| Have you ever been in a situation where you had someone highly interested in your art, only to find yourself unable to make the sale? Afterwards, have you found yourself wondering in frustration, “what could I have done differently to help the client make the purchase?”
You’re not alone! Almost every artist has been in this situation at some point in his or her career. While not every encounter with a potential buyer will result in a sale, by understanding the sales process, you can dramatically increase the sales of your art.
I have been fortunate to work in the gallery business for almost 20 years and have sold millions of dollars in fine art during my career. More importantly, by using some of the critical sales skills that I will share with you here, I have been able to have consistent art sales year after year despite the twists and turns of the economic climate.
Selling art is an exciting challenge. The process of selling art takes persistence, patience and skill. Because it is a skill, however, it’s something you can learn, and with practice, master.
Over the years I’ve had some great teachers and I have learned a lot about the sales process through experience. In my recent book, How to Sell Art, I distill the process into simple, practical lessons that help artists like you become better at selling art.
Do you really need to learn these skills?
Some artists might feel that because they are showing their work in galleries or aren’t directly involved in the sales process, they don’t need to learn how to sell. I would reply that every artist can benefit by understanding the sales process. You are going to have opportunities throughout your career to interact directly with collectors at shows and in your studio.
You will also benefit by better understanding what is happening in the galleries that show and sell your work.
If you are participating in art shows or festivals or open studio tours where you are interacting directly with potential buyers it is even more critical that you begin mastering the sales process.
As an introduction to How to Sell Art I would like to share five critical skills that can serve as a starting point as you begin to devote your attention to the sales process.
#1 – Learn Your Client’s Name and Use it Frequently.
The process of selling art is all about building relationships. The best way to start a relationship off on the right foot is by showing your client that you are interested in getting to know him. Exchanging names is a great way to send this message.
It’s often been said that the sweetest sound in any language is the sound of one’s own name. I’m not sure if this is true, but I do know I always feel an instant connection to someone who goes to the effort to learn my name. It makes me feel important. Your clients will feel important and will pay attention to what you have to say if you take the time to learn their names.
“But I am terrible at remembering names,” you say. Guess what? Everyone has a hard time remembering names at first.
I have several techniques I use to remember clients’ names. First, as soon as I hear a name I try and repeat it back to the client. Instead of “It’s nice to meet you,” I always try to say, “It’s nice to meet you Jim and Nancy.” Second, I repeat the name over and over in my mind. As I am first conversing with a client, one part of my brain is repeating over and over, “Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Nancy, Nancy, Nancy.” Finally, I try to write the names down as quickly as possible. After an introduction, I step back to let my clients look around the gallery. During this time, I jot down their names on a note card at my desk. The sooner I write their name down, the more likely I am to remember it, so if I do forget I can always refer back to my notes.
Be sure to use your client’s name throughout every conversation.
You will be amazed how this one simple technique will change your footing in your relationship with customers.
In my book, I share additional techniques and advice on learning and using clients’ names.
#2 – Listen to your Clients.
Another method that will help you build better relationships is to listen carefully to your customers. Many art sales people think in order to become a better salesperson you have to learn how to say the right thing to your customer (you may have even thought this yourself). Over the years I have found I am far more effective at selling when the client is doing most of the talking. I try to spend 80% of my time listening and 20% talking.
The best way to get your customers talking is by asking great questions.
“What are you looking for in particular today?”
“Where are you from?”
“What kind of work do you do?”
“What kind of art do you collect?”
These are all great questions to begin a conversation. Notice that none of these questions can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”, but are instead open-ended questions that encourage conversation.
Once a customer begins to talk, be sure to ask good follow up questions. There are many directions a conversation can go, and I provide some great examples of follow up questions in my book to help you steer your conversations in the right direction.
#3 – Tell a Story.
I find, in most cases, that people buy art because they feel an emotional connection to the work. At some deeper level your work has resonated with the client. If you can enhance the emotional connection with a great story about the artwork, you are far more likely to proceed to a sale.
Art buyers are interested in learning about your inspiration for a piece. They will share what they learn with friends and family members who see the art in their home.
I work with an artist who types out stories about each of his pieces. In his narratives, he explains the creative process and shares his inspiration for the subject matter. While you may not need to write explanations for every piece you create, developing a narrative about your work that you can share with your galleries and directly with customers will help you tell better stories and keep your clients engaged.
In my book, I give you a primer for starting the narrative process. You begin telling a story by answering the following questions (depending on your medium):
What drew you to your subject?
Have you created other art on the same subject previously?
What surprised you most about the subject?
What most excites you in the artwork?
What response are you hoping to inspire through the piece?
Read How to Sell Art to gain additional insight on what to say (and what not to say) when telling the story of your art.
#4 Ask for the Sale!
While there are some buyers who will see a piece of art, fall in love with it and reach for their credit card, more often you will have to ask the client for the sale. You may have lost sales you felt were very close to completion simply because you didn’t ask for the sale.
Asking for the sale is one of the greatest challenges any salesperson faces. Your timing and tone have to be right – you want to be careful not to sound pushy. Ultimately, however, it’s most important to learn to ask for the sale whenever someone is interested in your art and to then get a lot of practice closing.
My typical close is very simple. “Would you like to do it, Jim?” I’ll ask, or “Well Nancy, can I wrap that up for you?” You would be amazed at how frequently the response to this kind of question is “Yes!”
Even if the answer is “No,” or “Not right now, I need to think about it,” I now have an opportunity to ask more questions and find out why the client isn’t ready to commit. This in turn gives me the opportunity to start to help the client resolve any concerns they have about the purchase (I include an entire chapter in my book on how to discover and resolve concerns).
I speak to many artists who tell me they hate to try to close the sale because they are afraid of failure, embarrassment, or rejection. Isn’t it even worse to lose the sale and not know why?
Since writing my book, How to Sell Art, I have received emails and phone calls from artists who’ve closed sales they might have otherwise lost because they now understand the closing process.
#5 – Follow up.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, clients are unable or unwilling to make a purchase on the spot. While an immediate sale is always the goal, when this isn’t possible you need to have a good follow up system in place.
We have recently closed several significant sales at the gallery that were months in the making. These sales wouldn’t happen were it not for good follow up. This is especially true of many larger sales that require more deliberation on the part of the client.
Commit yourself to actively following up with every potential buyer.
In order to follow up effectively, be sure to do the following:
1. Collect contact information.You’re going to have a hard time following up with customers if you have no way to contact them. We’ve developed a simple method for acquiring contact information from our clients. Instead of giving them a photo of a piece of art or a brochure, we offer to email them the information directly. We hand them a card to fill out that asks not only for their email address, but also for their physical contact information so we can follow up by mail as well as electronically.
2. Be persistent. I have had to follow up with some clients seven or eight (sometimes even more) times before receiving a response. In my book, I give you templates you can use to follow up by providing valuable information so that your persistence isn’t annoying. During the course of your follow up, you may send a thank you note, an image of the artwork, your biographical information, and additional information about the piece in which they are interested. Don’t send all the information at once – instead you can send a series of emails and notes so that the client is repeatedly reminded of you and your work.
3. Don’t give up. Several years ago, I made a sale to a client who never responded to my initial attempts at making contact. After sending about eight communications with no response I added the client’s name to my mailing list so that she would continue to be reminded of the gallery and the art she had seen. One day, out of the blue, she called to find out if the painting she had liked was still available. Even though the painting had sold, I was able to show her more work from the artist and she ended up making a purchase. This was over 18 months after our first contact!
Don’t worry too much about being annoying – your clients will let you know when they’re no longer interested. Until then, far better to be proactive and make sure they don’t forget about you.
The process of selling art doesn’t have to be mysterious. I invite you to begin to sharpen your art sales skills by reading my book How to Sell Art today. How to Sell Art will give you step-by-step guidance through the entire sales process. The information is easy to read, integrate, and remember!
If you are a painter, sculptor, fine-art photographer, jeweler, gallery salesperson or art promoter, you will benefit by reading How to Sell Art.
In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.