever piece of info that particular person is asking for. (I see this happen a lot. Someone emails asking for your rates, and you just email them a rate card back and a big, fat, “Hope to hear from you!” BAD, BAD, BAD.) What you need to do is simple: START A CONVERSATION. Prospects want to feel like you actually give a damn. So actually READ their email; if they've mentioned some tiny detail about themselves, use it as an opportunity to open dialogue. Find common ground. And respond back to them like a human being. Start a conversation. If there's no common ground, then make some. Ask them a question or two. “Sounds like you've got an exciting _______ – tell me, what's the scoop?” People love to talk about themselves. Never, ever underestimate this basic truth. And then, of course, the second benefit to starting a conversation is that you've now given them a reason to write back to you, and start an actual dialogue. (Read: Relationship. Read: Trust. Read: The sale.) If you just send off your rate card, they've got no reason to write back to you. (And this will further encourage price shopping which, again, is a game you can't win.) On the other hand, if you ask some open-ended questions and seem genuinely, enthusiastically interested in who they are and what they're up to, they're going to write back–and now you already seem like the obvious choice compared to every other person who obeyed orders and just sent them their rate card. And that's really what this comes down to–becoming the obvious choice.–
b) If you're good with people, try to get them on the phone. If you're bad with people, don't take this advice.
First of all, you've got a much higher chance to close a sale if you can connect with a prospect in a real way (see number one). The phone is great for this, because when they feel a real human on the other side, AND you hit it off and have a rapport? You'll have no problem knocking it out of the park. (This is especially relevant for those of us used to doing business primarily online – the real human connection is often a delightful surprise.) On the other hand, though, if you're shy and you know you're bad over the phone, then don't do this no matter how many sales books tell you to do so. You'll end up reducing your authority, not to mention having damn near panic attacks every day. And we don't want that. So only if you're confident on the phone, you might consider ending your email with, “I'd love to hear more about X over the phone – it's my way of getting away from the computer once in a while. What's your number? Let me give you a quick buzz!” The caveat: You never want to say “I'd love to talk to you more about my services,” because no one is going to get on the phone with you if they think you're just going to try to hard sell them. Instead, keep the conversation about them. “I'd love to hear more about your wedding plans! I always get so many great ideas from new brides. What's your color scheme? I've heard orangutan fuzz is big this year. What's your number? Let's chat quick and see if I might be able to help.” <–Caveat number two: Talk in terms of “might be able to help” instead of “let's see if we're a good fit,” because the former sounds more conversational, and the latter sounds, again, like this is going to be a “pick me, let me convince you!” type of sales conversation. And even if it is, you never want your prospect to FEEL THAT WAY.–
c) Don't try to get down their pants in the first email exchange.
Yes, while you need to “ask for the sale,” as I'm sure you've been told, you also need to have patience and remember that sales is a process, not a one-time event. You don't want to come across as too pushy, money-hungry, or “I just care about getting your deposit so I can pay the bills, yo.” My advice? Wait until the second email exchange, or until after you've got a conversation started.
3. The last–but most important–part of getting the sale? Actually getting it.
Great – so you started a conversation, got to know the prospect some more, earned their trust, and made everybody feel like fucking tulips. Now what? The very next step is the most important: You need to close the sale, as it's called. There's tons and tons of bullshit high-pressure sales tactics for closing, but let me share with you my preferred (more human, real and honest) method:
Simply being a professional about your schedule.
What does that mean? It means that you're a professional, and you work with clients, and you've got project timelines, and your time is valuable, in-demand, and worth paying for. Therefore, it's entirely appropriate (and even expected) for you to tell a prospective client:
Jane-dizzle, I'm so excited for you. This all sounds fantastic, and I'd be honored to be a part of this project. Typically, I'm available to start new client projects with a 2-3 week/month lead time, however, I actually just had an unexpected cancellation for this week/month. Since I'm a huge fan of what you're doing and think we'd have a ball together, I wanted to extend the time slot to you, first. If you want to slide in, just reply back to me ASAP & I'll send you over the paperwork.
The reason why this is effective is three-fold:
First, the client views you as a professional who does have other time commitments, and as such, they'll not only respect your time, but also will view it almost as a privilege. And that's cool, because when your clients are excited to work with you, the whole project will be that much more successful. Second, you put a tad bit of pressure on to make a decision, and make it now–which is good, because we all know that we'll procrastinate until the day we die, if given the chance. It's just human nature. And third, when she responds back with an enthusiastic, “yes!”–you just got yourself a sale.
That said, I know it's not always that simple. I know protocol varies across industries. And I know that in some cases, you won't have a single client–and will feel like a fraud if you try to go this route, which is why I'll say this: At the very least, you can always put a “valid until” date on a proposal, which still lets the client know that you take your professional schedule seriously, and you'll need an answer by X date. When X date is approaching and you haven't heard back, remember to circle back to the beginning, reach out, make conversation, and ask if there's any questions you can answer, or ways you can be helpful in the decision-making process.
You'll not only seem like a pro–you'll seem like someone who gives a shit, and guess what?
No matter what happens, that's always the best sales formula of all.