- by Barney Davey
Selling art is a process. Knowing how to sell art effectively is a learned skill. Effectively helping collectors decide to buy art takes practice.
Selling art is a process. Knowing how to sell art effectively is a learned skill.
It’s a glorious thing when a new buyer loves a piece of art and immediately purchases it with little or no effort from the seller. If you have been selling art in the business for any length of time, you know very few sales just jump in your lap.
Here are some useful observations I have picked up that help in selling art. I’m sure many of you are fully aware of these points, but experience tells me the need for such information remains constant.
1. Attitude: You don’t have to be humble. In fact, it’s not recommended. However, it’s worse to be condescending and arrogant. Attitude will either work for or against your attempts at selling art.
No one likes a no-it-all. Don’t lord your superior art knowledge over others. It’s’ not impressive; it’s annoying.
While you don’t have to be likable, you at least need to be accessible and willing to communicate with potential collectors, gallerists and the media.
When you do talk, keep your opinions to yourself, especially negative ones about other artists’ work, how unfair the “system” is, or anything else that paints you in a whiny loser light.
2. Pricing Issues: When your art is on display at shows, openings, in your studio, or online, it means it is up for sale. Make it easy to find and understand your prices. Whenever possible, have someone available to answer questions about the art and how to buy it. Selling art means being involved in the sales process; that’s you or someone who you trust to represent you. Success in selling art doesn’t happen on wishful thinking, it happens on intentions and actions.
Be transparent and consistent with your art pricing. You don’t want galleries or other collectors finding out you are selling art at low-ball prices. Never price gouge when you think you have a well-heeled buyer interested in your work. Do the research so your work is priced competitively. When you overprice your work, you lose sales. Price your work too low and you are leaving money on the table.
Effectively selling art requires you learn negotiation skills. A properly prepared negotiator includes a reasonable discount. Understand you will get low price offers and be prepared to haggle a bit. Don’t take offense at an offer for your work that is low. It’s not personal; it is a negotiation tactic. I will take a low offer versus an “I’ll think about it” reply every time.
Don’t leave a sale on the table because you have no discount to offer. Use the negotiation to get a committment from the buyer. If I can work out this lower price, will you purchase the art today? Pushing back a little shows you have some moxie and are not a pushover.
Don’t let your opinion about various pieces enter into the conversation or into your selling art dialogue. Don’t recommend someone a bargain price on a piece you don’t like. It might be the one they love the most.
To get up-to-date information on pricing giclees, see my new How to Price Art Prints e-book.
3. Information: While handing out brochures, business cards and resumes as candy is discouraged, it is sometimes necessary. When you do provide printed material it nearly always means you have failed to make the sale now.
You can’t live on “Be Back” promises. When you have to give up information, trade it for contact information. Use that contact information it to secure email and snail mail addresses for selling art. Once you have a prospect, you have to work it, or they will lose interest. Have a systematized approach to consistently and persistently follow up with interested buyers.
4. Presentation: You have one chance to make a favorable impression. When buyers come to your booth, studio, website or gallery, they form an immediate judgment about how things are organized. This is simultaneous to their investigating your available art.
If they find things are disorganized, or art that is not properly displayed, it detracts from you putting your art in the “best light.” Don’t allow distractions from the art buying experience. This includes employees or friends who are goofing off, on a cell phone, and otherwise disengaged from the fact you are selling art.
Have your 15-Second Pitch honed so it rolls out smoothly with enthusiasm! You don’t want to push it, but when asked about yourself, you want to start with something pithy and concise that aptly describes who you are and what you do.
Don’t give anyone your life history. The few who want personal details will pointedly ask for them. The others don’t need or want to know the information in order to make a buying decision. Likewise, keep your religious, political and social views to yourself.
Talk in terms people can understand. Don’t use foreign words when more easily understood English words will suffice. Don’t use acronyms or obscure references to art history, art movements, little known artists or anything else that will confuse your buyers.
Don’t use every opportunity to let others know how smart you. No one wants to be made to feel stupid when it comes to knowing all about art. Keep your lip zipped when tempted to correct misperceptions because it is belittling to the other person and won’t help you get a sale.
5. Engagement: Talk to as many people as you can when you are at a show or opening. Don’t prejudge any customer on their appearance.
I had a friend who sold pre-owned exotic sports cars. While I was visiting him in the showroom one day a scruffy guy with cutoffs and flip-flops came in to look around. Two other salespeople let him walk by without even saying hello. My friend left me and introduced himself. It turns out this guy was an eccentric, successful architect. He bought a Ferrari that day and a Maserati a few weeks later.
If you are in the booth, or at a show, don’t look bored or unfriendly. Don’t sit and read the paper or play with your iPad, cell phone, or doodle. Be aware and ready to be engaged. Don’t send the message that you prefer not to talk with someone. You should also not be too eager, oversell, or get in someone’s face. Engage, explain a bit, and retreat to give the person time to absorb what is on display.
6. Sales Techniques: Don’t start pitching or closing until you have earned the right to do so. That means you have learned something about the potential collector, whether they are interested in your work, and what their needs and plans for buying art are. That sounds like a tall order, but it can all be ascertained by asking open ended questions with a genuine interest in learning the answer.
Don’t annoy people who don’t want to buy from you. If you have made a sincere, professional attempt to engage and to learn if they are interested, and it turns out they are not, let it go.
Don’t offer opinions comparing your work to others, especially unasked. Potential buyers do not wish to listen to your unsolicited notions about how your art is superior to the work of other artists.
7. Unprofessional Behavior: Respect others. Keep your appointments, be on time. Being late is discourteous and shows a lack of concern for others. They are busy too, probably busier than you.
If you are at a show, or an opening, keep your alcohol intake to none or very little. If you partake in other recreational drugs, don’t be stupid and show up stoned. You may be laughing at this comment, but I’ve seen it happen and it is both disgusting and sad to experience.
Be available for your collectors, your galleries, reps, and media contacts. Publish your contact information on your site, business cards and informational brochures. When you have messages, make sure to respond to them promptly, at least within 24 hours.
8. Inappropriate Ill-advised Contact: When you are making contact with potential collectors, galleries, art dealers, or related parties for the first time, make sure you identify yourself. Clearly explain your reason for contacting them, give brief details about yourself and your work, and offer full contact information for prospective follow ups.
In selling art and life, you only get one first impression. Make sure anything you put in writing is first class quality. Poor grammar, misspelled words and incomprehensible ramblings are a effective way to get immediately dropped from consideration. (Post publishing note: see comments below how I was found guilty of not following my own advice.)
Don’t make demands from art critics, journalists, bloggers, gallery owners, dealers or others who can help you. They don’t owe you anything. You need to earn their respect. Making requests to view your art, or to write a piece about it, or confronting them on work with which you disagree makes dismissing you easy. Walk a few steps in their shoes, find out what they need and then show how what you have fits that need.
Selling Art Bonus Point: My good friend and colleague, Jason Horejs, has a new book out. I have just completed reading How to Sell Art: A Systematic Approach to Creating Relationships with Collectors and Closing the Sale. It is loaded with practical advice that anyone who works at selling art can use to improve their results.
Like his first book,“Starving” to Successful | The Fine Artist’s Guide to Getting Into Galleries and Selling More Art, Jason talks from decades of firsthand experience selling art and successfully operating a gallery. If you are serious about learning about selling art more effectively, or finding how to get your work into appropriate galleries, these book are “must read” for you.
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