How do You Ask For the Close When Selling Art? | Collective Wisdom

As much as I love art in and of itself, I love selling art and the business of art just as much. In my conversations with artists, I frequently hear how difficult they feel it is to sell their own work. Artists will often tell me that they don’t like to talk about themselves or their work, and, most of all, they don’t want to appear pushy. I’m convinced that this fear of seeming over-bearing is a major drag on art sales for artists selling directly to collectors. This fear has a scientific name: fearofaskingforthecloseaphobia.Β 

You may suffer this malady yourself. You’re talking to someone about a piece you recently created, and you feel like you’ve got them in the palm of your hand. They love the piece, they love you, they’ve got the perfect spot for it, they seem to have the funds to buy it and then . . . nothing. They walk away.

You’re left wondering what you did wrong, replaying the entire encounter over and over in your mind. You probably even figure out what you would do and say differently the next time around. Then you get another chance and . . . the same thing happens again.

handshakeFirst, let me say that you don’t need to feel bad, and you are not alone. Closing is a challenge even for the best-trained salesperson. Salesmanship is a skill, and learning to close takes time, training, and practice – lots of practice. As we move toward a time where more and more sales are happening directly between the collector and the artist, it becomes increasingly important for artists to become better salespeople and learn how to close.

Today, I just want to talk about the closing part of the sales process, and, specifically, I would like to ask those of you who have experience closing to share what you’ve learned. Of course, closing doesn’t happen on it’s own, there’s an entire sales process leading up to the close, but one would have to write an entire book to cover it (by the way, I’ve written that book, How to Sell Art!). Let’s assume, for this article, that we’ve gotten to a point where we have a prospective buyer excited about a piece, and we’re at that critical moment when it’s time to ask for the sale.

I know I have arrived at this point if any one of the following conditions have been met

  • The client has spent more than two minutes looking at and talking about a particular piece
  • The client has figured out where they will place the art in their home or business
  • The client has asked about shipping or delivery arrangements
  • There has been negotiation on price
  • The client has said something like, “I want it.”

You don’t want to try and close a sale too early in an encounter with a potential client – every time he/she looks at a piece of art, for example. I submit, however, that it is better to err on the side of giving your customers the opportunity to buy, than it is to let them wander on without making a purchase.

So, if one of the conditions above has been met, I like to use one of these closes

“Can I write that up for you?”

“When would you like it delivered?”

“Would you like to do it?”

“Will that be check or credit card?”

Obviously the context is important. I will have already begun to establish a relationship with the buyer and will have gotten a sense their personality type and the tone of the conversation. I am a warm, communicative type (if I do say so myself) and try to set a tone that is friendly and relaxed. This allows me to deliver these closes with a smile and a hint of humor (to soften the delivery just a bit), but I also deliver them with confidence. I simply assume that they are going to say yes.

I know that many artists and gallerists are nervous to ask for the close because they fear rejection. They are afraid the client will say “no” or, worse, will be offended in some way.

I would argue, however, that it is far better to hear “no” and be able to ask “why not?” than it is to have the client walk off and leave you wondering what went wrong. I’ve never had a client become offended when I ask them to buy something, even if they don’t end up wanting it.

What’s worked for you?

I know that this is a brief post for a very important topic, but I actually hope that the real value of this post will come in the comments. I would like to start a conversation below in the comments about the process of closing the art sale.

What do you say or Β what questions do you ask to commit a buyer and close the sale? What’s worked for you, and what hasn’t? Why do you find it hard to close? What questions do you have about closing the sale?

Please share your thoughts, questions and comments below.

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149 Comments

  1. If I have more than one person looking at my art at the same time, as in an open studio setting for instance, I may say, ‘oh did you want that piece?’ which sort of infers that whomever else I am talking to may want it if they don’t. Nothing like thinking you’re going to lose it.

    1. Great suggestion Andrea. The fear of missing out on a piece of art can be a real motivator. It’s a valid fear – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client come back to buy a piece, only to discover that it has already been sold. They might regret the lost opportunity forever (just ask anyone who had a chance to buy a Chihuly early in his career!)

      1. If someone is interested in a painting of mine or my work, I will often ask them what they like about it. I genuinely want to know and also want to deepen their conviction and will thank them for their opinions. I also like mix this up with so not so serious discussion in a friendly and happy manner. I may even say with a smile “it’s yours!” Above all I try to enhance the general feeling of enthusiasm. They are enthusiastic to see the art I am enthusiastic about connecting with them. I often paint en plein air but love engaging with strangers who take interest in me painting. I like their honesty. They like my work or they don’t. I love selling paintings and enjoy the process, even the more difficult to sell to. It keeps me grounded.
        So I think building on their interest is useful and then simply ask them once they appear invested in a sale. You have to sell yourself as well as your art

        1. Your comment has really helped me alot. I realize I have to be engaging and make the buyer feel comfortable. I have to sell myself as well! I never want to come off as pushy so I barely talk and miss a sale. Thank you

  2. I find if I offer to bring the painting, or paintings, to the clients home, to ‘try out’ and see how the piece feels, lighting etc., a painting never leaves and a sale results.
    I always include their second and third choices as well, just to make sure.

    1. This is a classic soft-sell approach, the progressive close. In essence you are closing them on the delivery and trial of the artwork in their home, and then, once you have it in their home, you are closing on the sale.

      We frequently use this tactic in the gallery, however, I always try to close the sale first, and only if the client raises an objection or concern related to wanting to see how it looks in their home, do I use the partial close.

      There are times where you get the client to agree to the trial of the artwork in their home where with just a little finesse and effort, you could have closed the sale, taken a credit card right then, and then delivered the artwork. While, in the end, the result may be the same, I would always prefer to close the sale on the spot than giving the client the opportunity to reconsider.

      Thanks for the suggestion Alison!

      1. I really understand that for many (especially first-time) art-buyers, it’s a big deal to spend a couple of thousand dollars, so letting them live with a painting for a week or so has, for me, been a terrific sales tool. I might not feel comfortable with letting just anybody take one of my pieces home for a “test drive,” but I can always tell which people would benefit from it. It creates a very personal bond with clients when I trust them with my work, and it creates a sense of already possessing it and therefor an unspoken commitment to buying. Letting them walk out of my studio with the work is exciting for them, but I always go TO them if for some reason that particular painting ends up not working for them. If that’s the case, I take other pieces with me. I’ve even taken photos of sold works that I think might be appropriate and offered to paint something similar on commission. At that point, we’ve become partners in getting them exactly what they want, and they are deeply committed to buying a painting from me.

      2. Ha! That’s one of my frequently used methods. And unbelievable as it may sound, a client liked it in his house, but needed the approval of his friends, who were on a different income level. The friends considered it way too expensive, (posters was their price range) and the client let it go. Despite the prearranged super deal!
        Ever had one of those??

    2. I do a lot of outdoor shows. Offering to the collector to take it home on approval, (with their credit card number firmly in hand) almost always results in a sale! I will also offer to bring it by their space to see it in place while I am in town.
      I have also talked with collectors at a show, only to have them call afterward to bring pieces to their home. Listening to their wants and needs during the show gave me clues as to their space. I told them I would be delighted and drove a couple of hours to their new condo. I also brought hanging supplies and a piece that they had looked at during the show. This service resulted in a large sale of several paintings and very happy collectors.

  3. Hi Jason,

    Wow, this is such a broad topic! I’ll be as brief with my thoughts as I can πŸ™‚ I’ve been in the gallery business going on 12 years now and in my experience the successful “close” is simply the logical conclusion of the process whereby you engage your potential client, find out what it is (as specifically as possible) they are interested in, providing them with the information they need to make a decision, and assuaging any concerns they might have about buying from you (or your gallery) – pricing transparency, return policies, etc. Most often, The Close becomes nerve wracking or awkward if you haven’t been thorough about other steps in the process. Additionally, it seems to me that the brick and mortar gallery (especially in vacation destinations like where I live and work) seems to be becoming a form of entertainment rather than a place of business. When we chat up our visitors and ask about their interests, part of that is being nice to be nice, but nice doesn’t pay your rent. Visitors to your gallery or studio should understand that your time away from the easel, i.e., the time you are spending with them, is important to you and so guiding the conversation towards a sales discussion should never be viewed as “pushy”. There ARE pushy ways to do it and pleasant ways to do it, but when a client understands that selling your work is critical for you to be able to keep making it, it helps them be or get serious about engaging you in the necessary discussion that concludes with the phrase “Shall I wrap it up for you?”.

    1. Very well put Robert, and I 100% agree. We should all be very clear that we are here to sell artwork. There’s nothing shameful or embarrassing about it, and if we do a good job selling, the client’s life is going to be enriched for years to come by the great work of art they take home with them.

      Thanks for the great contribution!

      1. Robert, Thank you for your post. I have run a gallery in a tourist town for the past five years and have been increasingly dismayed at what you so aptly describe as ‘entertainment’ for tourists. I, too, have been ‘nice’ and chatted up the visitors and promoted my artists and their art but am finding the visitors are just popping in while they’re waiting for their food orders in the restaurant next door, or ‘killing time’ until they can check into their hotel, or worse yet, just taking 10 seconds to come in, glance around and walk out. And the compliments – I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been ‘paid’ a compliment. But I can’t pay my expenses with a compliment…. I’m changing over to a ‘by appointment only’ business.

        1. Irene, considering that you admittedly work in a ‘tourist town’, I don’t think it’s fair of you to complain about walkthroughs. When I travel, I like to stop through local galleries with absolutely no intent to buy, because seeing the art of a community is a way of seeing the community itself. Have you considered that maybe the tourists have emptied their pockets and bank accounts just for the opportunity to travel, and that buying fine art might not fit their budget?
          Secondly, just because you have something on your walls doesn’t mean it’s worth buying. If someone walks in, looks around and leaves, that means they’re unimpressed or uninterested in what you’re offering, and they’re perfectly allowed to be. You’re selling art, the pinnacle of subjectivity, not bottled water – your customers don’t know what’s going to be inside your shop, and they might not like it.
          I recognize that you work to make money, and that you must consider each person to come through your gallery a potential client, but if you’d really prefer no traffic at all to folks that come through and commend the works, then I think you’ve gotten pretty far away from the spirit of creation.

          1. I’m responding to being the tourist, or artist that is walking through someone’s gallery to browse but not buy anything. I had a discussion with my students yesterday, “how I realized I was a buyer!” Not only do I paint and love my passion but I saw a few pieces I wanted to buy last weekend. One of a sculpture, and I’ve never thought of buying someone else’s art before. I realized my preconceived idea of what a “buyer” was, wearing a suit with diamond cufflinks, or if a she, dressed very professional with diamond studded something…On many gallery studios in our city I now see…appointment by reservation. “I won’t make an appointment…how sad…as i like to see items on my daily treks.” After all, I might be able to work out a payment plan for that sculpture πŸ™‚

          2. I never travel anywhere without visiting at least one gallery. And absolutely, seeing local artwork is a terrific means to experience a locale as much as museums. Am I sometimes a tourist? Sure.
            I’ve been a docent in a tourist town as well and sold by doing this: you must engage the patron rather than pre-qualify anyone and assume they are not a buyer. If nothing else you can talk about art, right? Find common ground; ask about their city, possibly you’ve visited there, their art scene, their interests even if it is as mundane as the best restaurant in their town. If you zone in too soon with a sales close you’ve lost them.
            Direct the conversation to their interests and what particular work appeals to them. Find out what they like about it. At that point make sure they understand you will ship anywhere, including their city. If it doesn’t quite move them, get their email!!!! You know, “I’m working on ____ right now and maybe it will interest you. Here, give me your email and I’ll send an image when I’m done.” They have observed your style and presumably like it. If they refuse, nothing is lost except a few minutes. I truly feel, and proved to myself, the art of conversation is far more important than your sales ability – conversation is the intro. If the first follow up didn’t result in a sale, maybe the second or third will.
            And by the way, artists support each other, right? What if you bought one piece from one artist this year – all of us.

          3. Great answer, sir.
            Art is, of course, essentially, entertainment! I’m connected with a very large gallery that represents about 80 artists in central IL, of all places. I promote the entertainment factor when telling folks about the gallery. They are always welcome to come in and spent a great deal of time just looking around, because, if nothing else, they will carry a lot of images away with them… and who knows when or where they may mention seeing something of interest to someone else. Those “browsers” can be great advertisers for us all!
            Jan

          4. Agree! As an artist I like to see what every one is doing wherever I go. I personally would not like to have my work in a gallery that was by appointment only. The more people who see it the more chance if a sale.

        2. I recently had a chance to spend a couple of days in a tourist town on the coast. It was the middle of the week so the town wasn’t busy. I went to the chamber of commerce and got a map of the galleries in town. More than half the galleries were closed, partly because it was midweek but some had already closed for the season. I was struck by the contrast of two of the galleries in particular that were open. The first one I walked in to the person behind the counter never looked up from whatever she was working on at her computer. Her back was to the gallery and the people coming in to look. The half hour I was there, there were no sales. I watched as people came and went and she never bothered to engage with any of them. The second gallery, the gal was perched on an interesting stool in the middle of the gallery cheerfully chatting up everyone who came in. In the short time I was there she made two seemingly effortless sales. One was the interesting stool she was sitting on, the other for a new bronze sculpture that had just come in. The interesting part was the work in each gallery was similar but the entire feel between the two galleries couldn’t have been more like night and day.

        3. I love to shop – shoes, art, whatever. You may think I am “just killing time” but I am never in a store that doesn’t interest me. The key is to engage me without pressure. I am a sucker for a social experience where I learn something without being made to feel ignorant for not knowing it. Recently husband and I bought a painting for several thousand dollars after dinner. We decided to walk off dinner and ended up in a gallery purchasing art we didn’t need but wanted because the gallery manager personally walked around with us, happily showing and explaining the most recent additions to his gallery. I felt feeling I had made a friend. Next time we have dinner there I am sure we will end up at the gallery…probably bringing home more art!

        4. Irene, As an artist, I suggest you invite an artist or two to paint or sculpt in your gallery. I have painted both in galleries and at shows and the energy created
          with a working artist on the premises is far different than without.
          Find artists that are comfortable talking to people and you will attract buyers
          as well as lookers.

      2. Here is what has worked for me. The client in a gallery says “I love it”. The response is “Art belongs to the person who loves it.” It is now personal. Be prepared to deal. I always say and do, I price my work fairly but I will take payments, with cred it and a sum of money.

        1. Beverly, I love you “art belongs to the person who loves it” response. It acknowledges the buyers taste and cements there position as a patron. I have run my own gallery for 4 years and come from an artist background rather than a sales background. I find it easier to sell the work of other artists than I do my own, but I am getting better at it. The credit option and payments have helped me make sales as well.

  4. I had just that experience at an open studio this past weekend. I placed the mosaic in the hands of the potential client, who had expressed interest in it, has asked the price and was talking about how it would look over the fireplace. I was sure she would take it. I do not recall my specific words to her at that time but I think I very gently urged her to take it. She was looking at a variety of other pieces at the same time, so I waited and she and her mother left without buying anything. In spite of “handling” several pieces and asking prices. One of my concerns in that particular sale incident is that the clients were Asian and I am not and I was unsure of cultural issues that might intervene. On the other hand, I have trouble nudging any clients. In your view, are there cultural issues involved in selling to anyone not of one’s own ethnic background?

    1. Good question Betsy – I’ve not found ethnicity or nationality to be an issue in my 20+ years of experience. If you are natural and not pushy you’ll find that people are very forgiving of any cultural differences – especially if they are on your turf (it might be a different story if you traveled to Japan and tried the same approach). I will say that there have been times where there might be a language issue more than a cultural one, and in those cases I sometimes have to be more direct about the close so that they understand exactly what I’m asking. “Would you like to purchase the painting?” or “Would you like to buy the sculpture?”

      1. Ditto. This scenario proved itself repeatedly in several trips to Mexico and Beijing. The marked price is never the sale price, ever. Part of the confusion is ignorance of currency equivalence. Repeat those numbers to your interested party until you are tired of them. There’s an app for that. πŸ™‚ Some cultures appreciate the dynamic of negotiation (I don’t). Regardless, I bought two lovely paired prints in China of the Yangshou region. We started at $350 USD and bought them at $125. I have offered nominal discounts on my work but cringe at the general dynamic … I’ve decided what I want for a painting and will not sell below that threshold. I’m currently taking monthly payments on a painting a guy wants badly. Don’t neglect time payments; it is always an option. I want people to enjoy and love my work and will figure out a way for them to have it.

  5. I offer monthly payments to me instead of a credit card with high interest payments. I charge no interest. I have never been burned in decades of being an artist. That mostly works for local clients.

    1. I offer a zero-interest payment plan too, and that works wonderfully for me – and I offer it to people from everywhere. The art doesn’t get shipped to them until all the payments are made (I’m a sculptor, the pieces usually have to be cast to order). I’ve never been burned using this method either. I have a printed document I give them when we talk about the payment plan. I made it a flexible plan that’s as fair to each of us as I could make it. Nobody’s ever asked for a change in the stipulations or anything. It works.

      I HAVE been burned by showing in galleries – one gallery owner stole a bronze from me (he’s in jail now – I wasn’t the only person he robbed), and I’ve had pieces stolen from galleries (the gallery’s insurance paid in full, thank goodness) and stolen from places where they were on display as advertising. That’s not fun. I’ve also found I sell my work better than galleries do, so I’m only in a couple of galleries – and I’m still selling more than they do.

      1. Lynda, I am curious what your terms are for such a payment plan? Do you require half down then divide the remaining balance in equal payments? What would happen if you placed an item on hold for this payment plan but a client failed to complete payment? Are all payments non-refundable? Just trying to figure out how I might do this and any details will be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

          1. Oops, I did something wrong there (with that previous reply), sorry.

            I take a non-refundable down payment and work out monthly payments that are comfortable for the buyer (never less than $100). I don’t put a piece on hold because I do editions. I will have their piece cast when they’ve paid half of my price, usually. It takes 3-6 months to have a piece cast, so that works out well time-wise. Sometimes the delay in getting the bronze is useful, such as when they want the patina to match their horse’s color and markings and they need to take more photos so that can be done properly.

            If I did have a one-of-a-kind that someone wanted to make payments on, they would be required to pay half up front, a non-refundable deposit. That’s serious enough money to keep people paying, most of the time. That payment would cover casting costs. I’ve never had anyone not make their payments, although in one case, I agreed to accept reduced payments for a while when they were having problems (truck needed expensive repair, as I recall). I’m a kind person, but not stupid (most of the time!). I try to keep my clients happy and protect my business at the same time.

            If I can figure out how to do it, I’ll paste my payment plan in a reply box for you. I made it up, but I don’t mind sharing.

          2. Okay, here ya go. Adjust it however you need to. I hope it helps the business of whoever uses it!

            Zero Interest Monthly Payment Plan

            Down Payment: 50% on resin, 33% on bronze

            Minimum Monthly Payment: 10% of purchase price

            Payments are DUE NOT LATER THAN 15th of each month. It is the Buyer’s responsibility to make payments in a timely manner. NO NOTICES WILL BE SENT.

            If the Buyer does not make scheduled payments in a timely manner (as agreed to herein), the deposit and all payments to date are forfeited with no refund and the sale cancelled.

            At the sole discretion of Whimsy Hill Studio, an exception to this Agreement MAY be made if the Buyer contacts the Seller and asks for an extension of the payment terms. Buyer must notify Seller before any payment is delinquent (payments not received by Seller before the 15th of the month).

            Delivery of Artwork

            Sculptures are cast on a per-order basis. Delivery schedule is difficult to predict due to the schedule of the casting foundry, which is out of the control of Whimsy Hill Studio. Typically, delivery will be made within 12 weeks of receipt of complete payment for an order; however, this time schedule cannot be guaranteed. Every effort will be made to deliver the piece in a timely manner.

            ALL SALES ARE FINAL. NO REFUNDS.

            Agreement

            I understand and agree to the terms of this purchase agreement.

            Signed:_______________________________________________________ Date:_____________

            (Two copies must be signed, one for the Buyer and one for the Seller.)

  6. During the last open studio, a man I sort of know said, “I want that painting”. I said, “Great – let me wrap that up for you.” His wife said, ‘NOT UNTIL YOU GET A JOB, YOU’RE NOT!!”.

    Come on, Ground, Open Up NOW. As if selling weren’t hard enough. . .

    I am currently reading a book called Thou Shall Prosper by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. I think it will help me with the false notions about “filthy lucre” and that selling is not a legitimate part of earning a living with art.

    1. Wow Jana – those spouses really know how to put the kibosh on things, don’t they. There’s only one way out of a situation like that – humor. “You know, I’ve got the feeling this painting is just the inspiration Bob needs to get that next job!” It might not have overcome the wife’s veto, but humor gives everyone an easy way out without having to feel sheepish about it.

  7. Very interesting topic but that only seem to mention face to face sale.
    What if the client says something like that ”i’ll go home and measure” or ”I really like it, just need to think about it”, and you have to ”continue” the sale process by email?
    A client came to my home to do a painting workshop and saw a 1.5×2 meter painting I have almost completed. She loved it (although it’s 95% finished) but she caught me off guard asking for a price, which I had not worked out yet. I emailed her a photo of it with dimensions and it sounds like the painting would fit in her lounge. How do I now give her the price and move on to closing the deal?
    Thank you for your interesting post πŸ™‚
    Mimi

    1. Great point Mimi – and you’re right that there is a different dynamic, though not as different as you might expect. Be direct. Follow up with the pricing information and go straight for a close to get a feel for how serious she is. I might right something like:

      “Dear Jane,

      I am following up on the image I sent you last week, which is now complete. This piece is valued at $X,XXXX. It sounds like it would be perfect for your space and I could see how much you loved it when you saw it in the studio. How can I help you make this piece part of your collection?

      Mimi”

      Something along those lines. Of course, you had the conversation with her and will have a better sense of the write tone. You will also have your own way of speaking – make the note your own. I would encourage you to strike while the iron is hot.

      I’d be curious how you price your work that you weren’t able to give her a price right then – most of my artists price by size and would have been able to give a price on the spot. I like to be able to do that because you run the risk of having the client think you are raising the price because you have an interested party. That’s a discussion for another blog post, but you might watch our video at http://www.reddotblog.com/wordpress/index.php/pricing-your-artwork-to-sell-podcast-video-recording-now-available/

      Be sure and let us know how it goes!

      1. Thanks for that Jason, that was helpful! I worded it in a way that connected with my client and will let you know how it goes!

        As far as pricing my art, like most artists… it’s not an easy thing to do!
        I look at: the size of the piece, how much time I spent on it (if art supplies to make it were expensive such as a large canvas) and what a client would reasonably want to pay in this age of people not spending much… then come up with a price that won’t make me cry if it sells lol
        In the end, I have a rough price range depending on the size (for example, A4 size would be around $49-59, A3 around $59-79, and so on). But I admit it’s not a completely transparent structure. I also charge more for commissions.

        The reason I couldn’t give her a price on the spot was because I wasn’t intending to sell that piece which I did for me and was just showing her out of interest. Also, because I find it hard to sell large pieces (this one is 1.5 x 2 meters), I don’t make them anymore so I was a bit caught of guard when she said she loved it and it was what she was aiming to achieve by attending my painting workshop. She talked about measuring her room so I said I’d work out the price and let her know as the piece isn’t completely finished yet.

        In the end, I’d rather have my paintings in homes where they are loved (that’s partly the reason I paint!) so I quoted her a price that I think is pretty good considering the size and the fact I have been working on it on and off over the last couple of years.

        Fingers crossed πŸ˜‰

  8. There’s a connection made when someone sees the spirit in my painting that I also love. That simple joy is all I keep my focus on when I sell, so it is easy, like being on the same team. “Well, so is that a go?” “Okay, did I hear you say that you want the piece?” “Is there anything else you need to know, or are you ready to have this piece look amazing on your living room wall?”

  9. In a 2004 outdoor spring venue I was displaying about 15 pieces of my embellished fabric collages- quite large pieces On a nearby table I had a bunch of smaller framed prints -Mostly 10 x 12″ going for a ridiculously low price actually. Mosf everyone was thrilled by the originals because of the fabric texture & embellishments making the originals only – quite extraordinary ( if I may say so myself). However those prices are between $1500. & 4,500Dollars. The man was debating whether or not to buy the print. He works for the government so I know he could afford $15! Going back-and-forth it was a big decision! Finally I just said, “Well, this is $3000 for the Twin Towers and this print…, Well? I” Shelled out the money- Quickly too. Though I don’t know how you can extrapolate – for me the messages was they won’t buy the most expensive, but if you show them something lesser they may just buy it if it’s of the same content.

  10. “I simply assume that they are going to say yes.”
    This and the closer phrases. I rarely sold paintings never a high dollar one until I changed my outlook, tweaked my conversation to be less fluff and more direct and I recently sold 6 pieces in a matter of hours. Can’t say it’s going to happen at every show, but it definitely was the confidence that got me there and gave me the confidence to keep going.

    So my main things were to streamline my talk, know how and when to close, and knowing I can sell.

    1. Vincent – attitude is really important in my experience. The truth is that the vast majority of people who look at your work are not going to buy. That can lead you to believe that no one is going to buy. It can be difficult to keep the energy up when you face a lot of “no”s. I would turn that on its head though and think in terms of the excitement of never knowing exactly when the next person who comes along will buy.

      If you don’t put the effort in with every single buyer your success is going to drop. Having the right attitude makes every event more successful, and makes the ones that are less successful more enjoyable.

    2. I have a problem “streamlining my talk” because I do horse art and my main sales venue is a four day horse trade fair where over 100,000 people come through and want to talk about how this resembles their own horse, or they love that piece but they’d want it of their own horse. Yes, I do commissions, but I’d rather sell existing work! (My bronzes are nearly all editions.) Once the horse talk starts, it’s hard for me to keep it focused on the art because I’m a horseperson myself and have my own stories to share/discuss/etc. And I don’t want to come across as a “hard sell” artist either. I sell a decent amount of work, but my work is expensive because it’s bronze, and yes, you can buy a live horse for what my pieces cost – and that’s the mentality I have to get past. I’m open to suggestions.

  11. A phrase that’s worked well for me is, “would you like to add this to your collection?” sometimes they’ll say we don’t have a collection, and I say with a smile, “well then, would you like to start one?”

      1. Yeah Jason, if they say no, they’re not offended that I asked. Other times, I realized that people are actually standing there waiting for you to ask for the sale. They instinctively know that’s what should come next. After I tried asking for the sale a few times, it got easier. I used to do outdoor “art in the park” shows and that’s when I learned to sell.

    1. Yes! I love this. I’m an artist and a shopper. When someone asks me if I want to add their art to my collection I am flattered that they realize I collect art. When selling my own work (at fairs primarily but also in a gallery and my home) I use the “3 Fs” if they are waffling or about to leave. It’s a technique, yes, but it’s genuine. I say: “I know how you FEEL, there is so much to look at and enjoy at this fair. I have FELT like wanting to see everything before I made a decision so I completely understand you wanting to browse around, however, I have FOUND that I often return to buy something that I can’t get out of my mind only to discover someone purchased it. I can tell you love this piece as much as I do. I only wish I could put it aside for you …”

    1. That’s something I do as well. Every piece has a story behind it and they love hearing the stories. But then they start telling me similar stories from their own lives with horses and the talk moves away from art so it’s hard to ask for the close smoothly. Very frustrating.

      1. We have noticed the artwork has been leaving at a smaller dollar amounts than in the past …A sale is still a sale.
        The story behind a piece is just as valuable as the art work itself. I’ve sold many pieces of art on story alone.
        A story that the client can relate to and or helps them to decode or explain what was going on in the artists mind.
        I have many years in the art business, both in SOHO and in CT, with my current gallery and I don’t think that I have ever sold a piece of art without a title. That too is important in selling a piece… like a story,It gives the piece a sense of validation. What I am sensing is that in many cases whereas the clients are purchasing a more expensive piece of art… the clients are purchasing a piece of the artist’s experience or soul. It empowers them as they now own something with meaning or purpose rather than “it just looks good over he sofa”…Though I don’t mind those sales either. These day, a sale is a sale.

      2. If they’re that much in tune with you they won’t be offended if you suddenly stop, say something like “Ooops! I did it again! I love talking about horses so much, sometimes I just forget that I’m here for a limited time, displaying my art. Pardon me for going off on that tangent….” etc.

        Put them in your shoes, apologize for breaking your own rules, and then carry on showing your work.

  12. There is almost no way to do a classic close on a web site or virtual gallery site like Etsy. But one does have to provide all of the factors leading up to the close such as a clear and complete product description, good photographs that clearly show the artwork, indications that you are a reputable seller by means of a rating system and/or testimonials and transparency in the terms of sale including the price and all shipping and handling charges, return policies etc.

    Every question which a client would normally ask should have been addressed up front and a means of reaching you, the seller should be easily available for any less usual questions. Normally under these conditions, if the item is what the client wants, the sale will close itself.

    However, if the client should contact you it does give you, the seller, the opportunity to close the sale in a more personal manner. Sometimes they have reservations that you need to assuage, or they may want to commission a piece or they may give you an opportunity to up-sell by asking if you have any more items like it available. Whatever they want, closing the sale means finding a way to meet their needs.

    And something to keep in mind is if the client has contacted you it is because they need something that they think you have and you are doing them a favor by providing it for them. You both should be going into the conversation with the expectation of closing a sale.

  13. Thank you so much for this one! I am right now in that exact situation. I have this customer who bought already 2 of my larger paintings. She called me, she is from out of town, and told me that her husband and her really like the one big piece that they saw at their last visit ~3 weeks ago. They are remodeling and it would fit exactly in a certain stop. We even established a price range on the phone that she was ok with. I sent her as requested a photo again with the fixed set price and I am waiting for one week now with an answer. How should I follow up without pushing?

    1. In this kind of scenario (not having heard back from a customer) I like to try to add some useful information to the conversation as an excuse for follow up. Can you tell her more about the inspiration for the piece? Maybe talk a little bit about technique or what makes this piece unique.

      Include the photo again, with pricing information, and conclude, as suggested above, by explicitly asking for the sale.

      It may be that she feels like she needs to wait until the remodel is finished, or she may have something else going on that is distracting her from the purchase, but by asking you give her the opportunity to tell you so, and she’ll also probably give you an idea of how to follow up.

      Be sure and read the related post at http://www.reddotblog.com/wordpress/index.php/3-tips-to-help-you-better-follow-up-with-art-buyers-and-make-more-sales/

  14. I sell through galleries, consultants; and out of my studio. Regarding studio sales; I am learning to recognize the difference between “clients” who are looking to soak in the “artist” atmosphere and entertain notions that they COULD buy something. If possible; reading or pre-vetting their INTENTIONS is important….they actually have no intention at all of buying. Would be a great topic to discuss how to turn these folks into buyers.
    The other half; the real CLIENTS; are hell-bent on buying (yes; it does seem to motivate when they know the piece already has interested buyers)! It’s just a matter of honing in on the right price. I have had buying frenzies in the studio when the clients feel they are getting something of value at a good price.
    I have been left very confused by enthusiastic visitors who rhapsodize about the art/studio/process then walk away; what I think now is that they were largely there for the entertainment factor (see previous comment by Robert). Sometimes these people will walk away with a small print, but not the big painting (price points!). My hope is that they will return when & if they’re serious about buying.

    1. I agree with Angela, they may not have the money. However that doesn’t mean that time spent with them is not useful. If those people love what you do they will tell others, which can increase your popularity and is good for your brand. You never know, that person who can’t buy one of your paintings themselves might talk about you to others who can, so it’s good to take the long view.

      1. Have to treat everyone very special , re: word of mouth matters greatly for future sales from them and/or their friends.

      2. A fan of mine has little money but comes to every show and always says how much he loves my work. He has never bought anything but recently it was his birthday and as he has always been vocal about loving my work some friends of his bought him a painting! They are serious art collectors so I now have two sets of fans! Never write off someone on a low income, word of mouth is powerful and you don’t know who they know!

    2. Nina I am your nemesis: the enthusiastic visitor that frustrates and confuses you. I browse galleries all the time wherever I go , and yes…oftentimes simply to fill time while I”m waiting for the rain to end!.
      I pop in to see what excites the artist, to learn about their style, to get another view of what’s happening in the art world. I love creative people and want to meet them and learn a bit about what makes them tick.
      When I first started browsing, I had never dreamt about owning art at all (it was probably a rainy day) – yet over the past 15 years I’ve probably purchased about 20 or more pieces ranging from $75 – $3,000. When I think back to what persuaded me to buy, it boils down to only two things: first and most importantly, the positive interaction with the artist or gallery owner that was created through our conversation and mutual interest in one another. If artists or gallery owners don’t make time to discuss art with me, tell me why it’s great, how it’s made, why they themselves like it, or relate the “story” of its creation, then I might give them a second chance another day, but never a third. The more I like or connect with the artist, then the more I like their creations. Being enthusiastic in creating this connection is what you can do.
      Secondly, I have never walked into a gallery or studio with an intent to buy. Never. And I only have bought art that “speaks to me.” And no, I cannot explain what that is, even to myself… It’s something I “feel” almost instantly and it always surprises me when it happens. I can (and do) gush about a lot of art that I see but only a very few pieces say “you aren’t leaving here with out me.” Also, I’ve never regretted one dime I’ve spent on art, and have never believed that price is an inducement. I either want the piece of art, or I don’t want it….regardless of price.
      And the last thing I’ll say is that I perennially rave about artists and galleries that accommodate my “browsing” and I encourage others to drop in. I also rant to everyone about artists and galleries that don’t seem to care whether I dropped in or not.

      1. Thankyou Bette for that insight. I belueve you are typical of MOST buyers and it’s very useful to be reminded (or educated) about what it is like to be in the buyers shoes. As artists trying to make a living it can be easy to get frustrated and disheartened so it’s good to remember that most often people will buy what they ‘fall in love with’ and that we ALL appreciate a polite friendly experience.

  15. Closing a sale is the crux of continuing as an artist. If they ask the price of a work, I know they are interested in it.
    I tell them a price-range. If they want to know how much exactly one work is, I know they are hooked.
    There then is a few minutes of silence.
    Breaking this silence by saying something ruins the sale. There is a tension in the air. One must be extremely quiet and patience. They are considering it.
    Then if they smile and say “O.K.”, I take out my sales stationery.
    This usually works.
    Sometimes people walk away without commiting. I usually lose the sale. However, one couple who did walk away ended up purchasing my work at a museum auction.

  16. I have a Open Studio every year which is my main selling opportunity. I find many of the people who visit just love to talk and while I try to be courteous and listen to the person talking I am not able to attend to the other people who enter my studio. I have no way of knowing whether the people that I could not get to in time would have purchased a painting if I had been able to speak to them before they left. I find this part of trying to sell art very frustrating. How would I be able to handle these situations without having someone else to help me, which I don’t.
    I also would like to ask this question. In 2008 I had the best year I had ever had selling my paintings then I don’t know if it is the economy or what but since then it has been very slow. I am frightened of lowering my prices because of the people who have purchased my work in the past. Do I just keep the prices as they are and just keep trying or do you have any other suggestions?

    1. Linda,

      I totally understand your dilemma when people monopolize your time at an event – it can happen in the gallery at shows as well. When I’m in that situation (I can see a potential buyer looking at artwork, but I’m engaged in a conversation with someone who won’t stop talking) I will reach out and lightly touch the arm of the person who’s talking to me and say, “excuse me Bill, I just need to go over and talk to these folks). I find that the touch is a subtle yet clear way to break into the conversation, and I will do it right in the middle of the sentence if I need to.

      Invariable, they will say, “of course! Don’t let me keep you!” They may have temporarily forgotten, but they know that you are at the event to sell and they don’t want to get in your way. They won’t, therefore, be even the slightest bit offended. When you are finished greeting customers you can come back with a smile and say “Thank you!” and pick the conversation up where you left off.

      As far as sales dropping, I suspect that it may very well have been the economy (the timing is right). We’re still climbing out of the hole the recession dug for us. I would suggest that instead of lowering prices you find more venues to show your work and try to attract new buyers while keeping your past buyers informed. Since sales have slowed, you should be building up inventory.

  17. Jason,
    I am interested in the concerns of artists and the need to sell for survival. I have many professional artist friends. I am an artist, have been since I could hold a crayon, but I am not an artist by profession. I am not pressured about selling my work. I create because I want to. I have sold some of my works, or should I say my works have sold themselves. So, you might wonder why I am wasting your time. I would like to express my thoughts about the just looking but not buying group (JLBNB). I think it is important to consider that people come to your galleries and studios because they appreciate Art. If entertainment was the goal they might otherwise go to a water park. I am a JLBNB person for the most part and whilst I might not buy something (insert all the legitimate reasons here) I am critical and I do know people who respect my taste and talent and who are are in the market and position to buy your art. If I like your work and you I will refer them, so don’t underestimate the power and value of the JLBNB. It is your art, you have the story, people want to know the story for just about anything, and you have invited people to come in, so be who you are, tell and sell your story, invite them back, give them some information to take with them, and let the rest happen.

  18. another awesome post…i learned a lot from both your post and the comments (i even took notes!). closing the deal is hard for me, after reading your 4 closing statements i thought i could never say those things…but in your next paragraph you talked about using humor and i can certainly do that! i will be giving all these suggestions a whirl in September at an upcoming show! thanks!!!

  19. Hi . I normally sell very well and can close but lately I have a lot of buyers say they have no more space. So I tell them I do what my mother did with curtains. She changed her curtains with the seasons. Heavy curtains for Winter ( More formal paintings) Lighter curtains for summer ( Beach scenes , Etc, more relaxed ) sometimes it works. Better when the husband isn’t there.
    I used to own 2 jewelry stores so price doesn’t faze me. Except that I had 6 children and I can feel a customers hesitancy and possibly he really can’t afford it. I can push him into a sale but worry afterwards. We have a 2nd Saturday reception every month and I see lots of potential customers and a lot of be backs in the gallery.
    Sylvia Stanton

  20. Hi Jason, I’ve recently discovered these discussion threads and they’re invaluable! Thank you for allowing us a place to share our insights and learn from you. I’m wondering if you (or the other readers) have advice on a situation I’ve encountered numerous times: I’m not represented by a gallery, but I frequently exhibit in group shows around the country and in Italy, and have my available work on a “For Purchase” section of my website. I get queries by email which I consider fairly rude in that they don’t offer any information about the buyer, how they found my work, where they are located or why they’re interested. They just say, “How much is your XX piece?” I can’t tell if they’re other artists trying to gauge how much they could get for their own work, or if they are truly interested. I don’t list prices on my site because I would prefer to interact with the client, perhaps even suggesting something custom made for them if they like my work but don’t see exactly what they want on the site. I try to draw out information in my response, but I don’t want to appear rude myself. In a few cases I’ve Googled the person and in one case found that the only listing for her is something along the lines of “I sell vintage poodle-themed doilies on my Etsy site” or something of that nature, so I’m pretty sure she had no intention of purchasing. But you never know. Any suggestions for friendly, info-gathering responses?

    1. You can put some of those questions into your contact form, this way people will only contact you if they are actually serious. If you are worried about putting people off you can offer options on the form like ‘I am interested in buying artwork’ ‘ I want to feature your work on my website/ magazine/…’ And even Other or something like ‘ I just want to say hello ‘ or whatever works for the reasons someone might contact you.

  21. If someone wants to take the painting home and see how it looks, I’ll ask them to pay for it first, and let me know in a week. The last time I did this, the buyer wrote two checks, one for each painting they were considering. I said I would tear up one of the checks when they decided on which one they wanted. They ended up buying both!
    I did that another time, several years ago, when the buyer brought them home to show her husband; she returned both paintings!

  22. love all of these suggestions. what about selling online though via website or art auctions?
    Is there anything you can say to help push buyers and increase sales? i realize it is a different situation since you are not face to face with your buyer and you may not have had any prior contact with them.

  23. Great, great article and comments. Thank you, Jason!

    I had an awkward situation that came up last year. Until last year, the majority of my income comes from commissioned portraits, so I never had to worry about closing a sale; the client came to me ready to purchase.

    Last year, however, I had a show with a high-end gallery in my town. The gallery priced one of my paintings at $5800, considerably higher than my normal price. A gentleman was very interested in it and the gallery owner offered to bring it to his house so he could see how it looked with his other artwork. He offered $4000 but the gallery owner turned him down, confident that she would be able to sell the painting to someone else at the higher price. Well, no one else offered to buy the painting.

    A few months later, the same man e-mailed me, still interested in the painting. The gallery owner did not want to sell it to the man for $4000 because she felt he was just trying to get a cheap deal; she said he has a reputation for doing that. I didn’t know what to do so, after talking with the gallery owner, I e-mail him back and said the gallery could offer him a 15% discount ($4640). He did not buy it. In the end, I still have the painting in my house. I would have been happy with the $4000 but did not want to step on the gallery owner’s toes.

    Should I have pushed the gallery owner to take the lower price or should I have stayed out of it since it was the gallery’s job to sell the painting? This gentleman has bought several artworks from this gallery owner.

    1. Are you allowed to sell the painting yourself – from your own website, after a certain amount of time has elapsed? (I’m surprised that you as the artist, rather than the gallery owner, were not setting the prices.)

  24. I think that there are many people who love art and would like to purchase something, but really don’t have any idea what they may be looking at. They may need some help with “seeing”. The gallery owner/worker or artist in a direct sale may be able to point out some things for them, in effect giving them an education on what they are looking at. This can be done subtlety taking care not to offend a potential purchaser’s own artistic knowledge and eye. I think it is important to know that not everyone walking up to your piece is going to have any idea of what has gone into it. But this can increase their knowledge and appreciation of what is there and may even heighten their desire to purchase it. We can hope for that!

  25. Hi Jason, Great postings here.

    The sales training I was given included the following acronym. I was told to be successful that I must “get” all 5 of these: A I D C C (Attention, Interest, Desire, CONVICTION (that what I was offering would truly be of benefit and serve the customer well)…and then the Close could/would happen).

    I was taught NOT to focus on or mention a feature (like the color or size, etc.) unless it was of interest to or benefit for the customer. The boss was frequently floating around the gallery listening to all the salespeople’s conversations.
    I was actually told the day I was hired that if I was ever overheard focusing on any features that were NOT of interest or benefit to the customer…as soon as the customer left the premises…I would be FIRED!

    That was a real motivator! It meant that I had to spend time carefully listening and asking questions so I could find out what the customer’s interests, needs, and concerns were..and not just focus on what I liked or wanted to share about the work. Although
    I was encouraged to briefly tell the “story” of the art, but then to ask questions similar to many of the questions given here.

    For instance, if the art was rectangular and being shown horizontally, and the customer needed it to hang vertically, I had to learn that, and assure the customer it would be fine* to hang the art whatever way worked for them. (*If that was true.)

    Thanks so much for this opportunity to share and learn. Warmly, Catherine

  26. I had a patron come into my studio and express sincere interest in three pieces that happened to be grouped together because of their color. She said they’d look beautiful over her buffet and would like to come back and purchase them in the very near future. I suggested leaving a deposit; she looked at her husband, who was not interested in doing so, and she said she’d be back. She, indeed, came back on my next month’s open studio. This time, she said she was going on vacation, and would be back when she returned–which was about two months from them. In the meantime, I followed Jason’s suggestion and emailed her, including images of the three pieces. With Jason’s approval, I offer a small price consideration after their first purchase. I offered her the price consideration on all three pieces to sweeten the deal. She said she’d come to my next open studio when she returned, which she did. But, she put the purchase off again. When I emailed her about my next month’s open studio, I offered to pay the sales tax, deliver the three pieces, and assist in hanging them. She neither showed up at the next month’s open studio nor answered my email. I once again emailed her and reviewed the information I had given her previously. This time, the email came back as undeliverable; she’d apparently changed her email address.

    1. Michael, this echoes many of my exchanges with people in the last several years. It feels as if I have to work harder and harder for fewer sales of smaller pieces. Perhaps, “It’s the economy, Stupid”?

  27. my favorite close statement is “Shall we do the paperwork?” by not mentioning money or buy the subconscious resistance we all have to be “sold” does not get triggered, and paperwork is less loaded it comes after the yes, so the mind has already “acquired” the work

  28. Hi Jason,
    Fantastic post–I love your concrete advice.
    Could you write another post about when “they say no and asking “why not”?” I think that fear of the person saying “no” and the temptation to make up a story about why they may say no (I offended them, they hate me, vague panic about being rejected) stops a lot of people. I’d love a concrete example of how to handle the “no thanks” conversation too–or what in your experience usually happens…
    Thanks for all you do!

      1. Ditto. I spent much of last weekend in Tempe watching people zoom into my booth, drool and have their eyes pop out over my work and then saying ‘well, we just got here, we’ll walk around and think about it’. It got so bad that my booth neighbor who was selling every 10 mins came in and said ‘this is ridiculous, I can overhear you and you’re doing everything right – why isn’t stuff selling?’ To which the answer is ‘they say no, and I’ve no idea what to do after that’.

  29. Good post Jason;

    I recently had an inquiry for one of my pieces on my website from an interested buyer over a hundred miles away telling me she loved the piece and how much was it. I responded with a nice note and gave her the price and a little more about the painting. She responded a few days later saying she was interviewing for a new position and if she got the job she would buy the painting. I wasn’t really sure if she was serious, because there are a lot of scams going on on the web, but I wished her luck on her interview and said I looked forward to hearing good news. About ten days later she wrote again and asked if I would mind sending a photo of the painting, and I did send her a digital image. She wrote a thank you back and said she put it on her computer as her screensaver and she got the job and wanted to buy the painting. I wrote back and said congratulations on the new job that is great news and I am pleased you want the painting. The painting is in a show right now (it was) I can mark it not for sale, but could you please send me a small deposit to hold it for you in the meantime. She said she would be happy to do so and asked if I would take a check. I asked if she would mind a bank draft or a money order and she replied that she would have it sent from her bank. I also told her I was contacted by another couple ( I truly was) about the same painting. She didn’t just send a deposit, she sent the entire amount. When I delivered the painting to her and her husband as they were coming though town, I was pleased to hear her say, ” Oh wow, it is even more beautiful in person.” That was music to my ears.

  30. About the issue of pricing by size, brought up earlier in this discussion. This may work for paintings, but I do fine art mosaics in which the value of the materials varies a lot. For example, if I use 24 karat gold tesserae the piece is more costly to me to make than if I use marble or found objects. And glass smalti is somewhere in the middle as cost to me.

    What might be a good way to establish a pricing policy? Should this be written down, for example, at the head of my price lists?

  31. First let me start out by thanking everyone for the dialogue. All of the comments are helpful in guiding us when in a tight situation.
    One of my best tactics when a client is pondering, is to give them a moment, especially when they are with their spouse/significant other, and then begin a conversation such as: “I am honored that you have chosen one of my pieces. It means so much to me to know that my painting could be going to a home that it will be cherished as much as I cherish it. Choosing art is not always a quick decision and I value the time you have invested in my painting. Part of my goal while working on a piece is to engage the viewer to be a participant, rather than only a viewer. I respect the fact that you have that sense about you to do just that. I trust that “Boarding Pass” will be something that will give you pleasure for many, many years.” I usually have a story behind my pieces and I share that. After I get a feel for their reaction, I then inquire if I can wrap the piece for them.

  32. I like Irene Schack von Brockdorff have a gallery in a tourist town in the mountains, east of San Diego. I have fourteen artists in the gallery. I spend a tremendous amount of time with each customer, and find many are there for entertainment or browsing while waiting for friends. However our tourist town is quite famous and visitors return time after time. So spending the time and chatting about the sites and places of the town are rewarding as I have found that these lookie-loos are starting to return later, on their subsequent visits, because we became personable and friendly to them, took an interest in their visit to our town and made them feel welcome. Sure we might miss others coming into the gallery, but when we get a crowd, I make an effort to start talking to all of them in an introductory manner, and focus in on the ones who turn and listen. Generally one or two will ask questions. Also important is the information factor, to tell the story of the art they are looking at……the process of the art piece, information about the artist, where the art object is located or where the subject is or was at the time, etc., my gallery most is photography. I really appreciate the information everyone here gave on “closing” the sale. Would like to here more comments. Thanks.!!

  33. I am primarily an art fair artist. My biggest problem is what we call “be-backs”…as in: “We just got to the show and want to see it all before making any decisions, but we love your work and we’ll be back later.” It just doesn’t happen…rarely anyway. So, what I’d like to know is…what could I possibly say to them at that moment to make them pull the trigger? I know they are probably telling the truth and want to “do the show” first, and I don’t blame them (some show are humongous)…but I also know that an hour from now, after looking at hundreds of images, they will most likely forget about me, where my booth was, that they liked my work, or even what it looked like. Now, the only thing I have been able to think of so far is to give them my card (that has an image, website, etc), write the name and price of the piece on the back, along with my booth number and a note saying “10% off today only”. I’m open to any other suggestions. Help!

    1. I think that’s a great idea; it gives them something visual to refer to. They might also be encouraged to take photos of a couple they like.

      I work in another artist’s gallery, and had a customer ask what he was like to work for. She was very concerned that she not give her money to an “ass”. I told her it was great to work for him (which is true). Being someone they’d love to support can count for a lot.

      -BH

  34. I don’t do art fairs anymore but when I did, I had a very frequent experience with couples. The woman is at the tent next to mine looking at and purchasing jewelry. The man is looking at my photography and finds something he LOVES. When the woman comes to find him, carrying a bag with her jewelry purchase, the man shows her a photo he wants to buy. She says “no” and they walk out. I’ve even a situation where a man purchased a photo, the woman walked in to find him and she exclaimed, “WHAT DID YOU DO!!!!” while carrying a jewelry purchase. At least she did not demand that he return it. I found this an interesting study of human nature. I don’t do art fairs any more. Found them not worth the time, work and expense, and that they were generally more a form of entertainment for people than for serious purchasers.

    1. One gallery owner told me that she says to the couples who don’t agree on artwork, “When she finds the piece she loves, you get it, put it in her area and call it ‘hers,’ and when he finds the piece he loves, you get it, put it in his area and call it ‘his,” and when you actually find something you both love, you put it a prominent place in their home and call it ‘ours.'” It’s only fair, and both are happy.

  35. Thank you, Jason, for all your help! i always read your articles with interest & pleasure!
    I sell my husband’s art & it’s even more difficult than selling one’s own art work (especially when we are on the rocks!)
    What I often use, when selling at our gallery, I say: I keep forgetting (which is true!) to put a sign on the wall: I should have bought it when I first saw it! It helps.
    Thank you for everything.
    Sincerely,
    Marina Ostrova.

  36. I did an art fair a few days ago. They brought through about 7000 people, which is an insane number for this area. I sold one large piece at full price. Based on this, and my observations over the years, I estimate that you have to show your art to At Least 1000 people before it is reasonable to even hope for a sale (of the original.)

    Now, I have read a few art marketing books. All of them address the things to say to a hot buyer. All of them say “don’t pre-qualify.” Yet, I watched people by the hundred come through whose eyes were glass, their hearts were stone, and they were so sick of looking at art they just wanted to sit down with a beer and tell their friends they had suffered through the most horrid display on the planet.

    I would like to watch one of these ebullient art writers/salespeople sell a piece of $2000 art to one of these “buyers.” I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the fact remains that far more people do not buy, than those that do. But it is not just the fault of the people selling.

    None of the books tell us how to gauge our success as hundreds of “buyers” rebuff our attempts to engage them.

    I am happy with my sale. It covered expenses and much more. I consider myself wildly successful compared to most artists, having only painted for 10 years, and this year selling more than I produced, which is quite a bit.

    What is your experience/observation regarding exposure/sales?

  37. Hi Jason: I love this topic and reading all the answers from all the artists. I represent artists in Southern California and specialize in exhibiting art and selling it from alternative venues. I often sell more than one piece at a time. What I do, after having someone decide to buy a piece, is to simply ask them if anything else caught their eye. More than half the time they will say “yes.” I then ask which piece or pieces they liked. They will say “that one”. I then walk with them over to that piece and look at the price and say…”Well, I see how much you like it, would you be interested if I paid the sales tax on this piece (or give you 5% off) since you are also buying the other piece?” Then I wait for the answer. Often the client will smile and say “yes.” This is called upselling. Not hard to do. You just have to not get so excited when you sell the one, that you forget to ask if they like anything else.

  38. I am enjoying the comments on selling art experiences, as I’ve only been showing and selling my art (selling recently poor where I live) for 5 yrs after 20 yr absence from doing art. I had mostly sold in the past to friends and co-workers. I recently had a local client who really want to purchase a painting in a Christian book and gift store, but didn’t want to charge it. She wanted me to hold it and she’d pay cash. I somewhat knew her, as she had opened the store and was showing a few local artists work in a small gallery in the store. We left if up and not marked as sold, until she paid me in full. Tho, it was nearly 2 months before I received the money (not recommend this often), the purchase was completed and my painting was sent to the new Pope as a gift. I have not yet heard what happened when received, but expect to eventually hear where it was placed at the Vatican. I don’t think I could have done better marketing and placement for my work than this. Don’t know if it would have sold and made this journey, without trusting my instincts about this client. I’m sure I wouldn’t chance a no-down payment or no payment hold again, but sometimes trust is a victory. It is posted on home page and under blog post “Splendid Ruin” if anyone would like to view the painting JUDIJORDANFINEART.com.

  39. Lots of great closer comments! Thanks for some new and or variations on the close technique. This may only part of the sale process but bring the painting off the wall and having the customer invest a closer more personal view outside the distraction of the rest of the art on the wall is a practice I am trying to incorporate as often as possible. Yes I too would love to hear thoughts on the “no” answer and can a sale be salvaged at this point? Or a variation of this “I can’t afford it”

  40. This discussion has been very helpful! I wish I had this knowledge when I was actively showing at art festivals and shows. I am a shy person and closing a sale has always been somewhat difficult for me, although with practice I’ve grown more comfortable talking to people about my art. Now , I still paint and create whenever I can, although I have shifted away from wildlife to pet portraits. I also find myself on the opposite side of things, where ever I go I take every opportunity to visit galleries and studios. I love to see what other artists have created and admire many. There’s a side of this no one has mentioned,…sometimes people may love a piece of art but simply can’y afford it. They walk away because they can’t buy it. I love to buy other artists work, but can’t afford a piece that’s a couple thousand no matter how much I love it. Art is a luxury item for most. I’ve had people tell me I should be able to have a great income from art sales only. I can’t see that ever happening.

    1. This is why I began to create select print lines. I find that originals help sell prints especially when the original is not in the buyer’s budget. And that prints help close the sale of originals.

  41. I was in a show a month ago and two different people walked up to two of my paintings at different times. But each had the same reaction — they each spotted a watercolor and just stood there smiling. I said the same thing to both, “I can tell by the look on your face that you need that watercolor. The woman spent less than two minutes choosing the art and paying for it. The second buyer’s wife objected that they had no wall space at home. I suggested to the man that he hang it in his office and he wrote a check. If potential buyers say they need time to think about a purchase I tell them about a woman who looked at one of my paintings at a show and said she wanted to think about it outside. As she walked out the door someone else bought the painting. She came back in five minutes and it was gone.

  42. Hello I’ve found this article and everyone’s comments so helpful. I’m always getting browsers and I get a little awkward and shy trying to close the sale. Just before Christmas I offered a gift wrap service so I would close a lot of sales that way ‘would you like me to wrap that for you’ seemed to work really well. But then again just before Christmas people seem to spend like mad things anyway. Im trying gift wrap again at my next event I will see how it goes. Also for my prints I say ‘would you like a frame with that’ and they buy the print and the frame! it’s as though you’re making their minds up for them. Also I find selling to people on there own so much easier. If they are with their partner or friend sometimes that person talks them out of buying the piece! I’m thinking ‘no don’t listen to them they don’t know what they’re talking about’ haha. Hx

  43. Although I do paint other subjects, my main income stream is from paintings of horses and I have been selling from tradestands at equestrian events since 2001. Knowing that I was not a sales person, or even knowing what to say to anyone, I have a partner who works in sales work the shows with me and she has gradually encouraged and trained me in being able to talk to people, know when to chat, when to leave people alone and what to watch for in potential clients and even how to accept a compliment about my work with out trying to argue, justify or point out the flaws in the piece! It is very hard work and I still have to leave the stand every few hours to go and draw and reconnect with my art. Still to this day the two hardest things for me to ‘get’ are how to start a conversation with someone and how to close the sale. Both, it seems to me, need an ability to read the other person, whereas I am more likely to be looking at them and wondering how I would draw them. I have worked hard to carve a niche for myself in this niche market and support myself as a full-time artist for the past 14 years, only to then have some other artists sneer at me for ‘being commercial’ or ‘only painting to sell’. (If I just wanted to make money I would never have left my previous career in design and illustration). So thank you for this very interesting article and discussion, which is also timely for me as I will be starting the new show season in the next few months. One question though. I started expanding my exhibiting into association and submission shows a couple of years ago despite all I have learned by doing the tradestands, I feel that I am back at square one in gallery situations, especially in a multi-artist show. Are there different rules? The previews that I have gone to have seen me back to hiding in a corner, watching and wondering how I would draw that particular person.

  44. Loved reading everyone’s experiences. I love the idea of simply assuming from the beginning that they are going to buy something. One thing i have found is that women especially somehow need ‘permission’…. and that by me being confident, that helps them think buying something from me is a really good idea. I have a terrible time with most of the phrases suggested by everyone, and so i go back to the idea that people need permission. I tend to say things like, sometimes it is really time for a fresh, new look.
    Its important to change things up, give that WOW factor that is missing from what we have. I suspect it isn’t as effective, but at least i can sound natural (and confident) when I say it.

  45. This is a great topic and I’m not surprised at the interest it has raised. It made me think of some sales training I have done with my daughter as she owns a bridal shop and I help out now and again. What we say to the brides – if they display signs of interest such as asking price, delivery time, touching or stroking, to name a few (all of which are echoed when selling art). We say ‘is this your dress?’ Or ‘is it the one?’
    These questions can easily be transferred…. ‘is this yours?’ ‘Is this the piece for you?’
    ‘Would you like it wrapped up?’
    Most girls say yes! Occasionally they say they’d like time to think about it. Either way you asked the question. If they say no, at least you know they were given a direct opportunity.
    This has helped massively with my daughters business so I employ it when selling my art work.

  46. It is so amazing that you have posted on this topic. I was saying to some of my arty friends at the close of a recent exhibition, “I wish someone could teach me how to close a sale!” I had a number of people circling a large painting of mine, and even coming back for 2nd looks a day later. One lady came back a third time with her husband in tow, and I was absolutely sure it was a sale, but it all came to nothing. I knew that it was up to me to somehow make the close but I just didn’t quite know what to say or do. I am now armed with some good closing lines! Just as an aside I did follow up with that lady with an email about a week after the show closed offering her a 10% discount because as I said to her “I could tell she was a genuine buyer, and really loved my work”, and Yay! I finally made the sale, but I did have to give away 10% which was a bit sad! Do you think I could have handled it better?

  47. Just joined and already have lots of ne information when it comes to selling my art! I have just recently started painting and have only sold a few pieces. Some of my work is currently showing at a local Cultural Centre. Someone who has seen this exhibit has emailed me, saying they are interested in two of my paintings and want to see how they might work in their space. Should I let them try out the paintings for a time or should I bring the paintings to their home myself? Should I ‘close the deal’ before the in-home trial? Not sure how to make this sale.

  48. New member here. I work 1 day a week in a coastal gallery in a tourist town. Never having had any training in selling but now 4 years into the job. I have found that most often the people who are buying know this when they come in and all you have to do is take the money. My own work is in the gallery too but I am not encouraged to sell it myself. I have found it hard to sell anything for more than a few pounds. I do small ceramics and cards. I also do larger paintings some of which have been up on the walls for a couple of years. Am grateful for small stuff but dont know how to sell larger pieces. I consider my prices realsonable.

  49. I just used a simple method when i’m selling my art. I tell the collector or customer that i have an installment payment plan that u can pay into equal amounts. ex: a $1000.00 art piece 2 payments of $333.50 and 1 payment of 333.00, plus if they change their mind money is guarantee back. Some customers see art as a luxury.

  50. Hello Jason and followers! Another sticky subject for me. In my career, I’ve been a curator, gallery owner, director/salesman for an art services business, and a fine artist. I have sold products in many venues: bricks and mortar, exhibit halls, studio tours, galleries, and art fairs. I sold many artworks for other artists through my gallery. But, I have a great difficulty selling my own paintings. I can stand with an artist friend in their studio or at their show and help lead the prospect to their checkbook. That’s easy for me, but not when it comes to my own work. As I write this, it sounds more like a personal psychological problem. I’ve been thinking about hiring a friend who is a good salesman to accompany me to my next art fair. Thanks, Jason.

  51. Thank You. Treasure trove of great info.I am having more success selling this past year .. My first $1000 sale a few weeks ago! And atbGalleries, to individuals, online prints and originals. Your blogs have helped me greatly!!
    Hosting fundraiser at my church next week… To fund my trip to Istanbul where I volunteer as a nurse in a clinc for refugees.
    Been feverishly doing many small and medium sized mostly Florida Landscapes. Several friends will assist in sales and I will write the closing phrases down for them.THANK YOU

  52. In regard to a post about taking time payments. I have done this on a few occasions. But one word of caution….a customer who I knew well, asked if he could have the drawing before he finished paying. I agreed..since I knew him well, it was a professional realtionship and I did not worry about not getting paid. Unfortunately, and sadly soon after I delivered the piece, he became seriously ill and died. There was no way I could approach his family who I did not know, although I thought about contacting them to buy the piece back for what he had paid me. But it just felt wrong. So the drawing was never fully paid for and I have no idea if his family even value or kept the piece. Another similar arrangement ended happily…..I got paid and no one died. But its always better to receive all payments before you hand over the piece.

  53. Recently, I shared a booth with two other artists at a week long holiday bazaar at a local museum. Backstory to this: I grew up with a salesman. My father was an exceptional salesman and taught me how to be one too. During the bazaar, I called people passing by over to view my art as well as the that of the other two artists, explaining our different styles and mediums. Several of my own pieces sold because I shared my techniques, the painting’s history, and some of my background. The other two artist were grateful for my “salesmanship,” especially when it resulted in one of their pieces selling. Both said they wished they could “speak up” like I did, but neither did the entire week. Both told me that the only time anything sold, was when I was in the booth. When I left to take a break, visitors didn’t even stop. The moral of this story: if you don’t like talking up your own work, get over it. It’s important that you do!

  54. In the beginning of this discussion you mentioned that it makes a difference in the context of where you are selling. If in a NY gallery or a street fair, implying that in the NY gallery you could price the work higher. I agree completely but see many adamant blogs, articles saying that the price needs to be the same where ever the art is sold. People travel and would be upset to see different price points. How would you address this?
    Congratulations on the opening of your second gallery! It is a wonderful accomplishment and a most rewarding adventure.
    I have taken the opportunity to apply for representation in your galleries. I would be delighted and honored to be included among the Xanadu artists.

  55. It has been a while since my gallery closed. However, I always found that selling art consisted of two major elements: building a relationship and building what I call the “sales web”. The relationship begins with the first greeting and nonverbal communications and proceeds through introductory and casual conversation, inviting the client to participate in the conversation by a pathway of guided questions leading up to their disclosure of preferences and desires. The “sales web” consists of the story, narrative and furnishing of specific information about the art, the artist, the technique, the uniqueness of the specific piece on which the client is focused. Include in the conversation the seeds that will grow for the future, about the artist and their artistic development. It is important to include the client in answering questions and building their participation in the sales process, after all, they will ultimately make the “buy” decision–you just need to guide them towards the decision and give them room to make the decision. The actual conversation is like a song of magic, the rhythm should not be interrupted or else the spell may be broken. The seller must listen carefully throughout the whole process, watching for all cues, verbal and nonverbal, to pick up on the concerns and obstacles, quest for more information, as they move along the path to completing the sale. It is important to build-in meaningful silences at crucial times in the sales process–(inviting the client to ask questions, participate in the song), especially during the final purchase decision.–Everyone feels good after singing and participating!

  56. My art sales primarily occur at art festivals. After reading the posts, I’m surprised the following sales ask was not mentioned: “Are you ready to invest in my art? This ask is based on the fact that purchasing high quality art is an investment and I point this out to my patrons. I value my art and I always express this to my patrons.

    One of the intrinsic investment values of purchasing art is to consider the art as a gift to our future generations. I only use the highest quality materials and confidently tell each of my patrons that with proper care my paintings will last generations. Some of my most treasured pieces of art were gifted from my ancestors. It is my hope that after I’m long gone, my art remains alive and appreciated through my patrons lovingly gifting my art to their heirs.

    Happy selling!

  57. Dear Jason,
    I appreciate all the information about selling art you are providing. I have been painting for ages and people love my work but I am terrible at selling it. This time I have a situation where I should be able to finally make a sale, but I don’t know what to do to make it happen. Maybe you will be able to give me some tips on how to proceed. This guy I know used to help me to take care of my house when I was living in Alaska for a couple of years. He saw one of my paintings in a garage, where I store them and took it to his place, because, as he said, he loved it. He told me later about it and asked if it was ok. I let him keep the painting in his house for about a year, but recently I had show of my art and I needed that painting to be on the show. The guy brought the painting back to my house and said he wanted to buy it after the show or at the show. I told him I will give him a good deal since I know him personally and he had been helping me with my house (not very successfully though). I know he was afraid the painting would get sold, but it did not. He recently said he could not afford the full price ($2200.00) and was hoping to get it later. Later is now. I offered him a “good deal” initially but I did not say how much. What should I do now? Thanks for your reply.
    Monique

  58. I ‘ve learned many years ago not to close with a question that can be answered with a “no”. It’s better to say …when would you like this. Do you want to pay with check or credit card? Let them find it hard to say no.

  59. Hi Jason, I put this website to show case my art and talent. I get tons of visit but not replies or any comments or not even a inquire anything about sales. So I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong if I just don’t have enough innovatory to push? What’s your professional opinion? Thank you.

  60. This has been a fantastic read and really helpful. I am shy and find I can get a bit vague when I should be more onto the follow up part of the sale when face to face with people. Would love to get past this though and do some open studio events as I think when people make the time to visit they are more likely to be more seriously considering a purchase. I loved the comment re turning the disappointment on its head after a lot of no sale outcomes (the most exhausting part of attending markets, for me, is staying upbeat in this situation and not passing on disappointment from the previous encounter to the next customer). Thanks to all for the input and sharing of advice.

  61. Thanks for the great insights. Lots to think about. I love hearing about the different situations artists are facing. I tried festivals and lost some serious money on travel and fees. Now I’m in a co-op gallery where the artists take turns curating the gallery. It’s interesting meeting the public but I would be very hungry if I had to depend on this for my living.

  62. Is it OK for me to share these blogs on Facebook? I belong to a number of artists pages and many of them would greatly appreciate this info! I also have a lot of artist friends who would also greatly enjoy these blogs. Thanks much! Joan

  63. Excellent. Jason’s list of “Buy Signals” is superb. The best salesman I ever knew told me: “Once you hear a Buy Signal — STOP SELLING. Start closing. Immediately assume the sale is done. Get your pen out and write up the order.”
    He typically confirmed a Buy Signal with a binary question that allowed only a positive answer … like, “You want to take it with you now or you want it delivered?” … “You want it in red or green?” (Selling art, one might ask, “You want it framed or unframed?”)
    Years ago, I read a study done for new car dealers. The researchers discovered that in 94% of instances, the salesperson _never_asked_for_the_order. Even after the prospect had given numerous Buy Signals, the salesperson kept on selling when he/she should have moved to closing.

  64. “I’ve never regretted what I’ve bought, but have deeply regretted what I didn’t purchase.” “I offer very affordable fine prints of this image.” “Ah, but the aura of the original.” “Yet the giclee prints looks just like the original.” “Nothing makes a home look richer than original art on the walls.” “The middle class usually think they can’t afford original art, yet they can. It is the self confidence of those who consider themselves upper middle class, that frees them up to purchase fine art.” “The market for these paintings are millionaires.” “My mental telepathy is telling me you would love this painting. And my assessment of you is that you deserve it.” “It’s never too late to be the collector you always wanted to be.” Playing hard to get is an option…when a man calls me right away, I feel I can have him, then my desire lessens–a game I was never good at.

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