Business Communication

5 Reasons Potential Clients Ghost You

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

No one likes being ghosted, and it can be extremely frustrating when you’ve done all you can to communicate with a potential client only to hear crickets. The most common reaction to ghosting in the wedding industry is to assume it’s all about cost and to lower your prices. While it sometimes is about money, there are other reasons that cause people to avoid telling you no:

1. You’re sending your pricing right away.

Sticker shock is real, and if you’re one of the wedding pros they’re considering at the beginning of their planning process (namely planners, venues, or photographers), it is likely that the budget they have in their mind is not based in reality whatsoever.

People hear that the average wedding in the US is around $30k, they watch the “reality” wedding TV shows that display costs on the bottom of the screen without noting which items or services were comped or discounted by the vendors in exchange for publicity, they find creative inspiration on wedding blogs and magazines and don’t know that they will have to pay triple to make that design happen because they are getting married in a union town, and when they ask their friend what they spent on a given item, the friend feels uncomfortable sharing real numbers, so they tell a little white lie to seem smart and like they got a deal.

Your potential clients likely don’t know what real weddings cost because they have never gotten married before. Your primary role at this point in the process is to educate them in a way that shows your value.

Also, if you are sending prices right away, you’re not educating yourself on what their wedding will actually require from you. On top of that, you’re branding yourself as cookie cutter because you’re essentially saying “we only do these types of weddings, so we know how much to charge without talking to you.” Lose-lose.

If you’re still sending pricing right away, I’d encourage you to break this bad business habit.

2. You’re sending too much info too soon.

I’ve spent years doing research on how couples and their families truly approach their wedding spending and as a result developed WedType, a scientifically-based wedding buyer behavior model. Of the four types of wedding consumers (Seekers, Drivers, Researchers, and Lovers), Researchers are the ones who will read everything. For them, when it comes to information, more is better. For the other three types, more is too much.

While you won’t know right off the bat which WedType you’re dealing with, if you’re sending every possible piece of information, if you’re counting on people to read through all of your website and move on the exact right path through your marketing funnel, if you’re asking them to take a quiz or fill out a multi-page questionnaire before you even talk to them, you will overwhelm the majority of your potential clients.

When people feel overwhelmed, they subconsciously associate that feeling with you and your brand. This means that they may love your work but, for some reason they can’t quite put their finger on, feel like you would be burdensome/tiring/a drag to work with.

3. You’re being a little TOO efficient.

No one likes to feel like a number. No one likes to feel like a checkmark on your to-do list. And no one wants to feel like their wedding is one of 2.2 million a year and therefore not all that unique.

Automated replies have their place, but you probably don’t need to use them. Here’s some tough love: automated and canned replies may help you feel more organized and efficient behind the scenes, but they make you look cold and uncaring.

I’m willing to bet that when you wrote out your core values and mission statement for your business and marketing plans, “cold” and “uncaring” were not traits you included as wanting to be known as.

If you’re in the luxury space, this is especially true. High end means high touch. You get to charge more because you have to hold their hand through more of the process.

People almost always hire the person who makes them feel the best from the very beginning of the process. Be the person who’s willing to sacrifice a little bit of efficiency in order to make people feel truly valued, heard, and connected.

4. You’re not scheduling a followup BEFORE you send the proposal.

If you want to close the sale faster, or get to a firm “yes” or “no” answer more quickly, schedule a 10 minute call for a couple days after you send the proposal to discuss it and answer any questions they may have.

This is a decades-old tactic that is used by sales people all over the world because it works. Here’s a very simplified example of one of the ways it could play out:

Monday AM: You receive an inquiry via your website. Yay! You reply right away that you’d love to chat for 10 minutes to learn more about them and their wedding.

Monday PM: They’re available for a call after they get off work, so at 6 pm their time, you have a quick call. Towards the end, you say, “Congratulations again! I love your ideas! I’m going to send you a customized proposal by Wednesday. I want you to take a day or so to bounce it off your friends and family and get their feedback, then on Friday I’d love to chat with you to go over it and answer any questions you may have. What time works best for you this Friday for a quick 10 minute call?”

Wednesday: Send the proposal with a reminder to bounce it off their friends and family.

Friday: On your 10 minute call answer any questions they may have. Sell your value as you go through it.

The idea that if people want you they will find a way to pay for it is true to a point. Money doesn’t grow on trees and you may just be flat out of their budget even if they decide to scale back in other areas. If this is the case, tell them that you understand (because you do, because you also do not have an unlimited bank account), and that you’d love to refer them to some wedding pros who may be more in line with their budget. While you may not get the sale, you’re raising the bar for the industry by referring them to talented people rather than charlatans who are only good at Instagram.

You’ll want to tell them 10 minutes for these first phone calls because it is too early in the process for them to feel comfortable committing to a longer period of time. Typically once they’re on the phone, they’ll want to speak longer, but showing them up front that you are respectful of their time and schedule is important.

A quick note on telling them to bounce it off their family and friends: millennials and Gen Z grew up making decisions in groups thanks to a change in the educational system in the 1980’s. Giving them space to solicit feedback from people they trust allows them to feel more comfortable with you and not pressured to make a decision they may end up regretting. Their putting a priority on their college roommate’s opinion may feel like a slap in the face to you, the actual expert, but building trust with your potential client is the most important factor here.

5. No one likes being the bearer of bad news.

Everyone is human and no one wants the icky feeling that comes with letting someone else down. Even if you have an “it’s just business” mindset, your potential clients may still feel terrible telling you they’re going with someone else. Add to this the fact that they may have interviewed a dozen other wedding professionals in your category and it’s easy to understand how telling a dozen people “no” could put a huge damper on their day.

One way to combat this is to tell them that if you’re not the right fit, you’re happy to recommend someone else who may be better suited for them. This shows that you genuinely care about them having the best wedding, even if they don’t end up booking you. Generosity wins.

Ghosting is not a new phenomenon. All ages do it, and blaming it just on millennials or Gen Z is lazy thinking and a way to avoid doing the work of examining where you could be running your business better.

Originally published December 2018

The #1 Thing to Remove From Your Website's Inquiry Form

Increase your brand’s word of mouth and your industry referrals.

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

The point of your website isn't to close the sale. The point of your website is to get potential clients to contact you so you can start a conversation.

The number one thing on most wedding professionals' inquiry forms that can shut down a conversation before it even starts?

Asking for a specific wedding date. 

This seems counterintuitive at first – after all if you aren't available for their date, you aren't available. That said, asking for the date up front cheats both you and the bride or groom out of a conversation that can leave a memorable impression and increase your word of mouth.

First, depending on your segment of the industry, a potential client may have a few dates in mind. Their decision could depend on when their dream venue or the photographer they've been Insta-stalking for the past year has availability. It may depend on when their maid-of-honor can get vacation time approved.

If the date they enter to get past a mandatory field on your inquiry form triggers an automated "Sorry, we're booked" email reply, you've lost out on the possibility that the date they land on is actually one you have available.

Second, and most importantly, not skipping past that conversation means you have the opportunity to increase your future industry referrals and make the wedding industry better. 

One of my non-negotiable company values is to always provide a referral if I can't accept a project. This can be because I'm already booked, I'm out of their budget, their project isn't in my wheelhouse, or we just may not be a good fit for whatever reason. Giving them the name of someone who may be able to better help them reach their goals is not only beneficial to them, it brands me as helpful and allows me to support the other people in the business consulting space who are the real deal. 

The importance of that last part shouldn't be underestimated. Wedding pros in every single segment of the industry complain about oversaturation. Planners joke that "anyone who walks by a wedding at a resort" opens up shop the next day, photographers complain about people with an iPhone and VSCO calling themselves pros, and caterers complain that "anyone with a kitchen and the Food Network thinks they can do what we do." Some of the new people entering the industry are truly talented. Others are . . . not.

The truth of the matter is that if you are competing at the level you want to be at, most of your competitors will also be excellent at what they do. Bad apples end up affecting everyone, and the best way to ensure that the good people stay in business is to send them business. 

Have a list of names of people you trust and respect, including competitors in your category as well as those who may be at a lower price point but still good at what they do. You can send an actual PDF list or link, but I'd recommend taking a couple minutes to send a personalized recommendation:

"Hi Sally, Your wedding ideas sound beautiful! We are previously committed for your date, but based on what you've shared with me, I'd recommend reaching out to Annie at XYZ Events. Her style is very much in sync with yours, plus I think you'll hit it off personality-wise. Congratulations, again!"

A 90 second email that helps the couple, brands you as generous to both the client and the wedding pro, and earns you karma/reaping what you sow/what goes around comes around brownie points.

This particular couple may not have the budget for you, but "I couldn't afford him, but he still took the time to help me with recommendations," is great word of mouth and a kindness people remember. It also helps build a wedding community committed to excellence and weeding out the charlatans. A win-win for everyone.

Originally published June 2018

Wedding Spending Is Down: 6 Things You Can Do • No. 1

Here’s some not exactly splendid news: wedding spending is down in every budget category across the board, with the exception of the Ultra Luxury Wedding segment (budgets of $500,000+, not including the honeymoon).

Economists have been forecasting a recession to hit towards the end of 2019 for a while now, and while those predictions are not always accurate, wedding spending tends to be a canary in the coal mine for how people are feeling about their financial future.

If you haven’t yet felt the pinch in your own business, count yourself lucky, because many wedding professionals have. While you may not be dealing with it now, you can ask any colleague who went through the 2008 (or any previous) recession and they will tell you it’s better to prepare ahead of time than to be caught off guard.

At the end of my 2019 State of the Wedding Industry post, I outlined six things wedding professionals will need to do in order to navigate the coming uncertainties. Over the next few days, I want to dive into each one a little bit more in a blog series called 6 Ways to Survive a Recession. The first one is this:

Get super clear on what your brand is about and adjust your messaging accordingly.

When most people hear "get super clear about what your brand is about," they think of the age-old concept of "defining your why" (recently made popular again by Simon Sinek's book.) While it is true you need to know your intrinsic motivators for doing what you do (supporting your family, paying for your kids' Ivy League degrees, creating experiential memories for your family through amazing vacations, extending hospitality through a beautiful and nurturing home, building orphanages, etc), that is not what I am talking about here.

I am talking about getting clear about what you do and who it is for.

You’re smart, so you know that you need to go beyond “I plan weddings” for “brides and grooms.” Maybe you’ve landed on something like this:

“I specialize in planning beautiful weddings” for “couples who love love.”

This sentence may sound sweet, but it is meaningless marketing jumble. Let’s unpack why:

“I specialize in planning beautiful weddings." Yeah, no kidding.

Here’s where marketing messaging diverges from reality a bit: while there are definitely unstylish weddings out there, if no one is marketing themselves as “specializing in ugly weddings,” then saying you specialize in beautiful weddings lumps you in with everyone else. If no one is claiming the opposite, you will not stand out. If you specialize in beautiful weddings, you specialize in nothing.

Now for the second part: “for couples who love love.”

Again, this sounds sweet, but it is super generic: some people may be afraid of love, but very few actively dislike love. It does not drill down enough into which type of engaged couples you are actually looking to target.

To come up with who your work is for, ask yourself who you most want to work with and which types of weddings you most enjoy working on. Maybe your favorite clients are those who have multi-day weddings with a heavy religious and/or cultural focus. Maybe you want to work specifically with fashion-forward socialites. Maybe you’re happiest with clients who are “basic” (I’m currently typing this while drinking a latte from Starbucks, using a mousepad from Target, and wearing jeans from Nordstrom, so I’m definitely not knocking being basic). Maybe you want to specialize in luxe elopements. Whatever it may be, spend some time figuring out what type of client work brings you the most joy, that you can still make money at.

When you think about what you do, you will also want to primarily think about how it benefits who it is for, rather than making it all about yourself. In the end, people who hire you do so because they believe you can make them better in some way. Even your most loyal Instagram fans who double tap every photo and watch every Story do so because they believe you can make their own life better in some way. It is really not about you at all.

A Real-Life Example:

I’ll use my own company as an example here because I spent a lot of time figuring this out, plus I don’t want to highlight someone else who may be happy that others haven’t yet figured out their secret sauce. Think Splendid’s tagline is, “We help wedding industry leaders succeed.” Here’s an abbreviated version of my thought process behind how I landed on this:

What I Do:

I get bored easily. I like working on projects that vary from one another. I also like figuring out solutions to the challenges that come up after a company has been in business for a while. I most enjoy the cognitively difficult parts of consulting – the parts that require me to sit and think deeply and strategically through all different angles of a problem.

On top of that, I am good at this type of work. Really good at it. Being a deep thinker and overly analytical can often be unwelcome traits in many areas of my life, but they are wonderful assets in my career. Downplaying my gifts in this area is a surefire way to end up miserable in my job.

In order to do the type of consulting work I most love and that I am most good at, I have to set specific boundaries on the type of work I won’t do: I am not going to set up Quickbooks for you. I am not going to plan and produce marketing activations for you. I am not going to manage your social media for you. I am not going to pitch media outlets on your behalf. These are all valuable services and there are talented people you can hire to help you with them. They are not what I want to spend my time working on so they are not what I do.

Who It Is For:

I have actively studied (and practiced) leadership for the past twenty years. I like working with leaders. I like working on the types of problems they come to me with. These can be leaders who have been in business for several decades or people who found themselves in a position of leadership early on. Either way, being a leader requires a different mindset, and I prefer to work with people who already have that mindset. It is totally fine if someone doesn’t consider themselves a leader – there are lots of other business consultants who are happy to work with them and possibly even help them develop into someone who views themselves as a leader. But again, that is not the type of work I want to do.

The Benefit:

Success, on your terms. However you define success – whether a number, a lifestyle shift, a feeling or emotion, whatever – my work can help you achieve it. The keyword here being “help.” You are responsible for your own success, and the work I do can help you make it happen. It is not a magic wand or a silver bullet.

Why It Works:

First, it works because I am now more tightly focused on the work I enjoy doing.

Second, it works because my messaging is clear about what I do and who I am for (helping wedding industry leaders succeed), while leaving it open to various types of projects within those boundaries.

Third, it works because not every business consultant in the wedding space claims to work with leaders, so I am not lumping myself in with everyone else. Some people help companies just starting out. Some people focus primarily on finance and accounting. Some people focus primarily on tactics over strategy. Some people try to be a Jack- or Jane-of-all-trades. Not me. I want the hard problems that wedding industry leaders run into. That’s what I enjoy. That’s what I’m good at. So I say so.

Tell Potential Clients Why You’re Splurge-Worthy

As wedding budgets tighten and couples have to make decisions about which categories to cut back in and which to splurge in, you want to be the person they splurge on. Producing beautiful work and calling it beautiful is not enough. People won’t know how what you do is different or valuable until you clearly say so. So say so.

True humility doesn’t hide its gifts.