- by Barney Davey
For those who find asking for the sale less than natural, there is help. To get started, ask general closed end questions to begin, preferably ones that get a yes for an answer. You can progress to information gathering and asking for the sale.
In the art business, selling art with no fear is powerful!
Learning how to sell art with a few advanced skills will improve your career and morale. A No Fear tactic I like is what I call the “No-close close.” Although it may seem contradictory, it simply is easier to sell if there is no apparent urgency on your part to do so.
You may doom the sale if your prospective buyer senses desperation. On the other hand, if you exude confidence with a hint of exclusiveness, aloofness or just being nonchalant, without being blase, you encourage sales.
If you are really good at selling art, you may take the sale away in a manner that challenges the buyer to buy. You know, “Perhaps this piece should not be in your collection.” Robert Genn had a recent piece on his Painters Keys site titled, How Galleries Succeed. In it, he mentions one of his gallerists who successfully sells by bluntly telling collectors they would be stupid if they did not buy a particular piece.
You can use this idea without being snobby or elitist, the point is just don’t be too eager. Using the “No Close Close” at its highest level is a rare skill. It is one used by top salespeople in selling art and many other items in the discretionary income category. I realize it may be out of your repertoire to use such a tactic, but if you can employ it on a scale that fits your style, you can succeed with it.
Successfully selling art starts with proper questions
For those reading this who find asking for the sale less than natural, there is help. To begin, ask general closed end questions that are sure to elicit yes for an answer. This opens a dialog that eases you and the buyer while starting the important pattern of your buyer answering yes. Here are some “yes answer” openers:
Welcome to the gallery / booth / show. Can I:
- offer you a bottle of water?
- tell you what is unique about my art?
- provide brochure on our artists or gallery?
- tell you about our current promotion?
- show you the special features about the gallery? How our art / gallery /
exhibit is arranged?
- Will you let me know if you see something you like or have questions?
- We like to let our customers browse freely and enjoy the art. Will you kindly tell me if you have any questions?
- Isn’t this beautiful / brutal weather we are having?
Progress from “yes answer” questions to open-ended questions
Once you have some rapport, you can work up more interest and bring your prospect along by using information gathering open ended questions. This type question does not ask for a decision, but helps you gauge interest while engaging your potential buyer. You are seeking an opinion and information rather than forcing a decision. Here are some examples:
- What types of art do you collect?
- What kind of art do your have in your home?
- Where are you from?
- Are you visiting or local to the area?
- I have had requests for this piece in an unframed gallery wrap. What do you think?
- I am assembling a few of the best pieces here for a show /exhibition /competition. I find outside opinions greatly valuable. Which pieces seem the strongest to you?
Classic closing questions are classic because they work
The choice close of offering two possibilities may be the easiest to implement. The variations are only limited by your imagination and situation:
- Would you like to pay cash or with credit card?
- Do you want this with the black frame or the gold frame?
- Would you like to take it with you or ship it?
- Is this for your home or office?
A reminder here is you do not want to pester or pepper your prospects with questions. There is a learned art to engaging, falling back and re-engaging. The more relaxed you are, the better your response will be.
If you can feel your nerves in these situations, practice taking a short imperceptible breath just before you make your offer. It will help you to be centered, relaxed and focused. If you realize the worst the worst that can happen is you don’t get the sale and that your life will be the same either way, it will greatly lower your anxiety and calm your nerves.
If you appear and sound calm, you exhibit confidence. The little take-a-short-breath breathing exercise above can help you conquer your fear, which will give your buyer an aura of assurance about you. Both Marilyn Monroe and Hall of Fame sportscaster, Howard Cosell, used this technique to overcome stuttering. A short breath before speaking works wonders whether stammering is an issue or not.
Only a lucky few naturally know how to sell art. Every one else had to learn. You can too.
To be able to naturally and easily sell art is a savant-type gift like drawing, singing, or playing a musical instrument. Not all have the same native talent, yet virtually all can improve by studying, practicing and trying harder.
Knowing your buyer will help you learn how to sell more art
Some things are easier to sell than others. Selling things, such as firewood to Eskimos, is easy. While the least skilled would do a creditable job with it, change to ice and watch them struggle. Although selling art is not the equivalent of ice to Eskimos, its discretionary spending category makes it challenging, especially in the current economy.
You will always have just three types of prospects. Being able to identify them will improve your sales.
- The first is the committed buyer who is predisposed to buy your art. Your only job here is to make sure you offer big and take the order.
- The second has some interest, but needs to be sold. Your job here is to determine which images your potential buyer is interested in the most. Then to use FAB (Features, Advantages, Benefits), to present the work and ask for the sale. Or at the least, get a them on your snail and email list. Remember first time fine art buyers may take up to two years before converting. Staying in touch how you stay in the game.
- The last is the truly not interested buyer. He or she may have no money, does not spend money on art at all, or has no interest in your style of art. You want to be able to quickly identify them and get them off your list and out of your mind.
The first type often reveals their interest immediately. While you always should seek to offer a big, and to present what may seem an almost ridiculous sale, (how about the whole wall/display/series) to everyone, it is easiest to miss this opportunity with your low hanging fruit category. That is, in the excitement of getting an easy sale, you can rush to finish the transaction without exploring other options. Try something like this, “You have made a great choice, I know you are going to love owning this piece. I had great fun making it. Let me show you a couple of other pieces that are perfect companions for it.”
The second category is your ticket to success. Increase your sales here and watch your career soar. These are folks who like your art, but are non-committal. If you can match personality types, you can tailor an offer. There are four primary personality types:
- Driver – Type A competitive person. Stick with the short version on details. Show them the best piece in the gallery, not necessarily the biggest most expensive, but the one you think is your masterpiece. Mention celebrity or well-known collectors.
- Amiable – Wants to feel safe. Give them warm and fuzzies. Offer details how long you have been in business, how many happy repeat buying collectors you have, or that your art sales have never been more robust, and you have seen a steady increase year-after-year in the number of collectors coming back to buy more.
- Analytical – Needs details on everything. You have been a professional artist for 10 years. Your art prices have increased year-after-year. Your art prices are based on a per square inch basis. That a certain piece is value-priced because it is the last in a series and subsequent similar series will have a higher price. Your prices are fairly priced. Explain your credit and payment options, hanging service options, refund policies. Make sure they have a brochure about you.
- Expressive – Wants validation for their actions. Paint a mental image of how happy they will be when they see the work in their home. Encourage them how they will enjoy sharing the work with their family and friends. Offer to take a picture of them with you in front of the painting they like.
Using FAB (Features, Advantages, Benefits) goes something like this, “(F)This giclee print is made on a state-of-the-art 6-color high quality fine art digital printer by a master printer. (A)For generational longevity, it is printed using the best archival inks/dyes and canvas/paper available. Although you see it in this size, we can customize to make it smaller or larger to fit your needs. (B)You can easily make this piece the focal point of any room you hang it in. It is the kind of work you and your family will enjoy for decades to come.”
The third category are those not pre-disposed to buy your art. Being able to identify who they are will allow you to avoid spending time, money, energy and effort to convert them. While some will just tell you they are not good prospects directly or indirectly, with others you will have to develop some radar to help you identify them. The greater the percentage of this category you can weed out, the more resources you have to spend on the middle category.
Being a realist, I know reading these instructions are not going to change your selling skills overnight. However, I do believe if you accept the premises on which they are made that their effectiveness will seep into your selling skills. If you actively practice them, you can expect to see better results for your efforts.
Don’t fall prey to making your art career a hostage to irrational feelings or emotions about selling
Buyers will be buyers. You can no more mesmerize them into buying than you can bore them into it either. Your job is to make art people want to own, then to build a case why they should buy, and finally to always, always ask for a buying decision. The more astute you become at each task, the greater your reward for your effort.
You can learn to identify your prospects and to do your best to steer them to a favorable buying decision. You can use everything discussed here and still be ethical and honorable. Besides, what ever means tilted a sale your way, you should rest easy knowing you have a fair return policy for those sales where the buyer has remorse or other reasons for reversing a decision.
Your buyers are adults with full capabilities of processing your offers and deciding to take them or not. If you wait until someone asks you to buy, you reduce your odds of making sales and being as successful as possible. Every day people trade success for staying in their comfort zone. Don’t make the mistake of making your career a hostage to any negative misplaced feelings about using sophisticated sales techniques to help.
You will sell more just by offering more and more often. As the famous Nike slogan goes, “Just Do It!”