In my wanderings I have the privilege of meeting and spending time with many of the industry’s best and brightest. Every once in a while these people are also well known, as Jim and Joe most certainly are. Not only are these two guys solid businessmen and strong proponents of the industry, they are also two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I’ve had the privilege of hearing them both speak and I can tell you first hand that if you haven’t you are missing out on two of the best you could hear.
I must confess that I don’t know Jim all that well. He graciously agreed to come (completely on his own dime) to a free one day seminar that we sponsored in Detroit last year. (along with Joe, Bambi Cantrell - another of the industry’s real gems, -Ken Sklute and the inimitable Denis Reggie. Jim’s talk revolved around his approach to selling albums. It was brilliant.
I get to hear Joe speak frequently. He and I travel around the country and present together at Pictage’s UberPugs. Joe speaks on inspiration and photo technique and I speak on business. No one comes to see me. The tears and the hugs for Joe when his talks are over are testament to his heart and his connection to our business. Sometimes I wonder if in the middle of all of that people miss the sneaky smart things he is telling them about how his business works, among them, how he sells so many prints.
I know what you’re thinking. “You’re going to talk about Albums and Prints, Jim?” Is this talk devoted to CashCow and Dog category products? Well, no. It isn’t. Because for Jim Garner and Joe Buissink these products aren’t CashCows, they’re Stars. And that, my friends, is the real value of differentiation.
During Jim’s talk he shows several examples of really beautiful albums that he has created for his clients. These are not small books. They are long and thoughtfully wrought artistic expressions of their special days. As he shows the presentation he talks about his approach and the fact that he gets his clients to spend the whole day with him in order to create not just the book, but the experience that shines through on its pages. For the classic PJ shooter some of these words may seem like blasphemy. A day orchestrated for photography? But that’s not what Jim is doing. He is convincing his (easily convinced) clients that their day should be a full day, not a half of a day.
Why not start out in the morning with breakfast at your favorite restaurant? (just the bride and groom). Why not meet your friends at a poignant place to hang out and laugh. Why not get dressed before lunch and then head for the local hot dog or chili burger place? Why not have a blast for a whole day on such a special day? And why not have your amazing photographer tag along for the whole time?
The brilliant part of Jim’s presentation comes toward the end. He explains that his clients don’t hire him to take their pictures. They hire him to make their book. The books he creates share their special days in ways no one else is showing them. Everyone else has some pictures and ‘here’s an album with your pictures in it.’ Jim’s “Signature Art Books” & “Stories in Prints” approach turns that whole sales cycle on its ear and in doing so makes this product that is so hard for many to sell the focal point reason why clients hire him. If you get a chance to hear him speak do so. I promise that he will leave you thinking a lot about ways to improve your own approach.
Like Jim, Joe doesn’t sell photography services. He sells art. In Joe’s talks he walks people through his client consultations. The core part of the consultation is a session where Joe brings out a stack of mounted 11X14 prints, each one signed. He hands these prints to his clients and he does this amazing thing. He doesn’t talk about the prints. He tells the stories of what’s going on in the prints. He doesn’t show a lot, around 10. Each one is selected because it tells a unique part of the story. Each image is perfect. Each image is filled with story and emotion. But each image is also a signed print. Each image is art. This is really, really smart. Here’s why.
By showing his clients these prints, Joe is establishing the idea in their mind that this is something they can get from him. And because they are signed, this is something they can get ONLY from him. Too many photographers today spend too much time counting on online galleries, iPad slideshows, strangely iPhone slideshows etc., in their selling process. Then they wonder why their clients never think to buy prints from them or want to go to Costco to get them made cheaply. He has two price points. One for prints and one for signed prints. People actually pay more for his signature. They should. He is a treasure and his work is art.
It is important to understand that neither Jim or Joe are coercing these purchases. They are giving their clients an option to buy products that their clients will deem special. Their clients deeply appreciate the opportunity to work with them and in many cases they end up doing so BECAUSE of these products. If you think about it, how many of your clients hire you because of your products? To be sure, they are also hiring a great photographer, and someone they know they can connect and feel comfortable with. (all are important elements of the commercial decision). But most consumers are really unable to tell the difference between one great photographer’s work and another. Differentiation then, must be on the basis of something else. By giving their clients something tangible, something they can name and actually hold in their hand, these two smart guys are also giving their clients an objective reason to choose them. In a business of intangibles, that is pure gold.
Don’t copy their approach, but figure out what you can glean from it that will work for your business, in your region, and with the clients you want to shoot. Not everyone can be as successful as Jim and Joe, but everyone can and should learn from what they are so generously willing to share. The day a client chooses you because of something you have that no one else has you’ll know it has been worthwhile. That is true differentiation.