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Stop Under-Estimating the Value of Your Phone

Intro by Skip Cohen

Rob Nowell hits another one out of the park with today’s post! We live in an impersonal world with everybody on a quest for new and faster ways to communicate. That’s given everyone, including your clients, the ability to have the kind of reach only magazines and newspapers had a decade ago. But, at a time in business history where relationship building is your greatest marketing tool, physically talking to someone is put on the backburner.

I’m a huge fan of phone calls because they help build relationships. Sure, they take more time than just answering somebody’s question via email, but we’re so often misunderstood with the printed word. Rob covers the challenges in today’s guest post, but I want to take it a step further.

Nothing can sell an idea better or build your reputation faster than your voice! Obviously, you can’t meet every client in person before you’re hired. I remember an interview with Gene Ho, a wedding photographer on the east coast many years ago. He had his system set up so that when a bride contacted his studio via email, he or an assistant if he was traveling, was back to her within 1-2 hours. Often he had the wedding locked in before his competitors opened their email.

He was accessible to his potential client almost immediately, and that first building block in a new relationship was in place before they physically met. And, it was all thanks to two things, his passion for the craft and the phone!

I laugh all the time because using my phone so often is such an old fart way of doing business but guess what – it works. I love to write, but nothing I publish can replace the tone of my own voice and the power of people knowing I’m taking the time to contact them directly.

By Robert Nowell

IN TODAY’S culture of texts, emails, and endless apps to help simplify communication, it almost seems that the lowly telephone has been forgotten.

Our personal phones are virtually small computers, music libraries and even mini televisions.

It seems that we have almost forgotten the primary purpose of these amazing devices. That is to communicate in person, in real-time and hear each other’s voice.

I have heard many people lament that emails they sent were misinterpreted because unfortunately, you cannot imply “tone” in an email. When people are upset, angry or happy, we can hear that in their voice when they speak to us, but when they put their words into print something is lost. The main thing missing in today’s world of electronic communication is relationships.

Even in days past when people took the time to handwrite letters to one another, there was something so personal about reading someone’s words in their own handwriting. An email or text seems by comparison rather cold and impersonal.

It’s doubtful that handwriting letters are going to make a solid comeback, but I know that many studio owners take the time and effort in handwriting personal thank you notes to their clients in order to give their communication a much more personal touch.

It is so unusual today to get anything by mail that is handwritten, that makes the card stand out from the usual bills, flyers and junk mail.

A telephone call is even more personal because you can have a real two-way conversation, ask questions, and convey a sense of professional courtesy in a warm and casual manner.

Unfortunately, many of us get annoying cold calls and telemarketers and we associate that with business calls. So often we are told in the first few seconds that they only want two minutes of our time and then proceed to read a script that takes five minutes. We have already been lied to in the first few minutes of contact.

That’s why it is so vital that we use the phone properly for our business. We want to always be upfront and honest and cater to the wants of prospects and clients.

My first rule of the phone in business is never, ever make cold calls. They just don’t work.

My second rule is to refer to rule one.

All of my marketing is geared to getting a client to get in touch with me by email or phone. The contact section on my website requires anyone who wants to send me a message to give me their phone number. I find especially for wedding inquiries that when I call up the bride to give her information, she asks for that I am the only photographer to have done so. Most others, if she’s shopping around, have just sent a brief reply to let her know if they are available and to tell her she has to meet with them to get pricing information. I, on the other hand, want to chat casually with her and ask her about her wedding plans, her venue, what she has already booked, etc.

My experience so far has been that newly engaged brides love discussing their wedding plans and by making the first phone call more about her it shows her that I have her best interests at heart. I spend more time talking about her and her fiance than I do about me. Of course, I do answer any questions she has, but I always try to keep the conversation about what she wants and her ideas for her wedding day. This starts to establish a basis for trust and relationship in a way that emails just can’t.

It’s extremely hard to convey “value” in an email. Having a pleasant and informative conversation in person by phone begins to establish value before pricing has even been discussed. It’s often said that people buy from people they like. That might be true, but I believe that it’s more important to show value than to just be agreeable.

For example, in a phone conversation, you can convey your familiarity with a bride’s chosen venue or give her a few tips that will make her day go smoother. These small informative gestures show you to be a wedding expert and the bride on the other end of the phone has likely just had her confidence in you increased, and as a result, your value as a photographer has just gone up.

Here are five key things to remember when calling back an inquiry or taking a call at your business: 

  • Get the facts. Who, what, when, where, etc. and write them down. You may want to open a docket right after this call for the prospect.
  • Keep the initial call brief. Ask if they have a few minutes to chat and don’t go off into tangents. Be conversational but be sure to let them do an equal amount of talking.
  • Try to answer all of their questions but give them a good reason to meet with you in person as a next step. This will further ground the trust you’ve started and build a relationship.
  • Use their name throughout the phone call. People loved to be called by name. It shows interest and that they are recognized as individuals.
  • Follow up on the call with an email that delivers further value, either confirming a meetup or sending along further information as a bonus that educates and informs. You will either already have the email address from a contact form or you can ask for it before ending the call explaining that you want to send some followup information.

A quick word about time management and phones. I know firsthand how distracting it can be having to take calls as they come in when you’re editing or working at a task. I will often let my answering machine take calls for me and I return them within a short time. I make a point of being intentional and leaving fresh messages every day that state the day and date and when I will be returning calls.

I usually return calls before lunch around 11:30am or at the end of the day around 4:30pm. Even if I don’t catch the caller in person, I’m able to show that I keep my promises (the one I left on the message saying I’d call back in a few hours) so I leave a message and tell them I’ll try again first thing the next day. Always set expectations and then make sure you follow them yourself.

In a world where texts and emails seem to rule, a friendly voice on the other end of a phone might be a welcome change that delivers on a more personal note. Make sure to use your phone to your advantage and maybe you’ll learn to look forward to chatting with clients in person instead of endless loops of email.