Selling Art | Words that Make a Difference

Several weeks ago, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was visiting the gallery and was fascinated with the art gallery business. He is a business owner himself and was curious about the mechanics of the art business. He asked a lot of questions about how I decided what art to show, how the relationship with artists worked, and about the challenges of the business.

I love talking about art and the art business and he probably ended up learning more than he ever would have wanted to know. As he was leaving the gallery he said, “This seems like a really interesting business, and it seems to me that the art would just sell itself!”

I just smiled . . . if only that were true! While there are those times that exactly the right buyer appears and finds exactly the right art, it is much more frequently a significant amount of effort to close a sale.

If you’ve followed my writing here at reddotblog, or attended one of my webinars or seminars, you probably already know that I take the art sales process very seriously. I consider sales a craft, and as such I have become a student of salesmanship (I should probably call it “salespersonship” to be more accurate).

Very early on in my gallery career I picked up a copy of Zig Ziglar’s classic sales book “Secrets of Closing the Sale.” Even though Ziglar wasn’t in the art business, his timeless advice about how to close a sale has helped me countless times over the years. Some of his advice has to be adapted to fit our business, but his core outlook on the sales process applies to any sales opportunity.

While much of what I learned in the book makes its way into my daily sales life at a subconscious level, there is one page in “Secrets of Closing the Sale” that I consciously think about quite frequently. In chapter 22, Ziglar talks about words that help sell. He provides a list of 24 words that should be used when attempting to sell. The first word he mentions is your client’s name – and if you’ve read my book “How to Sell Art” you know I am a big fan of using a client’s name repeatedly throughout a contact.

Not all of the other words apply to our business, but the ones I find particularly apropos are:

Understand
Easy
New
Love
Discovery
Deserve
Happy
Value
Fun

These words help create a positive atmosphere around you and your art.

Even more helpful to me are the words he recommends avoiding. Again, not all apply, but words to vigilantly avoid include:

Deal
Cost
Pay
Contract
Worry
Loss
Lose
Hurt
Buy
Bad
Sell
Sold
Price
Decision
Hard
Difficult
Obligation
Liable
Fail

You’ll notice I bolded several of the words – these are the words I find I have to make the most effort to avoid (and are all closely related to the question of $). I recommend that you avoid talking about the “cost” or “price” of your art, and instead talk about the “value”.

Even though we might think of those words as synonyms, there is a world of difference between a sculpture that has a cost or price of $3,000, and one that has a value of $3,000. Take a moment and look these three words up in your dictionary and you will see that the first two have a negative connotation (you’re losing or giving up something), while value is positive.

Ziglar also discourages the use of any profanity when conversing with a client. Vulgarity won’t necessarily kill a sale (though it might), but it’s never going to help make one.

Making a conscious effort to select the right words is particularly important when working on any marketing or advertising copy, when speaking with a client or a gallery that might want to represent you, and when you find yourself negotiating to close a sale.

If you don’t believe that word selection is important, I would encourage you to experiment with your word usage and see what impact it has on your sales.

Have the right words made a difference in your sales? Are there particular words you try to use or avoid when interacting with a customer? Have the wrong words ever cost you an art sale? Share your experience and thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

15 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your language tips in this post. I’m going to go through my listings and see if I’ve used the words in the ‘avoid’ list, and find ways to use more of the positive word list. I’m curious to see if it makes a difference!

  2. Wording in the sales process is indeed very important. Art rarely sells itself. In decades in the art business as gallery owner and artist there are multiple times i have absolutely destroyed a sale due to wording with a client. i was my own worst salesman. Over time i have learned the lesson the hard way. My most important lesson was to hire a salesperson who was naturally positive and enjoyed people. My best salesperson ever was a very young single mom who came into the gallery stating that she did not know anything about art but she really needed a job to support her family. I hired her on the spot and provided daycare on site so that she could be with her daughter. We found quickly that she could sell art like candy in a carnival because she was completely up front with clients and introduced them to the art in such away that they wanted to explore the experience. In 5 years her commissions bought her a house, a education fund and financial freedom. Never heard her say a negative word.

  3. Interesting article….
    One word that might be added to the “appropriate” list could be feel or feeling.
    A prospective buyer might have to be urged to express how the artwork makes she/he feel.
    Thanks,
    David Skolsky
    Smyrna, GA

  4. I remember one of the easiest sales I made, was at a art festival. A lady was walking by my booth kind of gazing in. I said, I love the beautiful basket you bought and I have the perfect painting that will compliment those colors, it will make a gorgeous setting in your home. She loved it and bought it!

      1. I like your comment, and couldn’t help considering the varied uses of the word. …it complimented Jason’s article quite nicely! (couldn’t help myself.)

  5. Again, great “food for thought”, Jason! As I see it, there are two audiences for an artist to target. One would be the the Art Investor, in such case, most likely, the artist would need the representation of an Art Gallery, or a very knowledgeable agent. The second scenario would be the Art Lover, in such case, in my experience, the Art sells Itself. Simply…”I love it…I take it” or “they are not my style..” and no amount of sweet talk will make the sale. Most of my buyers were Art Lovers.

  6. Good advice Jason, there are definitely times avoiding words can be as important as using them lol One small thing I’ve found that helps for me as a painter working in acrylics, is to always use the term “acrylic paint on canvas” not just “acrylic on canvas”. To a non artist, “acrylic on canvas” sounds like it might be some cheap plastic mass produced type thing. I’ve had people thank me for explaining, and tell me they always wondered about that when they saw “acrylic on canvas” lol

  7. Thanks Jason, I’m a total “newby” When it comes to selling my art. My paintings are shown In exhibits around our state, several times in some home magazines, but so far I guess I haven’t gotten the bigger interest. Then again, we live in a more laidback community.
    My paintings are accumulating, I don’t want to stop, I’m fascinated of painting like Kandinsky.
    But at the moment I feel myself wanting to lay back, the next moment I’ll get another canvas and paint what comes to mind. Only to add the finished piece to the others. I don’t know if there is anything you could advise. I guess I lack the salesperson quality. 🤪

  8. One thing I have heard my husband say is that he feels more comfortable when a salesperson asks him a question about his taste or his needs or wishes instead of honing in on selling a product. To him that signals someone who is as interested in him as a person instead of the salesperson only being interested in the sale. He has advised me to be sure to show that interest ( it’s not hard to do but I have to fight being shy and nervous). Brevity is another gift. I have to practice being silent when I get nervous and allow someone to really look as my work . I love the word “value” because it can lead to a conversation about experiences and to what people value most. Beauty is a big one.

  9. Change the word but… to and in your sentences.
    But is very negative. Puts you in a hole you have to crawl out of…
    Where as and just continues the conversation.
    Try it!
    Changed my $elling for the be$t!

  10. BUT the moment I feel myself wanting to lay back, the next moment I’ll get another canvas and paint what comes to mind.
    AND at the moment I feel myself wanting to lay back, the next moment I’ll get another canvas and paint what comes to mind.
    Hear the difference!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *