How to Sell More Art by Channeling Your Inner “Buyer”

By Aletta de Wal in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

In the first article of this series, I discussed how everything you do in your studio is about you and making your art—but everything else is about making connections to make sales.

Sure, if your art matches exactly what a viewer is looking for, the very first time they lay eyes on it, you may be lucky enough to make a sale without any further effort. (Hopefully all of us will experience such a pleasant event at some point in our lives!)

More often than not, however, you’ll need to take many additional steps to sell your art. You’ll need to understand why people buy, and why they might want to represent you or refer you to other potential buyers.

How to sell art

The yin and yang of buying

I get exceptional customer service almost all of the time. I also believe in being a good customer.

If I am easy to serve, the person I am buying from has energy left over for good service instead of tongue biting or fake smiles. I enjoy interacting with people who are helping me. And after all, why make shopping unpleasant?

This week, I went to a local art supply store for the first time. I’d heard a lot of good things about the owner. As we talked about options for the fixative I wanted, I learned that she could not look up the information because her computer was dead. We ended up chatting for longer about a wide range of topics and found several points of interest in common. Who knows where that might lead?

That’s what I call the yin and yang of buying.

Selling is not independent of buying. In fact, selling and buying are completely connected. Remember this and start there the next time you are buying or offering or your art for sale.

As an exercise, think about your experiences as a buyer:

• What was the best buying experience you had? The worst? The one that made you buy that time or ‘not ever again’?
• What made the buying experience good or bad?
• What bad experiences do you want to avoid for your purchasers? What good or great experiences do you want to create?
• Do you always expect to pay less than the sticker price or do you respect that the sellers price may be over your budget?
• Do you buy impulsively or do you shop around?
• Do you expect a warranty or trust your gut and live with your choices?

Are you unconsciously holding your buyers to the same standards or do you engage in conversation to learn theirs?

There are a few things you can learn from this exercise.

First, you may more easily find buyers for your art if you show it to those who already share your buying habits. You have things in common—you will naturally connect!

And second, you may be losing sales if you are not alert to buying habits of people who part with their money for different reasons that you do. It will invariably help to learn more about those other kinds of people.

Here are three ways to do that:

1. Research like a buyer to get inside their perspective

Study articles and attend events that are designed to educate buyers. Observe carefully how people respond to what they learn. Do be discrete—this is not the place to “sell” and you do not want to alienate yourself from potential buyers and representatives.

2. Study the buying habits of your viewers

Engage them in conversation and listen to their answers to learn more and build a profile of who buys and who does not.

3. Use marketing language learned from your viewers

From your knowledge of individual viewer’s buying habits, create approaches and language in your marketing that will lead them to your website and get involved in promotional events.

So what stops people from buying?

A few years back I had saved up for a special purchase and was ready to pay $1200 for a scroll painting at a gallery in San Francisco. I looked for the artist and saw her tucked away in the corner of the gallery chatting and laughing with the same few people I’d seen her with when I entered the show. I could not readily identify any gallery staff except for the receptionist on the phone.

I made lots of buying signals. I looked over at the artist and tried to catch her eye. I thought she looked back so I gestured enthusiastically as I told my companion what I liked about the piece. The art was favorably priced although a bit over my budget; I’d just have to adjust elsewhere.

I was looking forward to an interaction with the artist. I like to buy from artists who are looking to make connections and build relationships with buyers—ones who know the business of art.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and I left after another 10 minutes. No sale for that artist that day.

On the other end of the spectrum, artist Gary Smith is a natural people person. Everywhere he goes, he stops to talk with people and share a little conversation. Smiles and hugs or handshakes follow his engagements.

Gary likes the interaction and attention. You may not. That’s fine as long as you can at least avoid these three giant, flashing neon DO NOT BUY signs:

1. Ignore people completely

If I came to a show and I can see the soles of your shoes, I walk by right away. Same goes for reading a book, looking at your phone or eating your lunch.

That doesn’t mean I want you to be all over my every move, but I do want you to be available. Offer assistance when it’s desired, listen for information and watch for clues about when to intervene.

2. Focus on “bigger sales” only

I have a large art collection and a lot of windows so I often look at smaller pieces to fill empty spots or to add types of work I’d like.

I take a long time to make a choice as I mentally compare it to all the other works I have to see how and where it might fit. I also have a wish list and need to decide if this piece catapults to first place or becomes the latest addition.

If you ignore me because I won’t add the greatest amount to your bank account, you might miss out on my first purchase of several or on my referral to my friends.

Money in the bank is money in the bank. Let buyers enjoy a range of your work in size and price. Treat each as if they were the most important buyers in your studio. You may be surprised more often by the “happy accidents” of a quick sale.

3. Never follow-up

Art representative Margaret Danielak is the “queen of follow-up,” and her efforts directly result in many sales. She sometimes makes eight or more personal contacts with prospective clients over a period of several months to a year before they reach a buying decision.

Of course, it’s her attention to people combined with meticulous record of previous calls and contact information that lets her “pick up where she left off” and build those productive relationships over a long timespan.

Another artist I know devotes two hours every Friday to follow up with her contacts. She searches her database’s follow-up field and then either calls or emails depending on the results of her last contact.

For example, when one of her collectors mentioned the possibility of purchasing a piece of art for his wife’s Christmas gift in the coming year, she wrote it down in her database. Then, right after Thanksgiving, she contacted him with some pieces in his wife’s favorite colors, also gleaned from information stored in her database.

Not only did this artist make a sale, but also she made a life-long fan of the collector, whose usual gift dilemma was successfully solved quickly and easily. None of this would have happened had she not taken thorough notes and then followed up on them.

Does that sound hard to do?

It does take a little time, and intentionality. But the truth is, if you already offer your best quality art for sale, treat everyone with respect, and of course, look for opportunities to market your work and your accomplishments—you are halfway there.

As for the rest. . . just be available and listen for cues that people are ready to buy!


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