How to lose customers and enrage people

The church we attend is putting together a photo directory, so last weekend we went to have our a family portrait taken.

(‘Cause every introvert dreams of having strangers walk up to them and start talking to them by name, you know?)

The session started off well.

The photographer, a young woman, manage to get all three of the boys smiling and looking at the camera, which is a feat I’ve never managed.

Then she walked us over to her laptop to review the shots, and that’s when I got my first hint that we were going to get the hard sell.

“We don’t charge the church anything to do these portraits,” she said. “We’re supported by members like you.”

Uh oh. That line was straight out of Robert Caldini’s “Influence.”

She walked us though picking the best shots.

I thought the portraits were pretty “meh.” The lighting was decent but the composition was poor. (I’m a semi-serious amateur photographer myself, so I know how to spot a good portrait.)

We selected the best of the mediocre lot.

Then she clicked to the next slide in her presentation, and a mockup of a three-photo frame appeared.

“What do you think of that on your wall?” she asked.

Well hello, sales pitch.

I knew exactly what she was doing. Get the prospect to nod his head. Get him to visualize the product in his home. All that persuasion stuff that great copy does.

But it wasn’t persuading me. Instead, I just felt more and more uncomfortable.

There I am, pinned down by 70 lbs. of toddlers on my lap, and now this sales clerk is trying to use mental jujitsu to squeeze $300 out of me for a set of framed photos that I don’t want or need.

This entire situation was crammed with techniques designed to vacuum cash out of my wallet:

  • The photographer wouldn’t give up prices until the very end, where she presented the total as a hard “take it or leave it” number.

  • Everything was an upsell. Retouching, framing, prints. Everything.

  • She showed how we were saving an extra $15 on our order, then clawed most of it back with a “handling fee” of $11.99.

We ended up “just” buying one extra 8×10″ and a 5×7″.

Now it’s tempting to look at this and conclude that her approached worked. After all, I still handed over my debit card, even though I was a bit shocked by the $77 total.

And it’s true—they did manage to shake me down for far more money than I was planning to part with.

But the photographer broke one of the basic rules of selling: She never asked for permission to sell.

Instead, she took advantage of a captive audience and did everything she could to make the situation so awkward, we couldn’t help but buy something.

I should have left happy and excited about the photos of my cute kids, but instead I felt… violated.

I’m sure they made good money with this sales script. But it’s costing them dearly in the long run.

Even though they collected our address and email address as part of the sale, the entire experience left such a bad taste in my mouth that I’d never consider doing business with that studio again.

And I’ll do everything in my power to prevent anyone I know from using them.

Business is relationships. Trading long-time customers for cash today is a stupid move.