How Buyers Buy Art – Seeing the Decision Making Process As it Happens

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

You’ve finished your latest masterpiece, and you know it’s the best one so far this month. Drink in that enjoyment, toast your talents, and taste how sweet it is. You may be able to enjoy that piece yet for a while in your studio. Don’t bid farewell just yet!

How people buy art

After all, whether you sell a work of art or not depends less on how good it is than on a list of totally unrelated issues going on in your viewer’s mind.

That doesn’t mean you’re powerless—it just means you must use your powers of communication to discover the decisions your viewers are making. Those decisions will either lead them to buy, or to walk away.

The last time I moved, I brought a full load of art to a house with more windows and way more light. That meant I had to decide the usual what/went/where, plus, all the while taking into account the new environmental conditions.

None of that would be obvious to an artist whose work I’m perusing—but it all plays into my decision!

Get inside the buying process

People who study how people buy things say we go through at least five stages:

• Need recognition
• Information search
• Comparison of alternatives
• Decision and reasons to purchase
• Post purchase behavior

For items we buy regularly, these stages happen in a flash.

For example, we buy a coffee every day at the same coffee shop because we’ve already checked off all the boxes in our list of criteria. The coffee is good; it’s fair trade; it’s within budget; the shop ison the way to where we go all the time; this place is better than one two blocks down, etc.

Of course we all know that selling art is more complex.

Discover what your viewer is thinking

If you only think in terms of “selling” your art to anyone who will buy, you’ll miss the cues that give you the power of presenting the perfect piece to a willing buyer.

Any time I want to buy a new piece of art, I also want to avoid buyers’ remorse. My thoughts run along these lines and the process takes as long as it takes:

• What do I want to add or change in my environment?
• Where will I find that item? What will I replace?
• Who can help me find the art?
• What price am I willing to pay?
• What are my criteria for this amount of money?
• When will I buy it?
• What will I do after I buy it?

Once I narrow the field from many options to THE choice, more questions pop up:

• Do I really really really like it?
• Do I really need it?
• Is it worth the money?
• Can I afford the piece now or justify credit?
• Where will I put it?
• Who else makes these?
• Can I get a better one elsewhere for the same or less money?
• How well does this artist handle customer service?

Think about your last three “missed sales” and compare your circumstances to my lists above. Do any of these statements ring a bell? Maybe something similar that the potential buyer said, before the conversation ended without a sale?

Align your needs with the buyer’s needs

The best way to make a sale is to consider everything you say and do through a lens of understanding the buyer. Ideally, you’ll be able to offer a particular piece for a particular reason that makes sense to that particular person.

When the piece and the reasons you give resonate with the buyer’s inner justification for this purchase, you could make a sale. So pay careful attention to what you hear.

Perhaps more importantly, when you think about selling as aligning yourself and the buyer on the same team, you make the buyer’s life much easier. By giving them a relevant reason to buy, the always-possible buyer’s remorse is averted.

Add a personal guarantee, and you’ll sow the seeds for future purchases too.

Prepare ahead of time

Since buying and selling are so completely connected, it makes sense to prepare your mind for the next conversation you have with someone who’s viewing your art.

Here are some of my thoughts when someone is considering my work.

• Am I making first contact?
• What is this person seeking?
• Do I have what they want? If not, do I know where they can get it?
• How and when do I describe the value of my art to this viewer?
• Am I willing to adjust my price or offer extra services? In what circumstances? How much?
• What will I guarantee in writing?
• How will I continue the conversation?

Notice the turning points in the conversation

There comes a point in the conversation when I can feel that there may be a turning point. Usually at least one of three common thoughts going on at this point:

1. I like the piece and I want to buy it now so how do I pay?
2. I don’t like the piece so how do I leave gracefully?
3. I like the piece but I am not sure about buying it now, and can I use credit?

If you are expecting that no one wants to buy your work, you may be projecting that expectation—and even subtly, it could affect how you treat potential buyers.

Twice at an art fair last summer I had to directly ask if a piece was for sale because the artist did not hear me when I said, “I like it and I want it.” She was flabbergasted and said she thought I was giving her the usual “I like your work but. . .”

When you’re with a potential buyer, remember those 5 stages of buying. Try to uncover all the basic information you need. If you haven’t uncovered that information, more conversations are needed.

Here are the stages again, step by step:

Need recognition – Can you describe why the viewer wants the art?

Information search – Do you know how the viewer found you and your art?

Comparison of alternatives – Do you know how your art compared to other possible purchases?

Decision and reasons to purchase – Do you know how tipped the viewer narrowed down the choices and what tipped the scales in your favor?

Post purchase behavior – Regardless of whether the viewer buys now or not, how do you want this person to remember and talk about you and your art?

When you sense there may be a purchase in progress, take what you’ve learned and talk about the reasons why it’s right for them to buy. If you both enjoy the journey and the conversation, who knows what might happen next?

Want more insight on selling your art? Check out the links below for the rest of Aletta de Wal’s articles in this series:

A – A is for Audience

B – Channeling your Inner “Buyer”

C – Connecting, Communicating, and Completing Conversations


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