Becoming a Better Art Salesperson | The Power of Silence

Last 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, artist Lori Woodward 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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17 Comments

  1. Looking at silence from the buyer’s point of view- it might make them feel that they are not being pressured by fast talk and misdirection…silence might actually increase the buyer’s level of trust in the seller.

  2. I like to greet my clients and show them the latest paintings. I then leave them alone to fall in love with the piece. This gives them time to ponder if the piece would work in their home, and to figure out where they will put it. I think chatter distracts their concentration. After I see their focus leaving I will then close in for the sale. This normally works well for me.
    I also use you tip on asking what’s their favorite piece in the gallery and then asking them what can I do to have them take it home. Sometimes it’s the price and giving them a little discount pushes them over the edge to buying. If is the size that is wrong I offer to paint something similar in the size they want. Your tips on red dot have really helped me be a better salesperson. I have bought both your books and love them. Thank you Karen Langley

  3. Samson killed 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. Maybe the same is true in an art sale? No matter how large or small the (value), silence won’t hurt if the client is truly interested in the piece.

  4. Let the work speak for itself….good advice!
    Years ago when I first started doing shows a more seasoned artist set up next to me and offered a critique on my sales pitch. She basically told me that I sounded apologetic about my offerings and pricing, and I was much too eager to please…better to remain silent.
    As artists….we do what we do because we love what we do, and we should always treat our offerings like a beloved. That essence will project to the potential customer.
    Another tip was never to say “Thank You” until a sale is finalized….no matter how many compliments received. It’s better to say that you’re are pleased with the appreciation of your work, or to comment on the fabulous color, texture, lighting achieved within it and how much you enjoyed creating the piece….or to remain in silent agreement.

  5. I sold a piece last week to a new collector. During the process, there came a point after the conversation, questions, etc where I said, “I’m going to be quiet now. “. And I just sat and waited. I saw a sense of relief in the Collector that now he could focus on which painting to choose! Not sure if this would work for everyone but it seemed like the right thing to do st the time.
    Plus, he had two pieces in mind. I asked him if he’d like me to hold the other painting for him and he was thrilled. No push, no bargain for two. There was breathing room in the transaction which I believe we both enjoyed.
    PS: enjoying these emails!

  6. It is difficult to remain silent and still be enthusiastic. I am always tempted to say something and have discovered that I am more effective when the silence lasts too long, to ask the client about themselves. It seems to put them at ease and then they start to talk about the painting and what they like or what is making them hesitate. If the client is within a couple hour drive I offer to deliver and pay the sales tax. Many times that is just enough to make the sale.

  7. Yes–I agree that silence is golden. I HATE being pushy. I will chat people up but as it gets closer to the big moment I back off. If I am in my own gallery (not anymore) and I see there is a little disagreement between husband and wife, I just tell them I would leave them alone to think about whatever, always letting them know I would not be far away if there are any questions. Sometimes it’ was a fail, but more often it ended in a sale. And I always offered to let them borrow the piece just in case.
    Always tricky–but you have to put yourself in the buyers’ place too.
    Hope this helps the discussion!
    Regards, Jason!

  8. Good stuff, Jason.
    Silence is part of listening. I try to determine the reason for the silence. Admiration maybe, pondering on my last statement, or, I love this piece but where would I put it, how can I juggle the finances to buy it, how am I going to get it home … or something as simple as, do I like it enough to buy it? Unless they tell you, you really don’t know.
    It is easy to misinterpret those silences. If you aren’t sure, shut up. Go for the safe response: isolate the piece for one-on-one evaluation. Get out of the dynamic; not you … the artwork and the potential patron. Leave them together to think. “I know this is a major purchase so let me leave you alone to think and talk about it. If you have any questions I’m right here.”
    We all would appreciate that … after all, you’re hitting them with a sizable purchase in minutes. If your patrons are a couple, even more so. They need to make a joint decision. When you feel comfortable interrupting them, return and ask a question you know will have a positive response: “As the artist I’d love to know … tell me what really speaks to you about this piece.” That simple request may tilt them toward purchase because they are voicing their admiration. Their comments will give you a foothold to push the sale.
    Don’t blather away to fill the silence. You will undermine every single positive your buyer had with the wrong commentary. There is an art to listening. It is acute perception, instinct even. Sharpen it, become more aware.

    1. Needing that time to make a decision or dicuss w spouse, is important in lots of purchases- car, home, even fragrance and clothing. I usually need alot of space when deciding on any purchase, and if the salesperson doesnt allow that, i usually leave. Just because i go into a shop, or admire something, doesnt mean i want to buy it😊

  9. Hi Jason, have a question for you.
    I have a client who has recently purchased five of my paintings.
    She loves my work, thank god. My problem is that she wants to purchase
    more paintings. I have been to her house and know that she has no more room to hang anything. I have tried to steer her away from my work, so that she has a verity of items on her walls. how do I do this without loosing her as a client?

  10. Some time ago I was working in the gallery and I was replacing the old works withe the new ones. An old man approached me and I started a conversation. I told him about myself and the works. We had a nice little chat. Then I left him alone as I had some other stuff to do in the gallery. I had no idea that he would buy two of the new paintings I just hung. I guess I have him time to think it over and he made up his mind. I didn’t ask for the sale, it was his decision after this unintentional pause or silence. Nowdays I don’t sell much personally and sell mostly through galleries but I believe a pause or some silence after talking with a potential buyer is essential if we want to have a sale. Also, it is important not to show that you are so eager to sell..sometimes it works when an artist has a look of indifference..and it stimulates a buyer to make a purchase

  11. Silence provides the room to think.

    It’s a courtesy I deeply appreciate in a sales person.

    I doubt that I’m the only one that runs post haste from a chattery sales person. I notice also that a well placed space of silence seems classy, confident. Very attractive.

  12. I’ve never really thought about that – using silence. When I’ve sold my work at fairs, I would feel a sense of nervousness whenever a potential buyer approached. I tend to be eager (maybe too eager) to answer any and every question and sometimes I would even offer a discount (if the person is interested in numerous pieces) without being asked. Oh dear! Silence indeed can feel uncomfortable and that feeling forces you to act. I know how to act this time around.

    Thank you for this entry. I’ll be sure to use it at my next showing.

  13. Thank you, Jason. I totally agree. The thing about filling a silence with possible fixes to whatever you think the buyer is worried about is that you’re not a mind reader. If you think maybe the buyer is worried about archival quality in watercolors, for instance, you might bring the subject up, telling her that you only use top-rated lightfastness pigments when in fact she was trying to figure out where she would hang the piece in her office. She didn’t even know there was a perception of impermanence in watercolors among collectors. Now she has something new and very distracting to worry about.
    Silence really is golden sometimes…..

  14. Thank you Jason for all your tips. I sold a painting at the last art festival. I used your soft approach. The buyer indicated that she liked one of my pieces but she is trying to convince her husband. So I told her that I am happy to lend her the painting so she could try it out in her house and it would be quite ok if she returned it. The next week she was happy to inform me that she placed it on top of her fireplace and they both loved it.

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