Over the past few weeks, I have noticed a lot of agents that are frustrated that they “wasted” time with a prospect who did not purchase. It is frustrating; but it happens…all the time…to all of us. There is no shortage of good advice on being the best travel professional you can be—just review any of Richard Earls’ columns and you can see that. As a whole, we know our stuff. So why is it sometimes so hard to seal the deal? Maybe we all can use a lesson in Closing 101.
Many moons ago—back in 1997, my then-wife and I decided to have the kids photographed. Being the super sleuth she was, she found an ad in the local paper for a very reputable photographer who was offering a free sitting. It sounded great, he lived on a farm and had access to fields, ponds and an antique farmhouse. Of course we understood that the sitting was free, but the prints would be extra.
Before I get into the sales process, let me explain that I feel there are very many parallels to be drawn between photographers and travel agents. Both of our customers have access to the same or similar tools as we do. The “product” we both bring to the table is experience and expertise—fulfillment is handled by a third party. We both operate in an environment where amateurs regularly consider themselves professionals. Neither of our industries have any type of regulation or standard of excellence. We both offer specialties and very few are jack-of-all trades. We are both about creating images, although photographers are a little more literal. There are plenty more, but you get the idea!
Now back to the sales pitch. We went to his place, the weather was beautiful, the kids all behaved, and he took more than 1000 images. After the free sitting was done, we waited. We waited some more and the anticipation was building. Finally, we got “the call” and the proofs were ready to be viewed. We made an appointment to see them.
We arrived at his farmhouse and were ushered into a large family room with a fire burning and some wine. The scene was set and the hunter was about to pounce. Instead of letting us look through all of the photos, he selected the best ones (are you seeing any similarity here?) for us to view. But they were not on paper with a “proof” stamp across the front. No, we were sitting in comfortable chairs and he turned on a projector and projected our family onto the white wall over the fireplace. The 20 or so images we saw were stunning.
With each image, he kept telling us what aspect he felt was so special and asked if we agreed. Of course we said “yes.” In fact, we said, “yes” many times that evening. Finally, he projected the last (and best) photo, which was stunning. He asked if it took our breath away and of course we said “yes!” He dragged the table back a little and re-focused the projector and grabbed an empty frame and hung it on the wall. Now, our framed children were hanging over this fireplace.
Duly impressed, we inquired about packages. He explained that he is an “artist” and does not do the packages that most photographers offer but allows his clients pick and choose as they see fit. He asked what we had in mind for a “package” and we said maybe a few 8x10s, maybe an 11×17, and half a dozen 5x7s for family. We agreed that the final photo would definitely be the 8×10. He frowned and put up a generic 8×10 photo on the wall next to this “portrait” and asked us if that was what we were thinking. For the first time that night, we said “no.” Unknown to us, we had just bitten down on the hook—hard!
We agreed to scale back the quantity of the smaller prints to be able to get the large one….framed. In the end, we agreed on this giant portrait, maybe 30 x 48, and a half dozen or so smaller 5x7s. He whipped out his calculator and started tapping away pausing only to ask if we wanted to include the framing—another ”yes.” When he was done, my wife and I knew that we were going over budget. Beauregard (yes, that was his name—and there was no last name) calmly looked over to us and said the total price for the prints we had selected would be “45.” My wife and I looked at each other like stunned deer—he certainly could not be offering these wonderful documents of our family history for under a hundred dollars. Could he? Nah! That meant that he was talking about $4,500. GULP! We bought it. We left with a smile and an empty wallet! When we divorced, “The Beauregard” was one of the most fought-after pieces of property and we ended up “splitting” it for 5-year periods!
What this demonstrates to me is to never back down from your expertise. We went to Beauregard because of his reputation and we were foolish to assume that we would not pay dearly for it. Beauregard is a master photographer and a master salesman. He painted the picture. He placed us in the picture. He asked questions that had us saying “yes” repeatedly to the point where saying “no” was not a viable option. We never discussed price until after the fact. While we had a budget in mind, he was not privy to it and was able to present the experience to us without the constraints of a dollar figure.
So, here I am 15 years later, partial owner of a memory that will stay with me the rest of my life. Do you see the parallels? Do you think we all could learn a thing or two from Beauregard?