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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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.

13 Comments

  1. Very good advice Jason. You can think about the opposite. When you are thinking about something to buy do you like being talk to while contemplating the decision? I like the moments before saying no – or yes.

  2. This sounds like a great life lesson!

    Silence is so uncomfortable for us extroverts in the room – but I like what Jean points out – even extroverts, when contemplating something big, crave silence in order to pull our mind around it.

    Silence is only uncomfortable for the one who doesn’t have to do the thinking!

  3. As an introvert, I treasure silence, and have yet to find that right balance when engaging potential buyers at open studio events. I’m fairly certain I give people too much space! It has resulted in sales, tho not nearly as consistently as I would like. There have been a few remarkable times that a sale has left ME speechless— “we’d like everything on this wall, please”. I could hardly write up the sale, I was shaking so much!

  4. I will try it! Thanks very much for the inspiration. The big mistake I often make is to fill the silence with “If price is an issue, I can certainly offer you a discount”. I know, too desperate. I will remove that tactic immediately from my repertoire. Thanks again.

  5. This advice is golden! You have mentioned this technique of silence before. I was always giving people a way out, always helping them out of the sale.
    This year, I was bold and talked about the art but didn’t give them an easy way out, as I’ve done in the past.
    Even though we are in a pandemic and a resulting recession, I have sold so many paintings this year! And lots of potential clients that might return at a later date.
    So, in my humble opinion, this is a technique that will work for you. Car salespeople operate like this all the time, even more pushy. I couldn’t push my art on someone that hard.
    But just standing back and letting a client look at the piece in silence, will work most of the time. Thanks for your always sage advice.

  6. I personally am very comfortable with silence. I like to let my work speak for itself, and I try to provide a very low-pressure sales environment. I’m there if the buyer has a question or a comment, but mostly I trust my customers to know their own minds. If anything I probably err too much on the side of silence, but it’s surprising how often it works.

    1. I will remove the art from the studio wall, show them the back and how it is professionally framed, then hang it in a new spot where they can study it. I then walk over to my desk behind a short wall and act like I am going through a stack of papers. I have also has people say, “don’t hang it back up…I will take it”…

    2. Where a person focuses their eyes is a form of communication. Sweeping my eyes slowly and gracefully from eye contact with the interested customer to the piece in question and back again usually sparks the customer to speak.

  7. I hate it in a store, when I’m looking at something, and the sales person distracts me with “and we have that in a different color over here” (but I like this color that’s why I’m looking at it!) so I try never to do that.
    While the client is looking or discussing I find some brushes to wash or a call to take.

  8. I have been using the “silence’, ‘The six second rule” for years and it works!
    People usually don’t like silence, so how they respond tells you which direction you need to go in to close the sale! … I also use it when I am trying to buy something in a negotiation situation. buying a car, an antique or at the garage sales!

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