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 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

14 Comments

  1. Yes, I have chased potential buyers away for fear that they will see an imperfection in my work. I even took a sculpture to a client’s house. She wanted to buy it. I was so afraid of the imperfection in my work, I convinced her not to buy it. I still have that sculpture.

    I was just juried into the Baltimore Craft Show for this coming February. This is a huge honor. My fear of imperfections in my work terrifies me. Three of my sculptures in my latest series have sold. I contrast raw natural forms in wood and burls with highly refined lathe-turned forms. I love what I am doing. I have to accept that this is what I do. I am not a goldsmith who does highly intricate work.

    I am my worst enemy when it comes to selling my work. Jason, I appreciate the work you are doing with us artists. Thank you.

  2. I have absolutely done many of these things! I’m trying to become more aware of it and not offer a card until the people are on their way out of my booth. I do struggle with closing a sale and approaching customers because I’m pretty introverted, and I can’t stand it when I go into a store and a salesperson tries to talk to me beyond a greeting. I avoid “the hard sell” like the plague, but need to find a slightly more assertive approach that doesn’t cause me or potential buyers to squirm.

  3. Jason,
    I have enjoyed this post as much as any of your past ones and find the information important.
    I am guilty of many of the “kill the sale” statements that you listed. My reasoning has been that I did not want to appear desperate in the eyes of the potential purchaser. I wanted to appear as though the piece would definitely sell to somebody (because it was good) and that he would catch onto that notion, and that would validate his interest and hopefully his purchase.
    I am looking forward to other posts in this series.
    David

  4. Jason, this reading has given me invaluable insight on the fears that live beneath the surface of myself and potential buyers. It’s not a mystery and thank you for this reminder. Thanks for spelling it out. What a gift.

  5. One of the keys to selling art is to know what to say, and how to say something during the selling process and when to simply keep your mouth shut. Many people I encounter are not necessarily looking to buy art, but rather come into my gallery to kill time or entertain themselves. Nevertheless is still is an opportunity to sell something so you always have to be on. I greet the customer when they come in and let them know that if they have any questions just let me know. I appear relaxed and casual and usually do not even stand up from my desk at that point, because it does not appear that I am going to pressure them. I then try to appear as if I am focused on something else at the moment. The entire time, my ears are open listening for comments on the work. It lets them feel a bit more relaxed and gives them time to allow themselves to get engaged with the artwork. When I hear people make positive comments on a particular work, or if they are lingering in front of a work for some time, then I know it is time take the next step. I will typically ask them if they are familiar with the artist’s work. If they respond with “No”, then I know how to go from there. If they respond with a “yes” then I know another direction to go. Asking them if they are familiar with an artist’s work subconsciously lends a light air of credibility to the artist. You can then take an element of the artist’s work and make a comment like “He/she is best known for their bold brushwork and unique color relationships” You have started to point things out and reinforce at that point. without them even realizing it. If there is a story behind a particular work that they are enjoying point it out. Get them to agree with you as much as possible with a “yes”, “yes”, Yes”. Never mention price, or even say the word “price”. At times I can read that the client is imagining if this will fit into a specific place in their home with such questions as asking to verify the framed size. I usually find a way to make it sound that the artist’s work is ideal for any setting, or the setting they are imagining. If it is a couple you are working with, you need to know how to handle the dynamics differently. There is typically one which has reservations such as price, subject, colors, etc which requires a different approach then the other in the party. Learn how to read your customer and as Jason mentioned…Don’t give them an easy out. I never hand literature to them unless they request it. When someone asks me if they can take a photo of a painting, I respond with “I would rather send you an e-mail with a high resolution photo. This at least lets me obtain their e-mail so that I can follow up with them when they do walk out the door. Always be honest with the public. If it is price consideration, then many people will want to research the artist out online and see if they are worth what you are asking. As for closing the deal, there are a set of options when it comes to that as well. Keep the customer comfortable and convey to them that this is an opportunity without saying the word “opportunity”.

  6. I sell primarily ceramics, and twice I have shared a tour space with a 2-D artist. Although I do have work in several galleries, the pieces I offer during our studio tour are from my smaller “gift shop” line and typically run under $100. Sales from them allow me to devote more time and energy to the gallery pieces, so volume is important. The first time, the other artist failed to grasp the difference between selling a $50- $65 pot and a $1250 painting — the former is an impulse buy, the latter may require the potential customer to walk away and think. One of my “partners” would swoop down just as I was about to close the sale and say “we’ll be here next weekend, too.” Invariably, the would be purchaser would put down the piece and walk away, saying they’ll be back. They never are. This year, I am partnering with a different painter, and she tends to take all the customers away as soon as they walk in the door and monopolize them with too much information about each one of her works. She did this to a customer who had come specifically to buy a piece of mine. The customer was wearing a “boot” for a foot injury, and my artist partner spent so much time fruitlessly showing her her own work that by the time she got away, she could hardly focus because she was in pain. She did buy a small piece but probably would have bought more had she been given the time and space to look at it.

  7. Great info Jason. Just did a show in Carefree last weekend and realized I was much looser, and more conversational, and interactive with potential buyers after I made a large sale. I need to replicate that vibe throughout the show, whether I have made a sale or not. Easier said than done, but I think I can do it now that I have consciously recognized the need for it. Sometimes I feel that pressure to make a sale, I just need to let it go, and let it happen. I do believe in the idea of asking for the sale, that is a must. Thanks for the insight.

  8. I am definitely guilty of chasing away potential buyers. I get nervous at that crucial moment and say the wrong thing (one of the things on your list or something similar). I’m sure I’ve lost a number of sales that way. Another thing to work on!

  9. Hey there Jason,
    I LOVE your blog and it’s the only thing i never delete and keep close at hand. I live in San Diego however come back to the valley a few times a year to visit friends as i went to ASU and have a handful of people I have fun with. I’ve been an artist forever and play to what sells and I’m over it. I’ll be coming to the valley this winter and will stop by–it’s always fast and furious when I come so hopefully I will make it!
    You are the best! Thanks for sharing all of your great insights with everyone!
    Karla
    http://www.notjustblackboards.com

  10. Interesting article. I done practically all of them in the list in the past. Some, I remember as clear as if it was yesterday. Today, I am more in tune of identifying how interested the byers are, from Very Hot, Hot, Warm, Mild to just looking. Each of this level required a different strategies. After, I noticed an initial interest in the piece, I start asking them a list of pre-qualifying questions. A current patron, once tell me the first time he met me, he felt as if I was interviewing him to see if I would sell him my artworks. Today, he has 10 pieces of my paintings in his growing emerging artist collection. Sell to me is equal building relationships.

  11. Jason and Ray,

    I would like to point out something that hasn’t come up in this discussion although I am sure that you both, as gallery owners, must be aware of.

    We artists are in a different position than you, our dealers, are. In our case we are trying to sell something that we made … even selling ourselves actually … but you are selling something that is distanced somewhat from you. That gives you the advantage of saying that a particular painting is wonderful, and that the artist who created it is wonderful, without seeming arrogant. You can even say (to your advantage) that you are helping, working for, or supporting the artist. We artists on the other hand run the risk of being too bold or forward when we say wonderful things about our work or ourselves. We therefore are in a more precarious position where we have to judge reactions and choose our words more accurately.

    I do understand and agree with the intent of your post Jason. It the is just not as simple for artists.

    David

  12. Jason,
    This is exactly me.. sometimes I hear myself giving a potential customer an easy out, and while the words are still exiting my mouth I am slapping myself in my mind…why do I do this? I know it’s counter to good salesmanship and I know the work is good (I don’t suffer from lack of confidence like some artists do) and I know the person likes the piece. I remember even saying “I know… it’s quite expensive” —- Someone needs to save me from myself, lol!!! Thanks for trying Jason 🙂 …… Tracy

  13. After I read this I realized I’m a master at giving them a way out. Its funny because when I was manager at a interiors/furniture company I could sell anything. I sold 3 times more than anyone else, there were people who only work with me. But when it comes to selling my own work, I’m a deer in the headlights.

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