By Kevin Rhoades
Years ago I made a comfortable living selling mutual funds and insurance products to those who needed them. I’m not embarrassed to say I practically starved the first couple of years due to my poor sales skills.
Too many mornings of powdered milk in my cereal along with a car boasting an odometer reading in excess of 200,000 miles nudged me to get serious about my sales career. Being a competitive sort, I sought the same success held by my more seasoned colleagues in the region.
When new to sales and not experiencing success, it’s easy to blame everything but yourself for the lack of achievement – my client doesn’t get it, the economy isn’t cooperating, my products aren’t competitive, it’s too cold outside and nobody is buying …
Wa. Waa. Waaa.
If you’ve done a good job of prequalifying the prospective buyer and discovering the need – trust me – the customer wants to buy.
While working as a salesman and wanting to improve skills and increase the number of greenbacks in my wallet, I paid much more attention to co-workers who were successful. I purchased a few “How to Sell” audiotapes and books and studied the selling process. Dollars I couldn’t afford were invested to attend conferences, and I constantly worked on a positive attitude. With much persistence, I applied my newly learned skills. Consequently, sales picked up.
Whether you’re selling cars, computers or cameras, the sales process is much the same. And it applies to selling photos, magazine articles, a radio show, artwork and everything else that outdoor communicators create.
You can call yourself a photographer, a writer, a book author, a Wizard Artist, a Master Creator, or whatever you want, but accept the fact you’re also a salesperson and need customers to crank out a living in this business. Understand and acknowledge that you’re a salesperson first.
If you don’t believe me, take a long walk in the woods and rethink a freelance career in outdoor communications. But if you can say, “I’m a salesperson first,” and say it with pride, then you’re on your way.
Tips for making the sale:
Prequalify the buyer. Is the target of your correspondence able to buy what you’re selling? No need to sell a windshield to someone who owns only a bicycle, just as there’s no need to send a query to an editorial assistant with zero power to purchase your story. Learn who makes buying decisions before asking for the business.
Find the need. Does your target buyer purchase the type of photos you have to sell? Do your homework. Study the publication first, and review the do’s and don’ts of making first contact with acquisitions editors as addressed in the article “Break the ice without sinking the sale” in the January 2009 OU, found here.
Make a friend. I can’t emphasize this enough. An excellent place to meet editors is face to face at annual OWAA conferences. Prior to conference, identify editors via the OWAA Directory and conference attendee list, then search them out and say “hello” after a workshop or in the hallway or hospitality suite. Show genuine interest. Work on building rapport. All these things will break the ice when you fire off an e-mail inquiry later.
Be sincere, and listen. Be yourself, and be real. One day years ago I was in the mood to buy a Chevy Camaro, only to have my desire snuffed by an overanxious, grin-faced salesperson who greeted me with a heavy-handed slap on the hood of a car that was for sale: “What car can I sell you today?” He never thought to say “hello,” and never bothered to ask what I wanted. I can’t begin to explain my disappointment. I walked off, grumbling. Don’t turn off the acquisitions editor by being pushy, and listen. And yes, you can be too pushy and not “listen” via e-mail communications.
Note objections, and remember them. If an editor writes, “I like your query, but it’s the wrong time of year,” or “We rarely buy 2,000-word stories, plus at least two professional sources are needed,” don’t just go away pouting. Adapt to the need and address objections. After you’ve either double-checked editorial guidelines or asked the editor, a good counter for the second example might be: “Would you take another look at my piece if reduce it to 1,200 words and include two professional sources, one being a biologist from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the other a wildlife manager for the Gallatin National Forest?”
Ask for the sale. When I was a novice salesman, many times I did everything correctly except for the most important thing: I failed to ask for the sale. Critical mistake, after doing everything else right: made a friend, got her rapport, presented my products with style, demonstrated a need.
Keep positive. Remember you’re a salesperson first and, as with most things in sales, it’s a numbers game. Suggestion: Figure out how many “No’s” it takes to receive a “Yes.” Then welcome “No thanks” for your query with open arms because every “No” is one step closer to a “Yes.” I remember saying to myself, “Cool. I got my nine ‘No’s.’ The next will be a ‘Yes!’ ” Understand it’s an average, your average, and you’ll soon discover it takes 18 “No’s” to get two “Yeses.”
Once you receive the commitment and make the sale, apply all the other business skills visited in previous articles in OU and in the upcoming OWAA publication “Freelancers Guide to Business Practices.” Be a businessperson … get it in writing, keep good records, leave no stone unturned.
One last thing: I remember a time while selling mutual funds when nobody was buying and everything that could go wrong did. Subsequently, my sales decreased and my attitude sank. When tough times come and it looks like your ship will sink, remember your goal to be a successful outdoor communicator.
Hang your objective on your computer or on the mirror in your bathroom. Affirm your goal over and over, and remember that persistence pays.
If after all this, you continue to experience difficulties, I suspect you’re not working hard enough. Should that be the case, consider the advice of megasalesman and motivational speaker Tom Hopkins. His seminars, books and audiotapes can be purchased over the Internet, but here’s the gist of one his sales presentations: “GOYA!”
Get Off Your A _ _!
Editor’s note: Look for this article and more sage business advice from Kevin Rhoades and other successful members in OWAA’s newest publication, “Freelancers Guide to Business Practices,” coming soon.
By Kevin Rhoades