Knowing how to sell art effectively is a learned skill. Helping collectors get enthused about buying your art takes practice. But, the good news is any determined person can do this.
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. Whether these thoughts or new or refreshing to you, my experience shows 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.
Be as likable as you can. Not phony. Just you being comfortable being you. Here is a suggestion to help you be comfortable and confident.
Practice getting centered with deep breaths.
Visualize after handling the worst thing that can happen that everything is still okay.
Then fully accept you are capable of handling the best outcome you can imagine.
Now you’re ready!
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 negative opinions to yourself, especially about other artists’ work, how unfair the “system” is, or anything else that paints you in a whiny loser light. It’s not what people buying art or interested in helping want to hear.
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 commitment from the buyer. If I can work out this lower price, will you purchase the art today? Pushing back 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 How to Price Art Prints ebook.
3. Email Marketing: In selling, if you have failed to make the sale now, don’t hand out brochures, or business cards, get an email address and follow up promptly and professionally. 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 introduction 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. It requires practice.
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.
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. It’s hard, but you are only there a short time.
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: Before you start pitching or closing, you must earn the right to do so. That means you have learned something about the potential patron, whether they are interested in your work, and what their needs and plans for buying art are. It becomes easy when you ask open-ended questions with a genuine interest in learning the answer.
Don’t annoy or be annoyed by 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 they are not, let it go. Put it in the “You can’t win them all category” and move on.
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 shocking 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. Do your best to make your communications first-class quality. Poor grammar, misspelled words and incomprehensible ramblings diminish your presentation.
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.