Artists: Better Serve Your Customers by Knowing Who they Are

Having spent twenty years in the gallery business, I’ve seen every type of buyer. I’ve worked with celebrities, business people, the retired, the young, the old and everything between. In past posts, I’ve encouraged you to treat every contact as a potential collector – you never know when someone you least expect will turn into a buyer. If you’ve been selling art for any length of time, you’ve certainly established a base of collectors from many walks of life.

After a while, however, you probably began to notice patterns among your buyers. You may notice that most of your buyers are of a certain age, that many work in a particular field, or come from a certain region. Eventually, you might even start to feel that you can spot a buyer from a distance based on your experience with past buyers.

I would caution you to be careful about this. It’s great to give someone who fits the profile of your buyers care and attention, but if you aren’t careful, you might develop a prejudice against people who don’t fit this profile. This may lead you to miss out on sales to those who are outside that profile because you don’t put your full efforts into engaging them.


With that caution out of the way, I would encourage you to spend some time analyzing your past buyers to see if you can discern common traits among your buyers. Understanding who your buyer is will help you better target your art marketing efforts to reach them. If you know who your buyer is, you will be better able to place your art in galleries or other venues where your buyer can see your work. You will be better able to say the right things about your work in your artist’s statement to appeal to the buyer’s sensibilities. You will be able to price your work in a way that will fit your buyer’s budget.

To the extent that you are able, try to answer the following questions about your buyers:

  • Age?
  • Professional background?
  • Residence location?
  • Gender?
  • Are your buyers putting the work in their home or business?

So how do you get this information? You don’t want to come across as an interrogator as you work with your clients, but by engaging them in good conversation and asking a lot of questions you can start to tease out these details. Questions are incredibly beneficial – they not only give you information about your buyer, they help you engage at a deeper level with the buyer.

Prospecting for Information When You Are Not in Direct Contact With the Buyer

What if you are selling your work through galleries and not having direct interaction with buyers? Train your galleries to get this information for you by asking them about the buyers.

“I know you can’t share the clients’ contact information,” you might say, “but tell me a little bit about them, where are they from? Did they mention their professions? Where is my piece going to be displayed?”

If you want to dive a little deeper and you have the client’s home address, you can also use a site like Zillow.com to discover the approximate value  of the client’s home and how long they’ve been there. Again, you want to exercise your best judgement here. I’m not suggesting that you try to invade your client’s privacy, but understanding the home value (using public documents) can help you in your future marketing efforts if you decide, for example, to do a direct mailing campaign.

In the end, all of this research will help you better serve your customers, and better place your art in front of those who are most likely interested in it.

I received an email from an artist who recently went through this process of analyzing her clientele. I asked her permission to share her findings here so that you may see what she discovered by spending some time getting to know her clients.

MY COLLECTORS: A PROFILE

Prompted by an article I had read, I looked back at my art sale records to find out what sort of person had been buying my paintings. Did they have anything in common?

I found that my patrons were usually married women or married couples, most with solid upper-middle incomes and traditional homes, in upscale rural or suburban areas. The great majority were local, residing within 50 miles of my home, where I maintain a studio/gallery. I was also selling paintings to a husband or wife who was buying the work for their spouse, often as a surprise because the spouse had had an opportunity to see and admire the work previously in person. The majority of my collectors have purchased more than one artwork from me. Most of my collectors were known to me before they bought a painting.

These buyers had a range of exposure to art, and most were in the early stages of being bitten by the “collector bug,” rather than being seasoned collectors. In a number of cases, I had sold work to people who had never purchased an original artwork before, and their excitement at doing so was extremely rewarding. Nearly all of those first-time buyers returned to purchase additional pieces from me.

These collectors valued what I have to offer, which is reasonably priced paintings, in a range of sizes that are still small enough to fit into the wall spaces offered by most traditional homes, executed in a loose but still representational style that emphasizes surface texture and the individual stroke. My collectors have always commented on and liked my framing, which they say fits seamlessly into their homes and is most often a simple and unadorned gold frame setting off the piece.

Some of my collectors have loved my watercolors and others my oils, and although they tend to go with their preference in repeat purchases, there are instances of crossover. The subject matter they choose is of interest: my plein air landscape work painted while traveling and during plein air competition events is quite often purchased by a local buyer from that location because the scenes will be familiar. A well-executed landscape of a remembered, beloved location will also trigger a purchase from a buyer, as well as a painting of a particular subject such as skipjacks or horse racing for those who follow what I do in those areas. Those who purchase watercolors may be attracted to still lifes or florals, which I often paint in watercolor and much more rarely in oil. Those who like watercolors usually have a strong preference for the medium, and so will also seek out landscape subjects.

Rather than seeing the wide range of collectors I had expected to find, I saw a pattern of patrons who were most often female, married, in their 50’s and 60’s, well established financially, and who leaned to the traditional in their tastes. Although I knew many women buyers to be married, the female purchasers often felt confident in their choices without a consult with their spouse, whereas this was much less often true when men made the purchases—these purchases were more often made as a couple, or as a gift preselected by the wife.

Prepared by Claudia Brookes: claudiabrookes.com

What Do you Think?

Have you analyzed your customers? If so, what did you learn? Share your thoughts and reaction to this article in the comments below.

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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 ARTsala. 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. Connect with Jason on Facebook

11 Comments

  1. This a very good article and gave me a lot to think about. I need to more intentional in evaluating my clients. Since I do realism the client has particular personality. They usually connect with landscape on some emotional level. They also tend to be conservative and upper middle class. I have not found the locations where they buy the most because they are always changing. Show sales have been down this year. I have talked to other artists who are experiencing the same problem. I think because the economy is better people are doing renovations and other projects that they have put off for awhile.

    I also need to more intentional in keeping up with the relationships of clients.

  2. Once again we get back to the dilemma that if the gallery will not share information about the clients, the artist is up a creek. I live in a small town and show in two local galleries. One shares information, so I can send the client a thank-you card and if the purchaser is someone I know , I can thank them personally.

    The other gallery will not tell me who buys my paintings, so even if I saw them at the grocery store I would have no idea they were one of my collectors. Sometimes the purchaser will meet me in another context and say, “Oh, I’m glad to meet you. I have one of your paintings and I just love it.” But I feel at a disadvantage when I have to say, “I didn’t know that – the gallery didn’t tell me who bought it.”

    This practice of not sharing information is counter-productive for the artists. I know that galleries are worried about the client or artist “going behind their back” and selling directly, so they won’t get a commission. But I fail to understand why a gallery should get a commission on every sale to a particular client forevermore, just because they sell a couple of pieces from the gallery.

    Not every gallery is good at promoting their artists and following through with clients. If a gallery does a good job of that, they will sell more and earn their commissions. But if not, the artist should not be prevented from doing their own follow-through and developing a collector base on their own.

  3. I would like to hear from artists reading this blog whose work is non-traditional, contemporary, abstract, large, etc. Who buys your work? Do you live in a large city? Where are the galleries that represent you?

    Thanks!

  4. As a gallery owner, I understand the importance of understanding your customer and recognizing why they purchase what they do. I do want to make the point at this time, that I feel it is extremely important for the gallery and the artist to establish a working relationship of trust and understanding.Galleries have a notorious reputation of not being so up and up with their artists. I want my artists to know who purchased their work, and exactly for how much. With each payment I make to my artists I include a copy of the bill of sale, along with a copy of the charge receipt. This allows them to catalog all of their buyers, so that should they one day have a retrospective of their work, they will be able to find those paintings. It also shows that the gallery is not discounting their work and keeping more for itself. My artists appreciate my transparency with them and respect me all the more. Many of my artists also like to write a thank you letter to their buyers. Clients like that, and have commented to me on it. In my contract with my artists, there is a ” non- compete clause” which prohibits the artist from contacting the client for the purpose of selling their work directly to the client as long as they are under contract with the gallery. Should the gallery determine that an artist has done just that, the gallery has the legal right to seek recourse. It is rather easy with social media for the artist and the buyer to find one another, however gallery/ artist loyalty is what serves to be the major protective factor.

    It is not only important to know who your buyer is, but it is also important for the artist to know what it is about their work that the public likes or dislikes. The artist does not have the luxury of hearing the public’s comments daily like the gallery does. I always sit down at some point and tell my artists individually what it is that the public responds to about their work, ( both favorably and unfavorably). Most artists accept this information with a positive and grateful attitude, and at times adjust their art to have even greater appeal. There typically is a general type of buyer for each artist. It is important to ascertain who that buyer is for marketing reasons, but never rule out anyone who walks in that door.

    1. You sound like you have a good grasp of how to treat your clients and your artists. I wish all galleries would do what you are doing. I also think any artist that goes behind a gallery’s back is not an ethical artist and should no longer be allowed to show in that gallery. I try to teach my students ethics as much as how to do their art. I am in several good galleries and none of them share the client information. Thank you for your post. And, thank you, Jason for your post about this subject of figuring out who our clients are and using the information to help us market in the future.

  5. Thanks Claudia, you results are very similar to mine. I note the caution of not dismissing potential collectors because they do not fit the profile as I have been pleasantly surprised numerous times. The paintings that sold all triggered a memory or a feeling and this is not always predictable so I paint what speaks to me, what I love.

  6. My buyers are often known to me, but not always. Usually they are women, often married or with a partner. Some are from out of town, sometimes as far away as Europe. My piece are usually of animals or birds in an abstract setting. Some are figurative or portrait. I often use mixed media.

  7. This is very interesting, and as an emerging artist, the people who have purchased my paintings and artwork have been known to me. My Equine art was purchased by friends that ride at my stables or in my specific training barn. They are professional, and in the middle income group.

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