The terms “Client Relationship Management” and “Customer Relationship Management” – also known by the acronym CRM – are common buzzwords in any large company. Many companies have IT staffs that manage software systems dedicated to tracking customer involvement. If the company has its own sales force, then the systems can be complex, tracking everything from potential sales to territories to individual salesperson performance.
But as artists and business owners, our needs are often very modest – and “Client Relationship Management” takes on a very different meaning. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for tools such as Agency Access’ contact management system or other products designed to keep you in touch with your clients. But software, promos and emails are certainly not the only definition of CRM. Regardless of your industry specialization, client management is all about people.
One of my favorite aspects of photography is it allows me to meet, collaborate with and learn from a wide range of people. For me, engaging with my clients or subjects in person is how I can best demonstrate a genuine interest in them and their business. Nowadays, a great deal of preproduction begins with emails, phone calls or Skype conversations, or through a rep. An entire campaign can be created and negotiated – and a job awarded – with artists never actually meeting decision-makers.
When the shoot date arrives and I get on set is when I have the most fun. This is when I can cement a client relationship that started weeks or months before.
I recently did a shoot for a major auto manufacturer that involved the company president. Obviously, this was an important client for the agency handling the account; they wanted to not only get the shot, but make sure the account’s ultimate decision-maker was happy with the entire process. This was not verbally communicated, but after working with a number of executives and celebrities over the years, it’s become easier to pick up on the nature of the shoot from those handling the account.
When it comes to a situation like this, my approach to CRM has less to do with a person’s status and more to do with the person. When an individual is in front of your camera, your ability to make him or her comfortable and capture the image has nothing to do with money, status or title. It’s all about people.
So before I was even awarded the job, I researched everything I could find on the person I’d be working with. I listened to and read interviews, scoured articles and annual reports, watched videos, perused company magazines, you name it. In order to build a connection with my client and create a relationship on some level, it was important to me that I knew something about his interests.
The day of the shoot arrived. I introduced myself and took the time to introduce my assistants. Their role is important to my ability to do my job, and I didn’t only want them to connect with the client – I wanted him to know their names, and to know they were not nameless “nobodies” scurrying around the set.
While we were fine-tuning a few shoot details I used the information I’d gleaned in my research to engage him in a discussion about the automobile industry. I knew he had a strong opinion about hybrids and the growth of the industry. After shooting a couple of setups, between outfit changes, I continued our discussion, asking how his love for automobiles started. It was obvious I’d hit on a subject he enjoyed; he lit up as he shared his passion for cars. To my surprise, I discovered the creatives from the company who were on the set didn’t even know the story behind his love for automobiles. For me, this was a treat – and an important step in creating a new client relationship.
There are certainly many aspects involved in creating and managing a client relationship. What works for me may not work for everyone. But it’s important to remember that the key to CRM is “relationship.” Providing a great product is expected. But creating an environment of trust – and a connection with your client – will outlast the work.
Photographer Michael E. Stern offered three tips to building long-term client relationships:
1. Ask Your Clients
After the job is completed and delivery, billing and payment have gone by, debrief your clients. Put them on the spot and ask how you were to work with. Let them know you value their opinion and you’re always trying to improve your customer service.
Professionals never go into situations blind. Do a site survey, do test shots, make measurements. Make sure you have covered as many bases as possible so the shoot goes smoothly. With every shoot, there are things that can go wrong – but by preparing ahead of time, you can minimize those issues.
Not too often and not too infrequently. Like Goldilocks, you have to adjust your communications to each client’s temperament.
Lee Love is an advertising and editorial photographer in Washington, D.C. He is driven by his passion for creativity, and the challenge of imaginative problem solving. But, it is his genuine interest in people, ease of rapport, and playful humor that gives him the ability to connect with his subjects. Lee’s diverse background in marketing, product development and the technology industry has afforded him the opportunity to solve the creative needs of a broad range of clients. Lee Love Photography
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