Becoming a Better Art Salesperson | Are you Chasing Away Your Buyers?

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.

EasyWayOutMake 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.

I’ve written previously about how to ask for the sale (see this post), but 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.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and 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. All of this I’ve seen myself! At the end of a slow day at an art festival, when a potential buyer is in my booth, I’m more likely to ask for the sale and get it. I’m thinking I have “nothing to lose”, it’s almost time to close up, just ask them if it will be “cash or charge”. Many times they buy, with no more conversation!

  2. There is a tense moment of silence before the commitment of a sale. I’ve found it best to not say anything and let the tension and decision be made. I then say I can write it up and go into my office
    to get the sales slips.
    I once lost a large sale because I emphasized they could return the work. The client returned the work!

  3. A customer who had purchased quite a large painting (36″ x 66″) expressed interest in a new painting. I told her that I had a few things to finnish up but I could send her a photo as soon as I was done to see if she still liked it. She responded that she liked the painting as it was and since she already had one of my paintings she was confident in buying the painting even though I had more work to do. But nooooo I could not except that and I explained that I would finnish in about two days and that I would bring it to her home to see if it would look good in the location she had chosen, because you know, I did not want to be pushy. Her response, ” Ken I love this painting, I want to buy it now but you are getting in the way”. She compromised by only paying 50% down at my insistence and the balance on delivery. Sooooo, I might be a candidate for stupid sales approach of the month. If only I had a gallery that would do the selling for me, but he only gallery I have ever approached has blown me off twice. Twice, I mean why go on.

  4. I’ve had a few online sales, one recently going to a buyer in another province. She expressed great interest in the piece, having seen a print of it when she visited me at our local farmers’ market, where I sell on Saturdays. We had a fair bit of happy discussion like that, and I express-posted the piece to her right away.

    I have not heard a word from her since, not whether she’s happy with it, nothing. I sent her a message a week later, asking if she got it safely, whether she was pleased with it, and asking for a review on Etsy if she was. Crickets.

    Don’t want to message her again, but am now a little anxious about her reaction. It was an odd size, 7×10”, and so I realize it would be a size she might not be able to get a standard mat size for. The piece was listed on Etsy as 7×10”.

    Any suggestions, Jason or your readers, on how to handle this?

    I’d very much appreciate feedback!

    Barb
    Barbara Pottie Holmes Art

  5. I’ve not used the ‘killer phrases’ above – when they’re dithering I frequently say ‘Maybe you should treat yourself’. Usually they giggle and I don’t know how to respond to that unless they then come up with ‘but my walls are full’. If they mention budget I offer payments and ask if they bought a car for that much, how long it would last….the artwork will last them a lifetime (and you don’t need to pay for oil changes and new tires). They agree but never buy the art.
    I’ve read Starving to Successful but still don’t know how to get past this barrier.

  6. Barb, I’m hoping you got paid and the accolades would just be gravy. If she paid for the piece, she likes it. (C: If she doesn’t like it, I think she would let you know. And she can always get a custom matte and frame. She may not be good at saying “thanks” or “way to go.” Or she may be too busy to do extra emails.

    As an art major in college, I entered a drawing in a student art show. It felt great to have my work hanging in my first show, and I spent most of the evening watching people look at the artwork and looking at the other artists’ work. Eventually, my art history professor, who regularly took people on exclusive art tours across Europe, came up and said, “I love your drawing. It’s primitive. How much is it?” I heard, “Your drawing is primitive.” So I started trying to defend the piece. My wife, happily, heard the part about her wanting to buy it, told her the price and took the check. A few months later, when our class took a field trip to see the prof’s artwork at her home, my “primitive” drawing was on the wall among all those “big shot” artists.

    Lesson: Make sure you’re listening to (and hearing) the “happy” parts of the discussion.

  7. It’s funny, after I read your article, I approached a viewer who commented on a recent small painting via my website email. I sent her a reply saying it would look lovely on her wall and remind her of a place she treasures. I said “Go for it” “I’ll send you a PayPal invoice. She replied, please send me one. Sale completed! Thanks!

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