9 tips on the psychology of photo sales


“Sales is really all about psychology,” says Bry Cox, M.Photog.Cr., CPP. “A lot of people want to make it all about tactics, but it’s not. It’s about understanding people and social dynamics.”

A 20-year veteran of professional photography and a nationally known author and speaker, Cox has spent years perfecting the psychology of sales and helping other photographers do the same. The problem, says Cox, is that most photographers are scared to death of sales. “But it’s necessary,” he says. “People don’t just come to us. We have to sell ourselves. We have to stand out. We have to show how we can do something better. That doesn’t mean being pushy or aggressive; it’s just a change in our state of mind.”

9 tips on the psychology of sales, portrait photographer Bry Cox
© Bry Cox

That change involves a shift in thinking to the client’s perspective. It means understanding what the client wants, doesn’t want, and what the common objections to a purchase are all about. It also means better communication to explain what makes you unique and why your method works the best.

Cox will delve into these topics in detail during his session at Imaging USA, Jan. 11-13, 2018, in Nashville, Tennessee.

Here are some of his best tips for mastering sales psychology.

Simplify. A common misconception is that clients want more options. In reality, they want quality.

Long photo sessions leave clients tired and create too many similar images. This overwhelms the photographer and will overwhelm clients if they have to do the work of selecting images. Focus on shorter sessions, more quality, and greater variety. Then dramatically narrow down the images so you show only the very best at the ordering appointment.

Focus and streamline. The solution is to offer fewer images but more variety within those images. Guide your clients. Don’t expect them to make all the hard decisions related to image selection. Show them your artist-selected images—the best of the best. Then explain to them why this process is better for them than viewing all the images, including all the duplicate shots and every capture of them blinking. Cox tells them, “This is a hard process, but I’m going to do it all for you. When you work with me, I’ll have everything narrowed down to the best of the best. You just have to think about what you’d like for your home and where it will go.”

Working this way leads to happy clients who understand your process. Then, when they come back, they already know what they want, so the process goes much quicker.

9 tips on the psychology of sales, portrait photographer Bry Cox
© Bry Cox

Cater to the 20 percent. Every business exists under the Pareto principle, the so-called 80/20 rule wherein 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. In terms of your business, that means roughly 80 percent of your revenue will come from about 20 percent of your clients. Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs design their products and processes for the 80 percent of clients who will account for just 20 percent of their revenue. Focus on your top 20 percent, and design a sales process around the needs of those important clients.

Read your clients. Many people think that mastering the psychology of sales means possessing extensive psychoanalytical prowess to read and interpret clients’ moods. In fact, it’s much simpler.

The first thing to realize is that you’re already interpreting people’s moods in your daily work. When you’re photographing, you’re constantly reading and adapting. You recognize if clients are uncomfortable, how different poses or situations make them feel, how you can change the mood and get them to respond to you.

It’s the same process in sales: Read and adapt. If people aren’t responding, then it’s your responsibility to reframe the situation and engage them. It’s not about looking for mystical psychological signals. It’s about paying attention to changes. Look for changes in demeanor and attention. When you see changes, use that as an opportunity to ask questions and start conversations.

9 tips on the psychology of sales, portrait photographer Bry Cox
© Bry Cox

Take action to elicit feeling. Encourage positive feelings toward your studio by taking action. If you want to appeal to upscale clientele, then dress the part, provide a high level of quality, and gear up to deliver a superior experience. You can’t expect people to view your offerings as more valuable until you take action to present your business in a better light.

Address concerns. It’s important to hear your clients’ concerns and meet those worries and questions with explanations. You don’t need a bunch of corny, canned answers. You simply need to validate your clients’ concerns and explain how you’ll solve those issues. You’re telling your clients, This is my approach. Other approaches may be less expensive, but here is how I do things and why it’s a benefit to you.

Let’s say the concern is price. Sometimes that means the client can’t afford what you’re offering or it’s more money than they’re comfortable spending. But other times it means the client is not accustomed to the price you’ve quoted because what you’re going to deliver for that price is outside their previous experience and expectations. So ask more questions: What did you get from your last photographer? What was the experience like? What did that photographer offer? What did you like or not like about that experience?

If a concern about price really means, I don’t understand why you’re different, then you can address that. If it’s about breaking up the charges into multiple payments, then that’s easy to address. The most important thing is to get the client talking so you can understand the root of their price objection. The more concerns they bring up, the more you can address. Try statements like, “I’m so glad you brought that up. Let’s talk about it.”

9 tips on the psychology of sales, portrait photographer Bry Cox
© Bry Cox

Practice “Feel, Felt, Found.” When you respond to your clients’ concerns, show empathy. You can practice this with a simple “Feel, Felt, Found” formula to guide your initial response. It goes like this: “I understand how you feel. I, too, have felt the same way. And what I’ve found is … ”

Phrasing your response in this manner or something similar builds empathy into your answer. It shows that you listened and that you’re offering something to address their concern.

Be someone with integrity. We all want to do business with people we trust and respect. Beyond listening, empathizing, and offering explanations, it’s also important to be transparent and accountable. Don’t hide fees or charge extras just because you think you can slip it by most clients. If there’s a problem, take responsibility and make it right. Your goal is to have clients walk away feeling well taken care of with a sense that they got good value for their money.

Build your own confidence. You can’t sell something you don’t love. So whatever price range you’re in, you need to be confident that you are the best option at that price for that client.

Be a constant problem solver. This idea really sums up the psychology of sales. A good sales process should involve you and the client working as a team. Your job as a salesperson is not to convince people to buy something they don’t need but to help them get what they want in a way that leaves everyone happy. A big part of that process is anticipating and solving problems for your clients. If you can make their lives easier and serve as a helpful guide through the process, then you’ve mastered the psychology of high-end sales, and everyone wins.  

Jeff Kent is editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.