A videographer’s guide to the care and feeding of clients.

Your clients are a mysterious bunch, aren’t they? One minute a client can be purring contentedly like a kitten, and the next he might lash out like an angry Doberman. What is behind these animalistic tendencies?

If your video business is like most, your clients are only human, which means they have needs. And you need to know what those needs are. Why should you care? Because if you fulfill a client’s needs he will not only be grateful, he will gladly pay you for your work and he will probably be back for more. Conversely, if you don’t meet his needs he might try to rip your throat out (only metaphorically, of course, but the sensation is still unpleasant).

Economics 101

How do you find out what the customer’s needs are? You could start by doing a needs analysis for each of your clients. What drives your clients when they decide to buy video production or products? As you might guess, the number one factor is economic. This is true whether you are dealing with an individual or an organization.

A client will consider all the economic factors before shelling out the cash. Some of these factors are price, quality, service, performance and convenience. Here’s the trick. Some clients consider some factors more important than other factors. When you do a needs analysis, one of your goals is to find out which factors have the most weight for a particular client in a buying decision.

Many people think that price is always the most important factor in a buying decision. In many cases, it is. This is why so many megastores (like Walmart and Home Depot) have sprung up and wiped out the local competition. For consumer goods like paper towels or laundry detergent, people want a bargain. National chains can buy in quantity, and make deals that local stores can’t hope to match, and still make a profit. Lucky for you, there are no video-production superstores yet.

But price is not always the top consideration in your customer’s mind when it comes to a video production. If you bring something to the table that your competitors can’t match–in terms of expertise, creativity, high-quality equipment or superior customer service–then your service doesn’t have to be the least-expensive option. If you position your company correctly, being more expensive may even work to your advantage. (In this case, your motto might be “Video by Videoman — Because You re Worth It.”)

What’s Their Motivation?

What other client needs should you consider before making your sales pitch? Although not all of these factors relate specifically to video production, other client motivations are: basic living requirements, ego, lifestyle, personal goals and safety-related issues. How can you hook into such needs to help you sell? Depending on the status and reputation of your company, you might appeal to the ego of your prospect by listing any prestigious clients that you have worked for in the past.

One video company shows video clips of NBC News on the company’s demo tape (the company has rented equipment to the network). New clients, upon seeing this, would think (consciously or subconsciously) "Hey, if this company is good enough for NBC…" Blow your own horn to tap into the basic human instinct of importance by association.

Listen Carefully

Who does most of the talking when you go on a sales call? Do you spend every moment telling the potential customer about what your company can do for him, what kind of equipment you use, how long you have been creating video? Or do you do these things until the client starts to talk? That’s your cue to listen. This is the most important step in needs analysis. When the client asks you a question, or makes an objection, or makes an apparently unrelated comment, he or she is giving you a clue. The client is saying, "This is what is important to me."

What is the client telling you with this statement? "I used Brand X Video last time and I found out that the on-camera spokesperson that they used in my show was actually Brand X’s receptionist." The client is really asking you a question. He or she needs to know that your talent pool is a bit deeper than that used by the other company. You might ease your client’s mind by assuring him or her that you only use professional talent (Screen Actors Guild, or other) in your productions. Perhaps you can offer the potential client the chance to see several talent choices on tape before a decision is made. Let the client know that this is no problem, and you may have a sale.


Ask Questions

Listening is the key to understanding your client, but what if he isn’t talking? Then you should ask questions. Here are a few examples.

  • How did you get into this business? If you haven’t already noticed, people like to talk about themselves. If a person runs into someone who will actually listen, the well of conversation may never run dry. The client’s overall personality (dreams, wants, desires) could easily show through when asked this question, which you can use to your advantage later.
  • What’s the best video production of this type that you ve ever seen? What did you like about it? This question may tell you exactly what the prospect is looking for in a video. Once you know that, all you have to do is prove that you can deliver a similar one.
  • What’s the worst experience you ve ever had with a video production? If the client answers that it was something that your company did, you’ve got a problem. But if he or she is still talking to you at this point, then you have the opportunity to make it up to them, and sell them on a new production. If the problem was with another production company, you know what point you have to stress to win the client away from the competition.
  • What did you like about it? Ask this question whenever the client is positive about anything. It keeps the conversation going and gives you more details on the client’s preferences.
  • What was it that bothered you? This is one to use when the client complains about a prior video. Whatever the answer, respond immediately, and try to make your response as positive as you can. Oh, yeah, I can understand how a video where all the flesh tones were green would be difficult to watch. If you are too negative, it could sound like you are arguing with the client. That approach seldom works.
  • What’s more important, having the video done in two weeks, or getting a low price? (or whatever). You can tailor this question to any needs that you have uncovered earlier. Clients will often happily shell out a premium price to get a video done faster (that trade-show date is not going to change), or to meet some other demand that you might not have thought about.
  • Who can sign the contract for this project? This is one for companies where the chain of command may not be apparent. Be discrete. Your contact may take offense that you are suggesting that he or she doesn’t have the authority to green-light the project (even when he or she doesn’t have this authority). On the other hand, if this person is not the one who is able to buy, you need to know.
  • When can you sign the contract? You are talking to the president of the company and you know that she wants the video, but that doesn’t mean that the money is available. The president may be doing research for the next fiscal year, when new marketing dollars shake loose. If you don’t ask this question (and offer terms to sign the contract now and get payment later), you may be giving your competition a chance to make a pitch.
  • The most important question is always, why? Why is one factor more important to the client than something else? Why is the deadline so tight? Why is the ability to shoot aerials of the property important? Why is a short video better than a long one for this client? When the client offers you a clue, dig deeper with the question, why?

Other Clues

Once you ask your question, watch and listen. The hard facts that the client gives you are significant (it wouldn’t hurt to take notes), but the other clues are just as meaningful. Is the client confident or wary? Does he or she seem excited about creating a video, or apathetic? Hone your sales pitch to capitalize on your client’s state of mind.

When you understand what your client’s needs are, you no longer are just selling a video production, you are creating a way to make the client’s problems go away, or to move your client closer to a goal. Once you understand that you are selling solutions, you will be on your way to having a very busy production schedule. And that is what you need.

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