Anatomy of a Sale | The Virtue of Gentle Persistence

From time to time, I like to share how a sale occurred, step by step. Even though every sale unfolds along a different path, I have found that analyzing the sale can help me sell better in the future. I hope that getting some insight into how I work will help you better sell your art as well.

I also regularly write about the importance of follow-up and persistence. Last week I closed the second of two sales with a client that I think illustrates how important these factors are in generating sales. Hopefully this experience will prove of value as you interact with your next client.

Meeting New Clients

In early November I was in our new, second gallery over a weekend when a couple and their daughter rode up on bicycles. The family lives just a couple of miles from the gallery and were out on an afternoon ride when a collage by Dave Newman in the front window caught their attention.

The came into the gallery to look more closely and I introduced myself. The husband let me know that they knew Dave’s work, having seen it in Dave’s gallery in Prescott, AZ.

As the family looked around, they also recognized another artist we carry, Michael Swearngin and we had a great conversation as I got to know a little about them. Though they were interested in our artists, they didn’t zero in on anything in particular and didn’t seem to be in the market to buy artwork at the moment.

Undeterred by their lack of specific interest, I let them know that I would soon be receiving new work by Dave Newman as well as our other artists, and that I would be happy to let them know of new work and upcoming shows if they would provide me with their contact information. I handed them our contact card (download a copy) and the husband filled it out.

After saying goodbye, the family walked out the front door and and peddled away on their bikes. I was left with their contact information, a vague sense that they liked the art I was showing and not much else.

The Follow-up Begins

I’m sure you’ve had similar interactions with people in the past who showed an interest in your work, but haven’t given you much to go on. Because there isn’t anything specific to follow up on, it can be tempting to add the clients to your mailing list and then forget about them. I was determined that I wouldn’t let this be the case, and fired off a quick email (names abbreviated to protect the innocent):

T., it was a pleasure meeting you and W. this afternoon. I’ve added you to our email list so that you’ll get notices about Dave Newman and Michael Swearngin’s show. I promise we won’t fill your inbox with emails – just an occasional announcement about new work or shows.

If there’s ever any way I can be of service, please let me know.

Jason

artwork

I included a couple of photos along with the email to remind them of the pieces they had seen in the gallery. Again, because there wasn’t anything specific in which they had expressed interest, I chose pieces I felt were bold representations of the artists’ work.

The next day, I received a reply:

Jason:
enjoyed meeting you as well.
We will stop by the other store soon. [referring to our original gallery]
Let me know when you get the other Newman & Swearngin pieces in.
Thanks,
T.

Perfect! Now I had something to work on. It just happened that Dave was going to be delivering work within the next few days. After Dave had delivered the pieces, I called the client to let him know we had new work and to invite him to stop back by the gallery to see them.

Within a day the client came back in to look at the new work. He was definitely more interested in some of these new pieces. He let me know that he needed to show the work to his wife and I told him we would be happy to deliver the work to his home so that they could see how the art looked in their space.

T. said that sounded great, but wanted to show the pieces to his wife online before deciding which pieces to have us bring out. He promised to get back to me in the next few days to make arrangements.

That evening I received an email asking about pricing on several pieces:

Jason:
What is the price of the Matchbook Chief and the two Sahuaro cactus paintings I was looking at?
Great talking with you today.

and then:

Jason:
Sorry, I do have the price of the 60″ X 24″ Sahuaro.
I just need price of 48″ X 30″ (Deep Frame) and the Matchbook Chief.
Thanks

My reply:

Here is the pricing on those three (I threw in the Saguaro so you would have all three):

Match Book Chief Series by Dave Newman

#128763

Match Book Chief Series

by Dave Newman

43″ x 43″

Mixed Media

$5,700

Surreal Cactus Series by Dave Newman

#128782

Surreal Cactus Series

by Dave Newman

48″ x 30″

Mixed Media

$5,100

Surreal cactus Series by Dave Newman

#98802

Surreal cactus Series

by Dave Newman

60″ x 24″

Acrylic /Mixed Media

$6,100

Let me know if you need any additional information, if you would like to see the work in your home, or if I can be of service in any other way.

Thanks!

Jason

Several days passed after I sent this email, and in the meantime, we sold 5 of Dave Newman’s works to a client in Las Vegas, including the Matchbook Chief. I wrote to my client:

Hi T. –

We sold the Matchbook Chief (as well as the gas pump) over the weekend, but the cacti are available. Would you like to see them in your home? Let me know how I can be of service. Thanks!

Response:

Thanks for the update.
Do you think you will get
another matchbook chief?
Also, if I wanted to get a few
Pieces and see which looked the
Best in our home, what is the best
Way to coordinate that?

Thanks,
T

My reply:

I touched base with Dave Newman and he already had another Chief in the works, so I hope to see images of it over the weekend. I’ll pass them along to you as well as dimensions as soon as they are available.

As far as seeing the other work, you can let me know which pieces and a convenient time and I can bring them over for to see. If you would prefer to pick the pieces up yourself we can do that as well. You can live with the pieces for up to 48 hours to see which works best. Would you like to set up a time?

Jason

The next day from T.:

Jason
My wife is out of town
until late tonight. We have
soccer tournament over the
weekend, but will try and stop
by sometime on Sat or Sun.
Thanks.

Thanks,
T.

My reply:

Sounds great. We actually won’t be open on Sunday, but we’re open from 10-5 on Saturday or any other day of the week. If you get a chance, let me know when you are coming in so I can make sure I’m at our original gallery to see you. I’ll look forward to seeing you and W.!

And later:

Another thought – Dave will be in the gallery first thing tomorrow morning (Friday) – any chance you would be available for Coffee or a quick breakfast? I would love for you to meet him!

T.’s response didn’t come until Friday, after Dave had already delivered the new work:

We can’t make it today, but will
try and stop by on Saturday

Thanks,
T.

My reply:

Sounds great – the new pieces Dave brought in are a bit on the smaller side, but very nice.

Unfortunately, the trail now went a little cold. T. and his wife didn’t end up visiting the gallery that weekend. I called the next week to see if they might be able to come in, and T. let me know that they were in the middle of a soccer tournament for their daughter and that the next few days were going to be crazy.

I told T. that we were working on the catalog for Dave Newman’s upcoming January show and promised him I would send him a .pdf of the catalog as soon as the design work was finished.

I made this offer for several reasons. First, it was a good excuse for me to be back in touch without becoming a pest. Second, it was an opportunity for me to let the client feel like he was getting special treatment. He would be among the first to see the catalog. Third, I new that Dave’s new Matchbook Chief piece would be in the catalog, and that it was so awesome as to be nearly irresistible!

A few days later the catalog design was complete and I emailed him the .pdf:

Hi T.-

As promised, here’s a sneak peak at the catalog for Dave Newman’s show. All of the pieces in the catalog are currently available, but I expect a number of them will be spoken for pretty quickly once the catalog is out (in about two weeks). Let me know if the Matchbook Chief is of interest – I would expect it to be one of the first to go.

I don’t have any of these in the gallery yet, but if you would like to see them I can coordinate with Dave to have them brought down.

Thanks!


Jason

NewmanCatalog

You can see in this email I’m working to create a bit of a sense of urgency here, but in this case, I’m not manufacturing the urgency, there was a very real risk the piece would sell if my client didn’t act right away.

The next day:

Jason,
the chief looks really good! Love the blue background.
Do you have a picture and dimensions for the new American Flag?
T.

And a few minutes later:

Jason:
I am definitely interested in the matchbook chief. If you can get it, I would love to see it in person.
Thanks,
T

My response:

T.,

I just spoke to Dave – he’s in LA until the end of next week, and then hoping to come down the week of Christmas or between Christmas and New Years to bring down new work. I’ll make sure that no one else sees the chief before you do.

The new flag piece is awesome too. I already have it, so let me know a time and I can have it available at the gallery [it wasn’t hanging yet and was in our back room] or I can bring it by your home. It’s a little smaller than the last one we had, but there’s a lot of great detail.

Flag Series by Dave Newman

Flag Series by Dave Newman
#129694
Flag Series
by Dave Newman
26″ x 40″
Acrylic /Mixed Media
$3,800

T.’s reply:

Jason
I would like to see the American Flag.
Also, let me know when you get the chief in the studio.
Thanks,

My email:

Hi T, – I will have the American Flag at our new gallery tomorrow morning. Do you want to stop by and see it, or would you like me to bring it by your home? It looks like we’ll have the Matchbook Chief here next Monday.

Thanks!

T.’s reply the next morning:

Jason
I have a meeting this morning.
I will try and swing by this afternoon

Thanks,
T

We exchanged a few more emails that I’m not including here where he let me know what time he would stop by, and then several more letting me know he was going to be late.

When he came in late that afternoon, I had hung the flag painting in a dramatic spot in the gallery with strong lighting and a lot of space around it. He loved it and asked if he could take it home to try it above their fireplace.

I took a credit card number to hold the piece and we negotiated a purchase price. We loaded the piece in his car and he drove away.

The next morning I receive a text message with a photo:

Jason
Here are a few pics. The Flag works great. I will get $$ and call you late this am to find a good time to drop by.

171

He stopped by a few hours later with a check. I let him know that Dave Newman was going to be down on the following Monday or Tuesday with the Matchbook Chief piece, and he told me that he would be in Tucson on Monday evening and Tuesday, but could come in on Wednesday (the Wednesday before Christmas) to look at the piece.

As soon as Dave arrived with the piece on Tuesday morning, I hung it and sent off a text message with an image of the piece hanging in the same dramatic spot I had hung the flag.

It’s here, and it’s awesome! The photo can’t do it justice – can’t wait for you to see it in person – Jason

IMG_20151222_145848

T.’s text reply:

Looks great! Just got back from Tucson. I will come by tomorrow

T. came by the next morning to see the piece and loved it. Again, we loaded the piece in his car so he could take it home and see it in the space.

Later that afternoon he texted:

Heading over with check.

When he arrived he gave me a check, and photos of the piece.

IMG_1005 IMG_1006

The process from the time I first met T. and his family to the first purchases was about 45 days and involved a total of 24 emails, 13 text messages, 3-5 phone calls and 4 meetings in the galleries.

There were a lot of moving parts as the client’s interest shifted from one piece to another.

You can see from my email chain that I adopted a pretty informal tone in our communication. This tone mirrors the friendly, warm nature of our conversations when T. was in the gallery. It’s important to remember that every sale is different and that you will need to adapt to the individual needs of your clients as you work with them.

These sales required persistence, but I also try to carefully walk the line between being persistent and being a pest. I’m always looking for opportunities to communicate with new information or new details so that I can be helpful instead of sounding desperate to make a sale happen.

In the end, the art business is all about making your clients happy, and I know that sometimes I have to risk being overly persistent in order to make this happen. I also know that it’s worth it. I’ve never had a client tell me they regretted purchasing a piece of art, or wish that I hadn’t followed up with them.

Share your Thoughts!

I hope you’ve enjoyed following this sale as it unfolded and that you found something helpful in how I pursued the sale and worked with my clients. Share any thoughts or questions in the comments below.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

30 Comments

  1. I like the tone you created, along with the patience you showed while imparting that sense of being special and of some urgency in an easy call-to-action for pieces that your client admires. Good stuff.

  2. Jason,
    I have never been that persistent in selling my work because I am concerned about being off-putting, but it clearly works for you. I suppose I might alienate someone if I am more persistent, but if they weren’t going to buy anyway, I have not lost a sale. I worry about getting a reputation for being pushy though – has that happened to you? How do you know when to quit?

    1. Great questions Karen. A big part of this is reading how your client responds. In this case, the client was always receptive and responsive to my emails and other communication, so it was easy. Even when clients are less responsive, however, I would err on the side of persistence. As you say, I would rather know that I had done everything in my power to make it happen than to be left wondering if I should have done more.

  3. What a great post. Although my market is portraits, I can see how much of what you’ve shared applies to dealing with potential clients.

    I can also see how I’ve fallen down on the job with most potential clients.

    One question, though.

    I always wonder how to strike the best balance between personable and professional in dealing with potential portrait clients. Obviously, they’re all different. Some are businessmen, some full-time horse people, and some are people for whom their horses are a hobby or a companion.

    Beyond the obvious suggestion of taking the time to get to know each person, what tips would you share for working with potential portrait clients?

    Thanks again!

    I always look forward to your articles.

    Best wishes,

    Carrie L. Lewiw

    1. Great question Carrie. Although my natural tendency is to be more personable, I default to being professional when first working with a client until I get the signal from them that they are open to less formal communication. I would rather be accused of being too polite than being too casual. It’s all about reading your client’s tone of voice and the tone in their communication.

  4. Great work, Jason! There were many points in the described process where sales could have fallen through the cracks. Your persistence and patience are to be commended. Isn’t it amazing what can be accomplished by email? Thanks for the details of your emails. People are so busy and in so many places that it is difficult to stay connected without the new tools.

  5. I was heartened to read your entire communication with this client. There definitely is, as you said, a fine line between being persistent and being a pest, and to see how you navigated that line is enlightening. Thank you.

  6. Great post Jason! It’s really interesting to read all the back-and-forth emails. I didn’t think at any time that you were too persistent, just really helpful! Congratulations on the sales and a very Happy New Year to you, your family and all your staff at the two Xanadu galleries!!!

  7. Thanks for giving so much detail on how you made the sales. I really like how you sent a unique email when you added the client to your mailing list. It’s a small effort that I’m sure helps build relationships. Also, I’m impressed with your persistence to just keep following up!
    Happy New Year!

  8. Wow. Thank you for this article (and all of the others)! I get so energized when I read your posts like this one. And then……I remember “the one”. The one studio visitor that was very interested in a piece but wanted to return after visiting other studios in the building. I like to think that I did all I could at that moment but had the disadvantage of being the first studio she visited. She didn’t come back. I did get her contact information and sent a follow up email (following advice from another post of yours)…… I heard crickets. I found another reason to send another email a week later. No reply. So I gave up and just put her on my general email letter list. And now I’m one of those wondering “should I have done more?”. And “What else?”.

    1. Hi Jennifer – we all have many “one”s that have gotten away. I will follow up at least 5-6 times if I don’t hear back from a customer. Again, I would rather err on the side of doing too much than not enough.

      I’m not sure how long ago this incident was, but just for fun, reach out to her again with an image of a recent work and see what happens. We’ve made sales to customers who we’ve been reaching out to for years and never heard a word until they suddenly pop up and buy something. What do you have to lose?

      (Be sure and email me if something interesting happens!)

      1. I appreciate your reply, Jason. I absolutely will send another email. This was about a month and a half ago, so maybe something will spark? You’re right, what DO I have to lose? Will follow up if something happens. Thanks!

  9. It was very helpful to read the entire e-mail thread. Typically most of my customers are people I know in the community, even former students from my high school teaching days. To come off as pushy was always a big concern, but for a recent sale of one of my larger pieces, I was far more bold in my follow up. I know the customer was highly interested in the piece, but it had already been committed to a show in New York. Rather than risk a change of heart, I requested a small deposit to mark the piece as ‘not for sale’ in the show. Customer was agreeable after meeting to see the piece in person (she had only seen it on my website). Once the piece was returned to me, my first few e-mails went unanswered. Uh oh. I persisted, remaining friendly and offering to deliver it to her home – Thanks Jason for that piece of advice! She had been ill and with her job and kids, my e-mails had lowered on the priority list. Offering to deliver was the perfect way to close the sale without letting it drag on for several weeks. Happy customer.

  10. Jason, loved reading all about the sale of the works from your gallery. So interesting to read the emails back and forth and to see how your follow up and persistence paid off in the end!

  11. Jason, I can totally relate to this entire scenario and appreciate you sharing your experience. Your artists (and clients) are very fortunate to have your dedication making it all happen….bringing joy to all!

  12. Hi Jason,
    Thank you for this excellent example of committed salesmanship of American art.
    Over the months I have pondered your invitations to appear in your catalogue and to apply for inclusion in your second gallery. Apart from the obvious shipping costs from Downunder, I recognise that the style of art which sells in your galleries is unmistakably American, in particular south-western.
    My art is predominantly European in nature, punctuated by local Australian scenes. Given my observations, elucidated above, my artworks would be unlikely to sell in Scottsdale.
    My best wishes for a successful 2016.

  13. Jason, I read the account of this sale and hung on every word as you and the potential client communicated back and forth. It was like reading a real page turner mystery. I agree with some previous comments regarding your tone, getting a feel for the client, and knowing just how informal to be. I think years of experience helps. I can only thank you for sharing the tale with all of us out here in the trenches.

  14. Hi Jason-
    I really loved reading about this interaction between you and your client. I learned so much! I am wondering what you do as far as $$$ when it comes to lending art out on approval. Do you take their credit card info but not charge it yet, I assume?

    Thank you so much!

    Wendy

  15. As it turns out, I am in the middle of a possible sale of a piece I have hanging at the Arthritis Associates with one of the patients. They are doing some tile work and other upgrades in their home and should be done by the middle of January. We are keeping in touch by email and she is interested in seeing some of my other pieces in person that are on the website. I’m following your advice on how to proceed and feel positive a sale or two will be made.

  16. I loved reading this. You really listened to your client and the flow of the communication allowed you to judge pretty clearly how to proceed.

    Sales are hard work for most of us and getting to know your collectors is so incredibly helpful. I am pretty connected with most of my clients. I keep it casual but always to the point when talking business.

    Fortunately. I am a very articulate artist. I am passionate and enthusiastic. I am blessed that most of my clients really love that they can talk to me about my art and I am more than happy to share what is important to me about a particular piece or my work as a whole. Because of my ability to articulate my passion and motivations behind my work, I have found that clients keep coming back as they not only love the art but they understand the process, the connection I have to my work and what is means to me which also seems to resonate pretty deeply with them also.

    It’s amazing how many ways there are to generate sales and the way in which we interact with our clients.

    thank you for your amazing insights….I only found you about a week ago but have loved every single post I’ve read!

  17. Really interesting post, the thing that moved me the most was seeing photos of the pieces in the clients home. Magic! Almost as if the paintings were made for the space.

  18. I narrowly missed a sale when I was exchanging some work in a gallery. A man literally stopped my husband in the hallway carrying a landscape and asked him if he bought it. When hubby explained he then asked how much was the painting. His wife immediately walked up and nixed the conservation quickly. My husband pulled him away where I was speaking with gallery staff to meet me. Again, the wife intervened to get her husband out of there but he was interested enough to go to his car after his business card. The city was distant from my locale, but surprise, he was building a second home in my county. I invited him to my studio and another gallery to see some other work. He committed he would. The whole interaction was a hurried ten minutes … little time to establish rapport.
    I followed up with an email and attached two images of new work. He responded with a thank you and explained he was building a house and opening another real estate office … those are what he wanted the artwork in. Such enterprises take a terrific amount of time. Up to a year. I’ve emailed since then to keep in touch but know this patron will not be in a serious buying situation for many months … I will step up communication this summer and hope to close a sale. I’m feeding off his initial reaction in seeing that first painting; it wasn’t casual.
    My point to this story is, sometimes a sale takes a long time. Art is rarely an impulse buy. It is often a considered, thoughtful purchase.

  19. Nicely done. Between reading your book, listening to you and Barney Davis’s videos and the courses, I recently applied a bit of urgency to a potential sale and it happened! A teacher in my building had apparently fallen for a large piece but hadn’t said anything yet, and I sold it to a past collector. When he expressed sorrow over the loss of the piece, I brought out another piece in a similar vein. He and his wife thought about it for a week until I told him I had a collector coming to see my new work- and made the sale! In the past my follow up hasn’t been good at all, but you have made me a believer.

  20. “… and we negotiated a purchase price. ”

    Hi Jason … I would love to hear more about how you proceed AND succeed with this process, for example, for the sale of a $3800 painting. And does your price include sales tax? Any wisdom you can share on this would be fabulous! Thanks Jason, and HAPPY NEW YEAR to you, your family and your gallery team!!

    All the very best in 2016!

    Susan

  21. What a great post, Jason. You are ‘smooth’ for sure, and genuine and generous at the same time – traits to be admired! Apart from a feeling of gratitude to you for sharing your ‘system/journey’ with us, I did have another emotional response when I saw the photo of the Flag hanging over the fireplace in a place of prominence. It was a feeling of slight nausea and discomfort (a good painting evokes an emotional response, it is said?). Regardless of how well a painting is rendered or by whom, it made me realize once again that there is no accounting for taste. I suppose ethnocentricity at its finest. But hey! It sold and made some folks happy. And isn’t that what this is all about?

  22. Hi Jason,
    I really appreciated and enjoyed reading tis post with the persistent effort and follow up it took you to make the sales happen. i need to apply this process into getting into galleries!
    Thanks so much!!!
    Santana Star

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