Selling art can be a real challenge, but the moment of the sale is exhilarating. Your artwork has just been, in a way, validated. The purchaser has said to you, “I think your work is good enough that I’m willing to part with my hard-earned money to acquire it.”
For many artists, however, the sales come far too infrequently. While sales are not the only measure of success for an artist, sales not only validate the work, they allow and encourage you to create more. There are many hurdles that get in the way of sales. The poor economy of the last several years has made the art market more competitive and art buyers more cautious. Many artists don’t get enough exposure for their work, and if buyers can’t see your work, they can’t buy it. Many of you have taken your marketing and sales into your own hands – showing your work in art festivals, participating in open studios, selling online, or in co-op galleries. You are having an opportunity to interact directly with your buyers.
I believe that having direct interaction with potential buyers can be a great experience and can help you better understand the art business and sales process. It also gives you the opportunity to get direct feedback about your work. Sales can be even sweeter when you are making them yourself, and the buyer will often enjoy the opportunity of dealing directly with the artist.
Unfortunately, many artists (perhaps yourself included) are not well prepared to go from creating art to selling it. Selling is a fine art in itself, and requires skill and practice. Some people are born salesmen, but others have to learn the skill. Even natural salespeople can always stand to sharpen their skills. For the next several posts, I would like to concentrate on several key areas of the selling process. I hope that by discussing key issues, I can help you become a better salesperson, and I hope the discussion around these posts will allow you to share what you’ve learned about the sales process or discuss challenges you’ve faced.
Even if you turn over most of the marketing and selling of your work, understanding the sales process will make you a better partner to your galleries or agents.
I want to begin this series by discussing one of the most common mistakes made in the art sales process.
Giving the Buyer an Easy Way Out
Many artists, and even some gallery salespeople, mistakenly think that the art sales process is a mysterious, and perhaps even devious way to trick people into buying something they’re not interested in. If this is your approach to selling, you will have limited success and unsatisfied buyers. I believe our work is much simpler: we are here to help people who feel a real connection to your art make it a part of their lives.
To this end, our job is one of facilitation, not convincing. We want to help buyers overcome any fears or doubts they might have about buying the art that they want.
Make no mistake, there is fear and doubt for the buyer. As buyers are considering whether or not to buy, they will be concerned about whether or not the art will fit naturally in to their home . They will be afraid that the price is too high, or whether they can afford the art. They will doubt their taste. In short, the buyer will have a fear of commitment.
All of these doubts, and many more, can come to a buyer in the critical moment they are deciding whether or not to make the purchase. In this critical moment, we should be doing everything in our power to reassure buyers the benefits outweigh the risks, and we should be asking for the sale.
Instead, what I often see (and I’ve been guilty of it myself many times) is our own fear sabotaging the sale.
As an art sales person or artist, we are afraid of many things ourselves. We are afraid that the potential buyer doesn’t actually like the work and will say “no” if we ask them for the sale. We are afraid that the work isn’t really that good. We are afraid we’ll say the wrong thing. In short, we’re afraid of rejection. Our fear of rejection, combined with our client’s fear of commitment, often leads us to do exactly the wrong thing at the critical moment.
Our fear of rejection, combined with our client’s fear of commitment, often leads us to do exactly the wrong thing at the critical moment.
An example. You have a client in your booth at an art festival. The potential buyer has shown real interest in a particular piece. You’ve shared the story of the creation of the piece. You’ve given them your background. You’ve learned about them. You’ve asked where they would place the art. You’ve done everything right to create the sales atmosphere. There is a heavy pause as you can tell that the client is contemplating the purchase. Your heart starts pounding because you know how close you are to the sale, and you say . . .
“Would you like a brochure of my work?”
The client smiles in relief, says “sure,” takes the brochure, and walks away, never to be seen again.
At that critical moment when the potential buyer was on the verge of making a commitment, you gave them an easy way out. They were wrestling with their inner voice, trying to convince themselves to take the plunge, and you offered them a way to procrastinate the commitment. Once the decision has been put off, the likelihood of getting them back to the commitment is almost nonexistent.
Say Any of These Things, and You Are Almost Sure to Kill the Sale
Offering a brochure is one sure way to put a damper on the sale, but there are many others. Any of the following will accomplish the same procrastination.
- “Would you like a photograph of this piece? I can include the dimensions and price of the artwork.”
- “Can I email you a photo of the piece?”
- “Would you like me to bring the artwork out to your home for you to see how it would look?”
- “Can I get you any other information about the artwork?”
- “Would you like a copy of my biography?”
- “Would you like to see other pieces like this one? Here’s my portfolio”
- “I have another piece you might like.”
- “Would you like me to place a hold on the piece while you think about it?”
Let me be clear, none of these phrases are evil in themselves. There are times when they would be exactly the right thing to say. The moment of decision is not one of those times. These phrases are all attempts to solve problems that the client may or may not have. By preemptively interjecting one of them, we are trying to skip the moment of possible rejection and go straight to a solution. Unfortunately, without asking for the sale first, we’re not solving a problem, we’re creating one.
Ask for the Close, Then Solve Any Problems
Instead of throwing out one of these solutions, it’s critical to ask for the sale and see what happens. Your client may indeed express a doubt about making the purchase, but now we can work on resolving an actual concern instead of guessing what the doubt might be and giving the client a procrastination inducing solution.
Today I simply want to encourage you to focus on avoiding the temptation to give your buyers an easy way out. It would be better not to say anything at all, than to give your buyers a ready excuse not to buy. The next time you are in a sales situation and you feel you are at that critical sales moment, I want you to be aware of your urge to delay the sale and to make a conscious effort to avoid giving in to the temptation. From personal experience, I can promise you that your sales will increase.
Have you Chased Away Art Buyers?
Have you been guilty of chasing away potential art buyers? What has happened when you gave your client an easy way out? Have you overcome the urge to give your clients an easy way out? How did you do it? Please share your experiences, thoughts and wisdom in the comments below.