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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12 Comments

  1. I don’t have much experience using silence in “closing a deal”. However, I have seen it work several times via my husband in the purchase of a car, (to our advantage). This is something he learned from salesmen years ago when he was an HR Director for a Boat and RV Sales in Upstate NY. I have tried it on occasion, yet have to work on my timing.

    You are correct…it is an art in and of itself.

  2. I do use silence and it works well. Being pushy or desparate is the worst way to sell art. Empower the customer to want the piece for what it means to them and allow the financial transaction to be in the background.

  3. I have one person who has purchased several pieces from me. If I make sure she knows what is new and available and answer questions that it is. I have to stand back and be ready for any questions she may have and then shut up. It takes her time to make up her mind. Much of her life is about art. Her home is filled with pieces she loves; if she is to buy something new she has to first decide where it will go. Until she makes that decision she will not buy. So if I wait and do not pester her she will buy.

  4. What a great post! Brenda’s comment about the power of silence in other kinds of selling reminded me of the value of silence in my 40 years of teaching in high school and university, where what we sell is ideas. My story Secrets of Silence in the Classroom (https://leegass.com/secrets-silence-classroom/) gives examples of several kinds of benefits. The post reminds me to apply what I learned in teaching to selling sculptures.

  5. This is a reverse story because I was the customer. I was the buyer. I was looking to purchase a car and
    told the husband of the woman working in a car dealship what type of car I wanted.
    The day I drove into the dealership, in front of the windows of the salesroom, was a shiny spic and span SUV, the brand I wanted! I didn’t know then but this was the one to catch my eye.
    That salesperson had shown her ability to project her knowledge of presentation to a prospective buyer.
    As artists we need to deliver our best works to a potential customer. We aren’t sure ahead of time but we
    may attract a buyer. I still have this eleven year old car to this day.We never know what catches a buyer’s eye.

  6. I have used it, but not always as intentionally as indicated in this article. Definitely appreciate the focus, it is great timing for me. Doing the Carefree Art Festival next weekend, so I will put it to practice.

  7. I have not used this either and is not probably in my comfort zone. I am usually chatting with my clients sharing info on where they are from, etc. I will focus on being silent and see what happens. In the past I have sold paintings through conversations with clients and then I have the sale. Of course, this doesn’t always work for me . I am in a Holiday Market soon so will test the power of silence.

  8. I have used it several times. Recently at an art fair I had a couple look at my work and talked with me for a bit, then they left. A little later they came back and were looking at 2 specific pieces (oil paintings), I didn’t say anything. They looked and talked with each other for quite awhile. I still didn’t say anything and pretended to be busy with something else, leaving them alone. They finally came to me and had decided to buy both.

  9. I have a potential buyer coming to the house next week. I hadn’t thought of mo ing the piece off the wall to my easel. That seems like a really good idea for me since I just got a beautiful new easel that isn’t yet covered in paint. Si this is a timely article for me. Thank you

  10. If someone wants a work of art and is willing to put out cash for it, no words are needed.

    I know when I see something and I just need to have it, no words one way or another are going to stop me from buying it.

    Peace
    Hunter

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