Whether you’re a creative with a business, an entrepreneur building something from the ground up, or hold the title of “salesperson,” the ability to sell is going to be the primary variable when it comes to your success. In each of these roles, there are people who feel uncomfortable with word “sales” and the title “salesperson.” The negative connotation is deeply ingrained in our culture, even if people in the roles above share very little with the cultural stereotypes. You are not Blake, the stereotypical, pushy, always-be-closing salesperson played by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenn Ross, and you don’t need to be to succeed in sales. In fact, modeling Blake would be of no help to you at all.
Let me offer you another view of sales, a more modern one, and one that is more accurate: Selling is not something that you do to someone. It is something you do for someone and with someone. Your success is more easily found being other-oriented than in being self-oriented.
Because this is Creative Live, I am writing directly to creatives here, many of whom are entrepreneurs by default. Being a professional artist means that you are paid for your work. The exchange of money for your art is a sale, and that makes you a salesperson. So does convincing the gallery to host your first show.
Whether you are a graphic artist, a photographer, a videographer, or do voice-over work, you need to sell your work, and that means you are in sales. Sales is an exchange of the value you create for something you value, like money.
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Let’s look at how selling works. Somewhere there is a business owner that wants something. In your case, Creative, they want to redecorate their office building with black and white photos of major cities. You’ve spent a good part of your creative life shooting major cities in black and white, making you the exact kind of person that this business owner needs. Maybe this person finds you on the Internet, or perhaps you have a friend who tells you about this business owner’s needs, and you call them. No matter how you connect, you are now entering a sales conversation.
Not to worry, the sales conversation is much more comfortable than you may believe, and it’s going to be quite natural. There are only a few things you need to hold loosely in your mind.
First, you are going to have to help your potential buyer think through their needs. How many pictures do they need? What kind of effect do they want the images to have on the people who visit them in their office? Are there some cities that are important to them than others? Which pictures are going to go where in their office? Because you asked excellent questions like this, your business owner wants your help! Nothing pushy, smarmy, or manipulative there.
Second, you’re going to have to present your proposal (or, if you are framing this up in business terms, a solution). How are you going to solve the problem of creating the right environment for the business owner’s office building? If you don’t think of yourself as a salesperson, you might let the business owner select a picture or two, and you might make a few bucks. But if you apply your ideas, your insight, and your expertise, you might supply photos for the entire building.
You show your business owner a plan for the building. She loves it, but she has a concern. She wants a picture of her hometown, Winslow, Arizona to show where she’s come from. You cannot locate Winslow on a map. You suggest that you both go to Winslow to shoot the photos. Why? Because this is what selling is; it’s problem-solving.
Now, this is part that makes some creative squeamish. You have to ask for money. You are afraid that the price you ask for is going to alienate your potential business owner. What if she is offended by the amount you want to charge for these pictures? Who do you think you are, Ansel Adams? I promise you’ve got this. What some people see as the hardest part of selling, asking for the business, is the easiest. You just say, “Unless there is something else you need, the whole package here is going to be $14,200, plus travel to Winslow. Can I get you an agreement and start the process of delivering the photos?”
Here’s what you need to know. Selling is a series of conversations and the commitments that link those conversations together. It’s also helping someone get a result that they cannot get without you. The better you are as a salesperson, the more successful you will be turning your creative work into a business and one that sustains you.