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. Great information. As a person who is somewhat self conscious and nervous when showing my work, I have a tendency to talk too much. It’s anxiety. It’s taken a long time to just stop talking, not telling an entire “life story” of each piece. My talking too much often gets them talking too much. Time is wasted, although they enjoy the story. It’s a hard lesson to learn, harder to practice.

  2. My art business is different; I am a calligrapher so my clients and customers have already “purchased” if I am doing their work, but I love this advice! Something definitely to remember in other areas of my art. Thanks!

  3. Some years ago at an Art Fair a couple was standing outside looking into my booth. I walked out to begin a conversation but all the while I noticed the husband seemed focused on something in my booth. As we continued talking about their collection he strolled into my booth and up to the painting he had been viewing.
    While he continued studying the painting I asked his wife which painting she liked, to which she pointed to a different painting with the tired old reply, “But we have no more room for another painting.” I looked back at him still studying his choice.
    After a moment or two of silence I simply asked, “Well?” He replied, “OK I’ll take it!” Giving a customer time to think about it and my silence worked like a charm.

  4. I am a firm believer that you need to learn how to read your customer. It is up to you as the salesperson to direct the conversation, however you need to allow the customer to digest what you are saying, and not feel pressured. The moment they feel pressured, then the less chance of a sale. When I initially invoke conversation with a person, I am watching their body language as well. If they are a closed person then I know to be quieter and softer with them. Allow for breaks in the conversation, and I keep more distance between us. If they respond with very short responses, with no eye contact, it signals to me that I need to back off and remain quiet until they next address me. Some people are more guarded when they come into the gallery and I can pick up on that as well. That is when silence really is golden. An example of when I use silence in a closing is I will say something like: “You really have picked a wonderful painting…That piece gets an unusual amount of attention.” I then back off for a minute to let them think. That little comment I just said now plants in them that if other people love it so much, then it must really be as good as I feel it is, and if an unusual amount of people are commenting on this piece, then perhaps I should purchase it now. I then turn my attentions back to them after some silence and ask “May I write that up for you today?” I then wait.

  5. Thanks Jason for a nice article. Always learn from your tips, I am a very quiet person when it comes to speaking with people. I share a small studio with another artist, on my days in studio I mostly keep quiet and let people browse, more often they like to buy when they see no pressure from artist. I alway keep silence unless they start a conversation first.

  6. I have used silence at times to help sell a piece if a couple is planning on buying . I have said something to the effect of ” perhaps you would like to spend time with the work for a moment “. Then I walk away a bit and return to ask for the sale. I have noticed other sales people in posh galleries putting a piece on a separate easel, even in a small intimate room with great lighting. And wow, of course a person wants to buy the piece!

  7. I am interested to learn different wording everybody uses for “asking for the sale.”
    A previous post mentions … “would you like to add this to your collection” which I like. Any others?
    David

  8. In this situation, I’ve described how I also collect art and keep pieces squirrled away so I can rotate art every year – bring them out to keep my walls fresh with new and long-loved paintings. This has given collectors a reason to keep collecting and not stopping when the walls are full.

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