5 Ways to Get Past Art Sales “Failure”

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

Success in art is often determined by the number of pieces sold, or the price paid for the artwork. Failure is typically described, by even some of highest earning artists, as “fewer than expected” or no sales.

But there’s a better way to view the entire process.

Yes, sales are important. But buyers are the way to sales, so I suggest focusing on making a connection with anyone who views your art at events or on social media. The more people you know (who know about you) the greater your chances of meeting your future buyers.

There’s also some merit in setting sales goals based on past sales. You know what you did to get those sales, so you can build on that knowledge in the future. (You also know that things change rapidly, so stay observant and be ready to adjust if a new kind of opportunity appears.)

How to sell paintings

Here are 5 ways to build towards a successful sale

Before anything else, drop your ideas about how long sales take. There is no fixed time. Now set all of the numbers aside and just focus on people. Every potential buyer will be going through the five stages of the buying process below—take the time to see what stage they’re at, and help them solve that problem:

Stage 1. Recognizing the need

Seek information about what the viewer wants and needs from you and your art. Find out where they are in the buying process. That way, you can start where they are instead of rushing them.

I love using the question ‘What brought you here?’ as a conversation starter. You’ll learn which sources of referral to thank and nurture. Now it’s time to play “follow the leader” and respond to what the viewer tells you about what they need or want.

Stage 2. Information search

Here’s where you help the person find what they want. But unless you know what people want, you cannot help them – so ask!

“I came to see what’s new in art,” is a common reason to attend openings or browse through your art online. You now have an opening to find out the person’s tastes in art by asking what their preferences are in artists and venues, for example.

Stage 3. Comparison of alternatives

When you learn about this viewer’s artistic preferences, remember that they haven’t yet stated a decision to purchase. So at this stage, you still need to speak to their stated wants and needs, and wait for the indication that that they’re ready to buy.

Ask further questions. Listen for replies that indicate possible buying interest and then make sure by asking if they would like to know more about a certain piece. Be ready to compare your work and career to that of other artists if and when they ask.

Stage 4. Decision and reasons to purchase

Once viewers are on the cusp of becoming buyers, your job becomes more delicate. You have invested your time and made a real, personal connection with them, so no matter what their decision is, it’s important to validate them and keep the relationship alive, no matter which decision they make.

If they buy, you can thank them for their purchase and if they don’t, you can thank them for their time and attention.

Stage 5. Post-purchase behavior

Remember that sales are not a solo activity—there’s more going on than just receiving the sale price and handing off the artwork. It’s good to be aware of everyone’s interests and requests before, during, and after the sale, and do whatever you can to help.

Until you have done all you can to follow-through and follow-up with the buy post-purchase, there really is no timetable for a sale. And until the sale happens, it’s important to continue to be helpful and keep in contact. (I’ve counseled artists to ask to respectfully follow-up and do so until there is a clear no.)

Many artists also find it helpful to keep a journal, or written document of what worked in the past (and what didn’t). In that way, you can often find solutions to things that have blocked sales for you before.

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

D – Seeing the Decision Making Process As it Happens

E – How our Expectations Directly Affect our Success in Art


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