Becoming a Better Art Salesperson | The Power of Silence

Earlier this week I discussed how many artists and art salespeople make a fatal flaw by giving buyers an easy way out. In the discussion about last week’s post, an artist shared the following suggestion about her closing process:

When it becomes obvious that they are considering buying the piece, I ask if they would like to add it to their collection. They either say yes, no, or state why they are on the fence… Which, as you say Jason, helps the sales person work with the collector to resolve an issue.

The last couple of sales, I got to know the collector, and when it became obvious that they were thinking of buying, I pulled the work off the wall and set it on a separate easel in the light… Then didn’t say a word… Just let him or her speak, and it became a sold piece.

This a great example of moving boldly to the sale. We often use similar techniques in the gallery, asking for the sale and moving the artwork to a more prominent wall or isolating it. I particularly want to focus on Lori’s last suggestion though – not saying a word after placing the artwork on an easel. This suggestion points to one of the most powerful, and yet most underused tools we have in our sales kit: silence.

As your client finds an interesting piece and you move toward the close, silence can be far more powerful than talk.

Many salespeople mistakenly think that selling is a process of talking potential customers into buying something. While establishing rapport and creating narrative are important, we often make the mistake of saying too much. I’ve listened to salespeople fill every moment of an encounter with talk, never giving the buyer a chance to commit. As your client finds an interesting piece and you move toward the close, silence can be far more powerful than talk.

We are Afraid of Silence

Let’s face it, silence feels awkward. A sales encounter can be, at times, a slightly tense, if not nerve-wracking experience. When we’re nervous and encounter silence we feel an almost irresistible urge to fill it.

When a client raises a question or objection, or doesn’t respond right away, we may feel it’s our job to say something more, to further explain the art or respond to anticipated objections. Our job, however, is to make the sale, and sometimes saying nothing can be far more effective than anything we might have said.

Silence is Powerful

I  heard an interview on the radio several years ago where a police detective was talking about interrogation techniques. The detective mentioned that after a suspect answers a question, the detectives will often simply maintain silence. The detective said that the suspect will often provide vital information after the silence. In the pause, the nervous suspect keeps talking to avoid the silence.

Obviously, the sales process has a different end in mind than an interrogation, but the power of silence is just as palpable in selling.

There’s an old adage in sales that “the first person to speak, loses.” I don’t like the implication that the buyer is losing if you let them speak first (in the art sales process, everyone wins!), but experience has shown me that the point is correct. There are moments in sales where letting your client speak first will result in a sale.

When to use Silence

When a client raises an objection or question

Don’t feel like you have to instantly jump in and answer questions or offer immediate solutions to objections. Frequently you will get valuable information from your potential buyer by saying nothing at all. If you remain silent and expectant, as if you are waiting to hear more, the buyer will sometimes answer the question, or further elaborate on the concern. There’s no law that says you have to jump right in with a response. Try and keep the ball in the buyer’s court.

When negotiating

Silence can be particularly useful in the negotiation process. Allow a pause after a client makes an offer to see if they will soften their request for a concession. Allow for silence after you make a counter-offer.

After asking for the close

As Lori suggested in her comment, silence is particularly effective after asking for the close. If you keep talking, you’re preventing your buyer from having the opportunity to say “yes.” After you ask for the close, you should never be the next one to speak. Wait for your client to respond, even if the pause is long and uncomfortable for you.

Use Silence – Close More Sales

As with all sales tools, silence should be used judiciously. Experience will teach you when to say something and when to keep your mouth shut. The only way to get that experience, however, is to begin putting silence into practice. I would encourage you to consciously use silence at least one time during your next sales encounter. It may be awkward, you may use it at the wrong time, and it might simply not work, but you will feel the power of silence and begin building the resolve it takes to sustain silence.

Have You Used Silence as a Sales Tool?

Do you have experience using silence to close sales? Do you find silence particularly difficult to endure? Do you have questions about how to use silence? Leave a comment below!

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14 Comments

  1. Yes, I agree! At one of my shows, a man kept looking at one of my paintings, walking close to it, thinking about it, and was clearly interested. This went on for several minutes. My husband pointed this out to me and we just waited in silence. I went to the man, stood a polite distance from him and gently said, “Please let me know if you have any questions,” and he smiled and said, “I will.” I took that to mean he wanted to be left alone with the painting. Just a few minutes later he went over to the sales table and took out his wallet! SOLD!
    I have watched and learned when to let the painting do the talking, to let the art speak to the potential collector. This was one of those memorable moments when I got to witness it happening.

  2. At a recent show I watched a fellow artist set up an empty easel with adjustable lighting. When someone showed interest in a piece she moved it to the easel, I noticed that she did this even if the folks walked away. I then noticed a couple who had walked away from a painting come around again, saw the painting still on the easel, lit from a distance and made an immediate purchase of two pieces. I learned many lessons from my booth across from her that day as she outsold everyone else at that small town, small show event. Of particular interest was how she interacted with a potential buyer with laser focus, reading their cues.

  3. Yes I’ve use silence as a tool. It works in many cases. I put myself in the buyers shoes… and one big turn off for me is high pressure sales pitches. I stay alert and intuitive to their needs. It’s like walking a tightrope.

  4. Silence is a very valuable tool, and so is solitude. On many occasions during studio tours, I have observed a couple pointing at my pieces, discussing possible choices in quiet tones. That is the trigger. My next comment,
    spoken in the same low tones, is usually, “Perhaps you’d like some private time to discuss your choices.” Allowing people their own space, in which to create their own world around the work, has been very important in so many of my sales. Of course I always stay within earshot to answer any questions along the way, but a bit of solitude, and the privacy it affords, is often the key to success.

  5. I have not used silence and I am sure I was wrong. One time, I saw a man looking at my painting and crying. I went by him explaining my painting. He left, sorry, without a word. Another time a friend told me a man liked my painting and want to meet me. I went to him and gave him the story of my painting. He said : « I don’t like to know that story. » I feel the story of the painting is wonderful for me but I have erased the possible story of someone else.

  6. On our studio tour a lady stood looking for some time at a small painting of a cow. When I approached her she spoke in an upset manner about how this particular specimen was a poor quality of that breed and began to point out the flaws in her structure! She stated she could not possibly have such a painting in her house, much as she loved cows. Having bred and shown dogs for years, I understood what she was saying. We had quite a conversation as I tried to explain how this painting was not intended as a representation of a show quality specimen! You don’t know what a person is thinking when they pause to look!

  7. I also will take the painting off the wall and place it directly in the hands of an interested person (if it’s small enough, of course). I’ve had very good luck with sales using this technique as the person will walk around to view it in various light and also show it to their companion where they engage in somewhat of a private viewing together.

  8. I often pull the artwork off the wall at art fairs hand it to them and suggest they go out into the light with it. Then I step back and leave then to look and think and come back to me in which case they usually but it. Something about the holding it seems important.

  9. I was in furniture sales for 4 years and had to learn to keep quite many times to allow my client time to think without me being pushy. It also gave me the opportunity to be a good listener while they do all the talking. This always helped with the sale. Now as a full time artist and doing my own sales I often use this same practice.

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