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

17 Comments

  1. Jason, this is such an interesting topic, and the power of using words that say exactly what we mean is almost magical. Choosing language is as delicious as choosing the correct spices in cooking, and it’s every bit as enjoyable and creative.

    1. Jason, you are so right about choice of words. I’ve only recently stepped into the art sales/promotion business but from my former life (human resource management) I can confirm that our choice of words often makes all the difference in dealing with people. For instance, I NEVER “fired” or “terminated” an employee. When all else failed, I “released from employment”. By using these words, I could then easily transition to helping the employee begin their search for a new job and retain their good will. Positive communication is everything!

  2. Additionally, statistics, as I recall from a few years ago in the automotive industry, say that the reasons a sale does not happen are #1 – no personal connection has occurred between the sales person and the shopper, and #2 – the sales person has not shown the shopper the right item (one that truly fulfills the wants & needs of the buyer.) Learning to overcome these 2 obstacles takes diligence & practice, as a sales professional. One must ask the right questions and LISTEN to the customer in order to make a connection and to present appropriate merchandise. While sales may take place without one or both of these things, repeat sales seldom do, nor is your customer’s satisfaction as solid!
    Having been in automotive sales for several years, I truly admire & appreciate a good sales person!

  3. I always enjoy reading your posts and learn something new. As a word person–I taught sales (mostly phone sales) and words used to soothing customers and clients so important. We all hate being attacked when we go in any store. And I think language makes a huge difference in sales. I spent time with Zig many years ago and a true master. I am in your online gallery.

  4. This is interesting, a list of positive words and a list of negatives. When I have a piece in my studio that is sold, I usually am quite willing to share that fact as I think of being sold as a positive thing. However, I see the word “sold” in your second list (those words that are to be avoided) and I find that puzzling.

  5. I own an art store and sell artists materials. I always find if you say “this is a less expensive version” rather than a “cheaper ” version it sounds so much nicer and doesn’t lessen the product.
    Less expensive
    more cost effective.
    less expensive but still has great value.
    or even here is anotherdption you might want to consider. This all help make the product sound more appealing.

  6. Jason, I went to Zig Ziglar’s seminar 35 yrs ago. He was a definitely fired up 1200 real estate agents. He was all about the Close of the sale. He said some times you have to come straight out and ask you,re client” Do you want to buy this one? ” I thought, what a good idea Note to self,Don’t Forget to Ask. So many times we forget to ask. Keep up the great work and have a good day. Jeff

  7. Learning the art of persuasion is a useful tool for many situations including selling art. I am not certain how useful Ziglar’s advice on which words to use or not use 36 years after he first published that book. Ziglar never sold anything but himself and his seminars and books for his entire career.He was a self-promoter and nothing more. His actual selling experience was very limited to that one product, himself. You want to get your advice from someone with more versatility. I write that as a copywriter for whom selling is a business (pfoote.com).

    I think there are better and more current sources of information. If you want to learn which words generate income and which ones do more poorly I suggest you read information by copywriters involved in direct sales such as “direct mail”, “direct email” and “direct response.” The response of prospects to your choice of words is often determined by how the words are used and where in your conversation. Face to face selling is very different than direct response sales letter because you are actively engaged in a dynamic conversation with your prospect (potential customer).

    Talk to any sales person who does face to face sales and they will tell you it is important to know when to shut-up. It is very easy to talk yourself right out of a sale if you don’t know when to do that.

    Now I tell you all this while I am currently reading “The Robert Collier Letter Book” by Robert Collier which was first published in 1931. It is filled with sales letters and insight into the techniques used on those letters. And while the language is archaic, the techniques are timeless because while times have changed, the basic needs and emotions of people have not. I also suggest you might want to read “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini.

    While Cialdinin wrote “Influence” to tell people how to avoid being influenced, it is full of excellent observations on how people are influenced and their motivations. It also has quite a few hilarious stories that demonstrate how people are influenced. So, are you having a problem selling your art a low prices? Double your price and see what happens.

    You could also buy “Words That Sell”. There is an updated edition out, I have the original from 30 years ago. My point in all of this is that rather than focus on a few words, you need to understand the motivations that drive people to buy something and you need to know how to use those motivations to get them to buy your art, or anything else you are selling.

    Now go sell your art,

    Paul Foote
    Your Direct Response Copywriter, Artist, and art collector
    pfoote.com

  8. Most artists over price their art thinking, because they’re artists ,all of a sudden they should make more per hour than someone else, the cost of materials for a painting is most of the time fairly inexpensive, plus time in creating it … sell more art for less, (realistic) prices , how much is art worth ?? Well look in the galleries ( as much as some rich person is willing to pay for it ) some expensive paintings are laughable at best

    1. “…the cost of materials for a painting is most of the time fairly inexpensive…”

      Are you an artist, John? I ask because I can tell you for a fact, there is nothing expensive about quality artist supplies. I paint in acrylics and typically only use Golden Acrylic paints. They are very expensive, but oil paints are even more expensive – 2 to 3 times the cost for a similar color.

      Go price a gallon can of automotive paint – those paints are cheap compared to artist quality paints. As for other materials, brushes, mediums, archival canvasses and varnishes. Will an artist use cotton, silk or linen for her canvas? How about aluminum or clayboard? A 60″ x 72″ Blick brand 3 canvas pack cost $301. Is that cheap?

      Then there is the cost of museum quality framing (archival), the time it takes to gather supplies, design a piece, then create it, studio rent, utilities, marketing, gallery commissions, etc. Art is a business and everything has a cost, you know.

      As I said, I paint acrylic and I can finish a painting in a fairly short amount of time. But oil painters must often allow their paintings to dry between layers and that can take days or even weeks because oil takes years to really dry. Even so, I sometimes spend months thinking about a subject to piece before I can actually design it and paint it. It has to come together in my mind first, but that’s just me.

      John, if you find a particular work or style of art that you do enjoy, I encourage you to talk to the artist. Find out why he or she created the piece, the decisions the artist made in creating it, how much time it took to create it, and talk to them about the costs and why the price is what it is. Maybe you will learn to appreciate it more, buy something you like, and feel good about it.

      Mostly though I hope you learn to enjoy art and the pleasure it can bring.

    2. When someone tries to use the cost of materials to argue that my price is too high, I often say (in a joking tone with a grin and a wink), “If the cost of materials was the sole basis for pricing goods and services, then lawyers would be really cheap because all they need is stationery and a telephone.” This usually brings home the point that every attorney has made huge investments in time, effort, and tuition in their quest to practice law, and it is no different for artists or any other professional.

  9. take the word BUT out of your vocabulary, instead use the word AND! It takes a little rethinking on how you say something.
    BUT is negative and puts you in a hole you have to climb out of
    and keeps the conversation moving along and is more positive.

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