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.

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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 ARTsala. 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. Connect with Jason on Facebook

19 Comments

  1. I am reminded of either one of he lessons, or an email you sent me early on in ABA. It has stuck with me and I just wanted you to know. It hd to do with framing. (And- I still have a lot of work unframed but that’s not the point).

    What is the point is what you said. Look at framing as a value to your art work, a kind of required finish instead of a cost to your production. (This is a paraphrase I’m sure). I just want to share with you in this context of words that your statement turned my head and led me to a deeper look into my production process and the terms I use.

    It is still very hard to get rid of some of those words because they strike at the heart of the “objective” (selling). But we are lucky in that we are selling something that is emotionally ours, and are asking our potential buyers to fall in love with it. Pretty cool actually.

    1. As a professional framer, I would say that the right framing adds value and the wrong framing for the piece will cost you.

  2. I once lost a sale when a customer was going to buy three paintings and I said ‘these will look lovely in a row next to each other …and the customer visualised her vertical space and said ‘Actually, I think I’ll just take two because they’ll go downwards’ My lesson was stop talking and listen!

  3. Thanks Jason! This post comes at a great time for me. I am getting ready for a show and this will be my first opportunity to put all of your great sales tips into practice. I am going to listen to the clients, choose my words carefully, and close some sales!

  4. Remembering and using someone’s name is essential to building rapport and making the other person comfortable. Whether you’re selling art or in just about any social setting. Great advice.

  5. I agree that remembering someone’s name is very important, particularly in case you see him or her a second time. But I find that when someone says my name more than twice in a conversation, I am immediately turned off. Everyone knows that using someone’s name is a means of flattery, so doing it more than a couple of times seems deliberate and therefore insincere. It would work better if used initially to show it was remembered and then perhaps when going to fill out the sales slip, know the name by asking how to spell it or something like that.

    1. I kind of agree with Carole R. I like a personable sincere person, not an overbearing super salesman.
      I too, think it’s more flattering to have my name remembered after some time has passed rather than in almost every sentence. Maybe it’s a girl thing…..?

    2. I’ve found that using names at the close of a conversation helps me remember potential clients’ names (and they, yours). It also increases the likelihood that they will remember having a friendly encounter with you, the artist, rather than a pitch by a sales rep.

  6. I agree ! Names are important. Recently at my Studio, during a Final Friday open house at Pendleton Art Center, Cincinnati, I was visiting a fellow artist next door and noticed a “buyer” seriously looking at his art. I discretely left to go to my studio. After ten minutes or so ,
    The same couple came to my studio. We chatted, they
    were considering an art piece for $300. I asked their first names, shook hands and said I’ll be here til 10pm.
    They left in a good mood….. I went next door and asked if my fellow artist met and talked to Jeff and Beth. He responded “Who?” He was unaware that the couple was considering his art. The evening passed on , and Jeff and Beth returned to my Studio before closing. We talked some more and they purchased a different art piece of mine triple in value of the original piece. I have no doubt that by knowing their names added a personal touch that closed the deal. Once again, good advise, Jason!

    1. Humm, I’m very careful using the word investment. To me, it can be misleading. Some are buying as an investment but is it? What return can they expect in 4 years when they want to cash in their, “investment?” Are you going to buy the art back for more than it’s current value? I think, “investment” is a slippery slope.

    2. You could state that the artwork is an investment in happiness, a reflection of the uplifting emotions that the artist must have felt in order to create such a piece.

  7. I am always impressed when someone that I have just met uses & remembers my name. I worked as a further education teacher for six years & that made me much better at listening, using the right words & using & remembering names. These experiences help me to sell my artwork…

  8. I struggle with using the term ‘value’ in a sentence when talking about my art with a potential ‘collector’ (I use that word all the time). Anyone have suggestions/examples of how they use it? I can’t seem to find a sentence that sounds authentic.

  9. Hi Jason,
    I recently started a small store front rental gallery in front of my studio space. I started renting it to local artists who want to exhibit themselves but until recently, it was a slow start because it took time for the space to get known throughout the artists community. What I did in the beginning was put up my own work and sit in the gallery space for it to seem occupied. When someone /client would walk in, they would look at the work and eventually ask who the artist was. When I mentioned it was myself, they would thank me and walk out.
    Although they liked the work or found it interesting, they really didn’t seem to want to engage further. I kept thinking it was my breath….or could it be that dealing with the artist seems like they’re dealing with amateurs or hobbyists and not true artists that paint for a living, instead of dealing with a gallery representative/owner??

    1. Demetrios, you make an interesting point, I’d be curious to see what Jason thinks, as well. I think it really depends on who walks into your gallery, is it a tourist, a fellow art lover, or a serious collector? I’m guessing you’d have to approach each one differently. I don’t have my own gallery so I don’t know how I would interact with visitors, but I was thinking about your comment from a visitor’s perspective. Whenever I walk into an artist’s gallery (as a fellow artist or a tourist), my experience is immediately determined by how the artist greets me. I’ve noticed that for me personally, I feel most comfortable in looking at all the art and engaging in conversation when the artist greets me like an old friend and welcomes me to walk around and ask questions if I have any. On the other hand, I tend to quickly skim through the art (even if I really like it) and walk out when I feel I’m being watched while looking around, as it makes me feel as if I HAVE to comment on the art and make a purchase.

      That said, whenever people ask me what I do and I tell them I’m an artist I often get blank stares. I think a lot of people are still intimidated by artists because they don’t know much about it. So I’m guessing some people walk into a gallery because they’re curious, but get intimidated when they realize they’re talking to the artist, because they don’t know what to say about the art.

      We have a local gallery in my town owned by an artist, and when people walk into the space she immediately introduces herself as the owner and artist and invites visitors to look around, and shares the fact that the art displayed comes from local artists. That way as a visitor, you know what you’re dealing with from the get go.

  10. Hi Jason.
    Thank you for this list of words. What a helpful little tool, and it’s true that while we use some of these interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing! This post is one of those practical keepers.

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