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.

34 Comments

  1. Very helpful. My Dad read lots of Zig Ziglar’s books. He was a telephone sales executive for about 3 decades. I think I have absorbed some of these principles through hearing his stories of how to treat clients and conduct business. I always appreciate your insights. Thank you.

  2. Have the right words made a difference in your sales? Yes, for over 25 years I participated in juried art shows along the East Coast. I quickly learned to be a careful LISTENER and respond accordingly. I smiled, but not the fake overbearing grins that I saw some exhibitors wearing. I asked how large their collections were, how long they had been collecting, and how my they thought work would fit in with what they have. I listened to their responses and could gauge the level of interest by what they said. I also avoided talking about money and instead offered options ( cash, credit cards or personal checks) for them to ACQUIRE the piece or pieces they were interested in.

    Sales taxes presented the most problems and I always produced my tax certificate and reminded them that this was my profession not not hobby. I would not budge on the sales tax as early in my career, I had been entrapped by a fake “buyer” who was actually a state tax agent. After much pleading on his part I finally agreed to pay the sale tax myself at which point I was placed under arrest. It took hours for the director of the art show to “get me off the hook” and she actually threated legal action for entrapment of one of her exhibitors. Yes, words can make a huge impact on sales and legal matters!

    1. This is very interesting. When I sell a piece personally I never collect tax. I am on an annual program for paying sales taxes to my state and I break it out of the sales at the end of the year. The gallery which carries my paintings of course, collects taxes.

      1. When I price my paintings, I figure out the sales tax and add it to the price of the painting. I calculate what my bottom dollar would be if people want to bargain. Then, when I pay my quarterly taxes I already have anticipated a tax amount. I have only had one person ask me what the tax would be and I told them the tax was already included in the price of the painting.

  3. Thank you Jason! I value your experience. I am happy to discover new ways to communicate, and even though it doesn’t come easy, I am excited to learn and make it fun.

  4. Thank you Jason, the word “Value” is so much better than price or cost. I agree. It is not banana we are selling, it is something of enduring value to enjoy for decades and pass on to heirs. So it really should be elevated in that way. Great article.

  5. I wish I had read this a couple of weeks ago. At that time I had a potential client contact me via e-mail concerning 2 paintings he had seen on my website. At first I thought it was another scam that has been running wild over the internet. As it turned out he was legit and wanted know if I could provide a better photo of both paintings. I was out of town so I let him know I would send him photos as soon as I returned in two days. I let him know one was nicely framed and the other gallery wrapped and their PRICE as he requested. He answered saying he was looking forward to seeing the photos and asked for photos of the painting framed as well. He seemed very interested so I wanted to make sure I didn’t blow the sale. As soon as I returned from my trip I took some good photos of the framed painting to go with some high resolution photos I had on file of the two paintings. I told him the price framed and unframed and offered a discount if he wished to purchase both. He was pleased with what I sent him and thanking me for my generous offer of a discount. He said he would think about it and get back to me. I haven’t heard from him since. I don’t know if I should send a followup e-mail or just let it go.

    1. Definitely send a follow up Frank – it may be that he got busy with other things and hasn’t been able to get back to you. Follow-up sooner rather than later.

      1. Thanks for the reply Jason, I will get one off today once I figure out how to word it without coming across as desperate or pushy.

  6. Words do matter, I’m constantly trying to improve my use of them, thank you for the thoughtful post, more food for thought. I have been reading your posts for years and have your books too. My sales have increased every year in my Jerome Gallery, part of that is longevity, (18 years) building a clientele, part is improving my art year after year, and yes, I do believe part of it is learning to talk better with clients. Putting them at ease and showing them the Value in my work. I value your insights Jason, thank you.

  7. Words always make a difference. I have not put as much effort as I need to in using words with my art. I have noticed that art with a story with it does seem to sell more. So I try to develop a story for each piece as I create it. I have found that to be just as important as the art itself.

  8. I would challenge the notion that you can “close the sale”, this is not possible at all because you have no control over the mind of the buyer. If you can prove you can close the sale it would be a world first. You have to focus on what you can control and that is talking, contacting more people and presenting your offer.

  9. Hi Jason, Your newsletter came across my screen. I am now a part of your newsletter. I was so excited,as, I ordered your book,about two years ago. I am looking forward to chatting with you in the future. Thanks,for putting your newsletter online.

  10. I don’t believe that Jason said to use certain words and you can close the sale. He offered a list of words that might be preferable to use with the hope of making it possible to close the sale. There are a lot of components to selling one’s work. Every time I read Red Dot Blog I find something to help me focus on what I’m trying to accomplish with my painting, and many useful tips about how to present my work and myself in a way that sales will be possible. I know that I have to incorporate that “help”, but still find the right client for my work. Red Dot Blog is a way for me to build on the advice I underlined and highlighted in Jason’s books.

  11. Words and sincere attitude DO matter. I am at the stage of what some would consider retirement. I am now approaching 74 very rapidly. I have been blessed with a wonderful career painting in watercolor. I was fortunate to have 5 of my books published by one of the leading art publishers of the day and I enjoyed a lot of mid five figure acquisitions of my work. Perhaps the large majority have been in corporate collections. Since 2008 things have changed in many ways for prior to that time about all I had to do was present my work and collectors acquired. So I was blessed, some would say spoiled. Today I still paint and I still talk and listen to collectors. I have worked through art agents and galleries as well as working directly with buyers. I agree with Jason’s comments about choice of words. I would add, love your work, resist any questionable “deals” that would undermine your integrity. Listen a lot and make your words count when working with a client. You never know who you are talking to. I recall one very young lady who came to a showing. She did not appear to be prosperous but she had many questions. She asked me, “Which are your favorite pieces? Why did you paint them ? Why do you like them above all of the rest? While at first it could have been perceived as annoying I took time to answer her fully to the best of my ability. The bottom line? She bought three originals for cash that day and never asked for a discount! So I say , you never may never know who a complete stranger may be. To this day I thank G-d that I did not blow that innocent young lady off. She really surprised me.

  12. Anne Ward – Thanks for this. I first thought when selling art, I work 1 day per week in a small gallery in the north of England, that people would want to know upfront about comparative prices and soon found that they recoiled. If they really like something price is secondary, important yes but liking the piece comes first.

  13. I have definitely lost a sale once after a prospective buyer placed several pieces of my jewelry on the counter and said she loved them all! And I said, “I know it’s a hard decision.” And she said, “Well, I just can’t make up my mind and it is too hard. I think I’ll get a glass of wine instead. I’ll come back.” She didn’t. Two of the words you just listed above: hard, decision.
    So now I try to focus on the beauty of the stones that are so lovely that “you went right to the ones meant for you! And besides, you deserve to have fun for yourself today!” I have also found that the quickest way to move people out of my booth is to say, “I have a wide price range here in many designs.” No one is interested in price range. They want my pieces because they love the stones and designs.

  14. I remember when second hand vehicles were sold as USED CARS.
    First time I saw the phrase PREVIOUSLY OWNED VEHICLES I believe I laughed.
    But avoidance of certain words does have merit.

  15. Very interesting article. This Friday when I go to work in the gallery, I will try to incorporate these nine positive words and I will let you know what happens!

  16. Hi Jason, your advice is Easy to Understand I would Love you to look at my work it could be a great Discovery for you or anyone else it would make me very Happy it’s very good Value and I’m sure we could have lots of Fun with your New Discovery, I Deserve it.

  17. Thank you for your sound advice. I’m enjoying making more time for not just making art but the theory of practice for my business it can be difficult when working to deadlines, working part time and daily duties.

  18. Hello Jason, thank you for another fruitful edition of Red Dot Blog! YEs words carry weight, and I am going to practice using the word “valued at” instead of “price or cost” to test the reaction. Just by reading this though I can see the difference. Thanks, Tina

  19. I am an artist, and I also have my own gallery. I’ve learned a lot from your suggestions! Many thanks to you for your experience and insight. I’m thinking about the choice of words, “price” and “cost”. I’ve experimented with having only titles on the pieces I change in my gallery, and omitting the prices. What do you think about this? Do you find it’s better for sales to have the prices shown on each piece? Or do people engage with you more if the prices are NOT shown on the art, so that they must ask for prices for the pieces in which they are interested?

  20. Hi Jason, I´m just starting selling my artwork and on the weekend I have a potential client coming over. I´m trying to figure out how to close a sale and talk about my work, which is really difficult considereing I am an introverted artist! So, thank you very much for your advice, I´ll keep readin the articles!

  21. Excellent article! This gives me hope towards the future in developing the particular skill in selling my own work. I’ve made my bread and butter working for years on the telephone, and learning just the right amount of information to give out, the right words to use, and when to ask for the sell…most of which IS NOT asking whether or not they want to buy it, but instead asking “soft close” questions like “If this product meets whatever it is you’re needing, would you prefer delivery on Monday, or would Wednesday be better..,” etc. Closing a sell is most definitely an art form itself, and when used correctly, isn’t pushing, but leading the client to finalize a decision they’ve already made, but need help in bringing to fruition.

  22. Thanks Jason, as always, great advice, I have been intuitevely using or avoiding these words!

  23. Thank you for another great article. Years ago, I read a study about how people respond to written prices in a menu. They wrote the word out like twenty five dollars, wrote it like this $25.00. and also wrote 25 or 25.00. People responded most positively to the prices that didn’t have a dollar sign in front. So whenever I do write a price on my website or in an email, I leave off the dollar sign.

  24. Sold? Can I put sold next to a painting I’ve sold? I can’t think of another word to indicate it’s been sold.

    1. Maria, past tense terms, such as ‘sold’ is ok and even describes a sense of urgency to potential clients looking to invest. Just avoid those terms when going for the pitch or in marketing.

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