There’s nothing in the art business like the thrill of making a sale. Something magical happens when you are able to help a buyer connect with a piece of art, and then guide them through the process of making that art a part of their life. Whether you are in the gallery business, as I am, or an artist, the sale is the goal of all of your business and marketing efforts.
Over the years I have learned that if I don’t close a sale on the spot, the likelihood of making the sale decreases dramatically. Once a client has walked out the door the impulse to buy cools immediately and continues to decrease over time. If the question for the collector is “can I live without this piece of art?” the more time that passes after encountering an interesting work of art, the more likely they are to reply to themselves, “apparently I can live without it – I seem to be doing fine so far.”
For this reason it can be very tempting to give up on a sale once a potential buyer has walked out the door. RESIST THIS TEMPTATION!
While it is true that your chances of making a sale to someone who has walked away may decrease dramatically, they don’t decrease to zero, and so follow-up becomes a numbers game. I suspect that if you were to look back over your sales experience, be it in galleries or at art festivals or open studio tours you would see that it is a pretty small percentage of your traffic that turns into a sale. In our gallery we have found that we have to have over 100 visitors to produce 1 immediate sale (of course we are always working to improve this ratio). Sure it’s great to make the one sale that comes naturally simply by the law of averages, but if that is the only sale we are making we are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to make additional sales to the other 99 visitors we have had to the gallery.
For this reason we have developed a systematic process for following up with the ones who get away. We may only be able to close a small percentage of our follow-up efforts, but those sales are critical to our bottom line.
As an artist or art sales professional, you too can increase your sales by becoming better at follow-up. Allow me to share a few of our strategies in following up. I can’t guarantee that every follow-up effort will lead to a sale, but if you follow up consistently I can promise that you will see more of those “almost” sales convert into “follow-up” sales.
1. Collect Contact Information
It’s pretty simple, if you don’t collect your customer’s contact information, you can’t follow up. We have a simple procedure for getting this information from our customers, and you can do something similar with your customers.
We have a simple form that we print from the computer on index cards. This form isn’t fancy, it simply has boxes for the client to give us their name, email address, mailing address, telephone number and their interest.
If you would like, you can use our form and adapt it to your needs, download it here! While we print it on index cards, you could put four on a page and cut them to size if that’s more convenient. We print them on index cards so they can fit into index boxes where we keep track of them.
We attach these cards to small clipboards and whenever we have a client interested in something but are unable to close the sale on the spot, we ask them to fill out this form so we can send them additional information about the artist and artwork.
Of course the trick is to get the client to fill out the card, which leads to:
2. Stop Handing Out Business Cards, Brochures and Photos of your Artwork
“Here, let me give you a brochure so you can remember the artwork and my card so you can call me if you are interested in purchasing this piece.”
This is a pretty common approach to try and salvage a sale when a customer is walking away. If you follow this approach you can probably confirm that it’s not effective. Realistically, most of the time your brochure and business card are going to end up in the bottom of a drawer if you are lucky, and in the trash if you’re not.
Rather than give out a business card we have developed a simple technique that works most of the time. When we have a client express interest but indicate they are not ready to buy we say:
“Let me email you an image of the piece, along with the dimensions and info.”
We then hand them the interest card mentioned above. The great thing about this form is that when people are presented a form, they often fill the whole thing out. We end up not only with an email address, but also a mailing address and phone number.
Once we have this information we might give the client a brochure and business card, but not before.
3. Begin a Follow-Up Campaign
Send a note right away. We will often email the client before they are back to their cars. There’s no time like the present, when your encounter with the client is still fresh on your mind, to begin following-up.
This note is going to be very simple, but personalized to the client, including the following details:
•Thank you for visiting
•Here’s the image I promised
•Please let me know how I can be of service
Attach the image along with the size and price to remind them of the details.
Several days later send another note, again with the image and details, and some other tidbits of information about the piece (the inspiration behind it, for example). Don’t give all your information at once – ration out the information so that you have additional excuses to contact them in the future.
Hopefully you will elicit a response from the client, but if you don’t get an immediate reply, be prepared to send multiple messages. I have had cases where I’ve contacted a client over ten times before getting any kind of response and ultimately closing the sale (and of course sometimes I never receive a response at all). If you have both an email and mailing address, send a mix of emails and notes.
You might fear annoying your customers, but I find that this fear is unwarranted. At worst, I will eventually get an email back that says “Thanks, but we’re no longer interested.” If I give up however, the client is going to forget about me and the art.
I am currently following up with a range of clients, some of them dating their original interest back to November of last year.
Of course, eventually you’re going to realize that the iron has gone cold on a particular sale, but you should still keep the customer on your mailing list and begin sending images of new works.
Schedule an hour a week to do this kind of follow-up – preferably at the same time every week so that it becomes a habit.
4. Start Today
I bet you can think of someone right now who expressed interest in your work but didn’t buy. I encourage you to sit down right now and write them a note.
Dear Jim & Nancy,
Last October I met you at an art show in Laguna Beach. At the time you expressed interest in the piece “Autumn Colors.” My work usually sells very quickly, but this piece happens to still be available. I didn’t want you to miss out on the opportunity to have this great piece (it remains to be one of my personal favorites) just because I failed to follow up with you. I’m including an image of the piece and I could have it ready to ship to you within a couple of days.
How has Good Follow-up Helped You Generate More Sales?
Do you have thoughts or questions about follow-up or other ideas or techniques that have worked for you? Leave them in the comments below!
In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.