Ask A Gallery Owner | What to Do when You Ask for the Sale and Get a “No”

Ask for the sale, no thanks response

You’re talking to a potential buyer who seems head over heals for one of your pieces. Your conversation is going well, so you decide to take the leap and ask for the sale, but you don’t quite get the response you were hoping for. What next?

Here’s an email I once received about this situation. Comments and questions from the emailer are in black, my responses are in red – names and locations have been changed:

Jason,

Thanks so much for webinar. Very informative. I have a gallery at a monthly art walk here in XXXXXX and tried using the techniques. Everything seemed to be going super well each time until I said, “Can I write that up for you?” I froze when they didn’t say yes.
Three times in the night I got to that point:

1. One woman said it takes her awhile to make a decision.

I would respond “Of course, I understand – it’s important to take time with a great piece of art. What is your decision making process?”

Depending on what she said I would offer to deliver the piece to her home so that she could have an easier time making the decision. I would let her know that there is absolutely no obligation and that you will make all the arrangements to deliver the piece and pick it up once she has had a chance to live with it.

2. Another said too expensive for her right now ($2,395). I suggested a payment plan and she said she would think about it.

“I can tell you love the piece. It’s our philosophy that we want to help the art find a great home. We can be very flexible in making that happen. Are we a long way off on the price for you to consider taking the piece home tonight?”

Basically I would want to discover how close we are on the price. A little digging might reveal that price isn’t the real issue, then you can start dealing with the real concern, or it might be all about pricing and you can then start to negotiate in sincerity to find if there is a price at which the piece would work, or if a payment plan would work.

Upon offering the payment plan I would show her, on paper, how affordable it would be if the payments were split up over 3-4 (or even more, if necessary) months.

2. Another said she had to think about it. I suggested I was flexible, what was she thinking on price. She said she would get back to me ….

Same advice as above.

You basically just want to keep digging until you get to the heart of the matter, and then start getting the client to commit to small steps – seeing the work in their home – letting you work up a negotiated price or payment plan.

Great work though – and had you not asked for the close those three would simply have wandered off and left you wondering why.

Alas. I will study more before next month. But I was heartened because the techniques got me a long way! Now if I can get to through the closing phase I’ll be doing good.

-D

Have You Run into This?

How would you recommend moving forward when a client doesn’t say yes when you ask for the sale?

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.

15 Comments

  1. Dear Jason,

    Thank you for the webinar on Saturday I got a lot of great information! I wondered how you would advise an artist(me in this case!) to price their art? Does it depend if you are known (through art contests or magazines etc), size of painting, experience, commission that the Gallery receives, and probably other factors I am not mentioning? How do you factor all of these in to the price?

    Thank you.

    Kerry Konecny

    1. Jason’s book “Starving” to Successful: The Fine Artist’s Guide to Getting Into Galleries and Selling More Art?” is on Amazon. It answers your questions. I highly recommend it.

  2. I’ve just relocated from the Austin, Texas area to the Boston North Shore area. In Texas, I was successful with selling framed, giclee prints. In this area, they are less successful in sales. With a strong background in graphic arts, many of my finished pieces are colored with photoshop software, hence the giclee print as a final product. This worked well in Texas, but not t00 successful in Massachusetts. Must I find another marketing technique?

    I read your daily newsletters every morning and truly do appreciate everything you. have to share. Your versatility and research are incredibly helpful! I am far from wealthy but would love to contribute something to your success. Please let me know what I may do.

    Thank you!
    Susan

  3. At our gallery we have never asked or pushed for a sale – rather the customer asks to purchase an artwork.
    If then they are having difficulties paying for the piece up front, then we discuss layby options with them.

  4. Have you ever had a problem getting a piece of art back from a non paying customer after you took it to their home and put it on their wall. It seems to me that people would be tempted to just keep the painting and say it was a gift. after all you did pretty much give it to them. I think that is a huge risk.

  5. Dear Jason,

    Thank you for yet another very helpful post. As an artist who also buys art, I want to share a perspective on the first of your suggested responses. If I were considering a piece, your initial reply—that you understand the importance of taking one’s time—would leave me feeling good. But the very second I heard that followon question—“What is your decision making process?”—a giant door would slam shut in my mind, and no matter how much I liked the work, I’d never be back. I’m afraid that those words make the sales tactic way too obvious for this art buyer. They also put the emphasis on the seller’s desire for a sale, rather than on trying to understand a client’s tastes and needs so as to be genuinely helpful.

    I’d suggest substituting remarks that affirm your respect for the client. Perhaps a gentle inquiry whether there are any questions you might answer; an explanation of various amenities the gallery can offer (which allows you to lead into your “try it in your home” option, or perhaps an offer to hold the piece for X amount of time); a polite request to follow up by email with additional information you have prepared about the artist.

    Some clients are quite reserved, and turned off by any faint whiff of intrusiveness. I am one of them.

    Thanks for considering my perspective. If a gallerist can successfully convey both a genuine desire to be helpful (while also making a living), and a clear respect for a client’s boundaries, I am much more likely to go forward with that sale.

  6. You first have to recognize that there are two types of art shoppers. One category are those who have the financial means, and interest to actually buy the art. There may be some with insecurity within this group, however they may be an actual candidate for a sale.The other group are those who are simply looking to entertain themselves. They are sort of like the person who goes into an expensive jewelry store and tries on jewelry, and does not have the financial means to purchase it, however they simply want to see how it feels and looks on them. This person can have an air of arrogance about them at times, as if it simply is not good enough for them. The same applies to art. If you have done your job correctly as a sales person and you get a “No” upon asking for the sale, it does not mean that you did something wrong. It could likely be that you are engaged with what I call “an actor”, (and there are a lot of them out there). No amount of technique is going to result in a sale, no matter how much they even love it, because they just don’t have the means to buy it. One means of recognizing “an actor” is if they come in with another person and spend a lot of time criticizing the work, and trying to sound intelligent to the other party, as if nothing is good enough for them. There is also a thin line between working with a suitable customer to purchase a work of art, and forcing the sale upon one who really is not in a good financial place to make such a purchase at that time. This is where prequalifying the customer is important. Listen carefully to them, and ask pertinent but subtle questions which indicate if they are actually a suitable candidate to buy. Something so simply as what sort of work do they do, or where they live, is at times a good indicator. Often- times a customer will tell you that they really love the work, however they are between jobs, moving, or have some sort of financial issue at the present. This is when you back off a little by telling them you understand, but then follow up with another offer. For my gallery, this is typically a discount of some sort and offering them an interest free “lay away” plan. The discount is reliant upon what time of the season we are in, how long the work has been hanging, and how much interest from the public this work has received. Assure them that a lot of your customers take advantage of this plan which will make it more comforting to them. I have even taken customers in a back room to show them works which are on hold. Keep in mind that you are one voice. If you have media quotes or writes ups on the artist, then either display them, or offer the customer the chance to look at the artist’s C.V. and have some commentary available with it. If you have gotten this far without a “Yes!” then you have to make the purchase sound like an opportunity. If it is your own personal work, then mention how proud you are of this piece and how popular this series or particular work is. If you have another party who have expressed strong interest in it, then certainly let the customer know that as well. If the customer takes a photo of it with their phone, and wants to think about it, ask if you could send them a high resolution image. If they agree, then you have their e-mail address at that point. Allow for 1 or 2 days and then follow up with an e-mail. You can still retain their e-mail and you may want to follow up with an even better and final offer down the road if the work is still with you. It is important as well that you not appear desperate to make the sale, so always present a friendly, professional and relaxed demeanor. How you say something, as well as your body language can make a world of difference. Keep in mind as well that “No” does not always mean you did something wrong.

  7. Totally surprised that these archaic sales techniques are still being used. As a salesperson, your job is to serve the customer. If you are trying to talk them into buying something (also referred to as countering objections), then you have failed. Depending on the personality of the person you are talking to, you may have just turned a sale or future sale into someone who will never set foot in your space again. Yes, having options (like a layaway plan) can be constructive, but put that information in a brochure and casually mention it to the prospect. If you came up to me with these used car salesmen techniques, I would leave and talk badly about you and your place. The bottom line is whenever I buy art, I make up my own mind. If you push, I’ll push back in the opposite direction.

    1. Art is a luxury item, therefore it does not necessarily sell itself. The dealer does have a responsibility to the client, and should never force art upon them. Educating the client…making the client comfortable and giving them options is never out of date. No one can make up the client’s mind for them. Good art dealers build a reputation among their clientele which is built upon trust. Those relationships can typically last for many years as the client continues to acquire art down the road. There is truth to the saying that there is an art to selling art. If you are simply standing around waiting for the public to approach you to buy a work of art, you will never last long in the market.

  8. I was a professional photographer of wall size photographs (now retired) and selling the work was more important than making the work. Asking questions lets the customer sell themselves. “Do you have a certain space to hang a photograph/painting” “What color is your wall/sofa/carpet?” “Do you happen to have a photo of that wall?” I personally never bring up money if they can see/know what my prices are.

    It gets them visualizing THEIR space and imagining what will fit from what you have to sell. It’s personal, it’s about them, not about you or the art.

  9. I started selling my paintings around $400 online and at a co-op gallery. Now I sell the same sort of paintings for around $3,000. I don’t know why, perhaps they were worth $3,000. in the beginning. They might be worth more, I have know way of knowing. I just keep moving the price up. Point is I am terrible at negotiating. I even gave one away to a very nice lady who could not afford to buy. I never ask for a sale, I know I should, but I don’t want to feel like I am in any way pushing someone into a purchase they should not or don’t want to make. I am not a shy person, I just struggle with the thought of pushing a sale on a reluctant buyer. JASON, can you help with that thought process. I sell regularly but i have never had representation, never been in a commercial gallery and I am quite vulnerable to a low offer.

  10. I don’t like the idea that you negotiate the price. I would come up with some other benefit (free deliver, 10 percent next purchase).

  11. All these comments and feedback give me a lot to mull over. I have been a designer for twenty years and now for over 10 years I have been teaching art. As a designer it was easy to determine your work’s worth.
    Has anyone figured out what their hourly wage was when they price a piece of art? Also, materials like canvas and framing need to be factored in. Your time + materials + overhead (production costs by percentage of work) is a formula with Design. Can it work for your Fine Art? I think it should, at least in a perfect world. I am just beginning to show my paintings, and I hesitate so much it’s crazy. Maybe I will be the only one who values my work, and I won’t want to undersell!

  12. I found Ray Wiggs comments to be something I have observed myself. nobody mentioned body language.I have noticed that people who really look at a piece with their hands behind their backs are another dead end. They are like the observers in a museum enjoying the show.

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