information for the students, faculty and staff of the Memphis College of Art
Monday, September 19, 2011
4 Critical Steps to Sell More Art
"What do you do?" you've been asked many times.
"I am an artist" is most likely the response that instantly comes to your lips. You have probably been giving this answer from a very early age. No matter what else you've done in your life, being an artist is the core of your identity.
For a few minutes today, I want to encourage you to make a silent addition to your response. You will still answer "I am an artist," but in your mind you will add "and, I am a salesperson."
I know the suggestion might be slightly unpleasant. Many artists (maybe you?) feel that artistic integrity and salesmanship are incompatible. I have found, however, that the most successful artists are those who have developed strong sales skills.
Whether you are trying to sell directly, at an art festival or open studio tour, or indirectly by approaching a gallery with your work, sales skills are going to help you reach your goal. That goal is to help people who love your art buy it.
When I first started selling art almost 20 years ago, I had very little idea of what it took to sell. I think my general attitude was, "the art will sell itself." In the years since I have learned that the art will generate interest, but it is much more likely to sell if I do and say the right things.
While there are many elements to a successful sale, the process itself is simple once you understand your role. Today I would like to discuss just a few key steps that will help you better sell your art. These are guidelines I have developed, and continue to develop, through many years of selling art.
1. Build Strong Relationships
Look at each viewer of your work as a person. Your potential buyers have needs, passions, strengths and weaknesses. Your #1 goal is to build a long term relationship. Salesmanship is not about using tricks to fool the buyer into pulling out a credit card. You should instead be working to get to know the buyer and understand his/her desires, interests and needs.
You can get the relationship off on the right foot by doing several simple things. First, be bold when you introduce yourself. Extend your hand and say "good afternoon, I am Bill Smith, this is my art."
Second, ask potential buyers for their names then learn those names! This is not the time for you to say "but I am terrible with names." Learning names is a skill, and it is a skill you must work to develop if you want to build strong relationships.
As soon as I hear names I try to repeat them back to the customers, "nice to meet you Jim and Nancy," and I then repeat the names over and over in my mind to cement them in my short term memory. I also write the names down as soon as I can.
Third, ask a lot of questions. The best way to get to know someone is to get them talking about themselves. When you are interacting with buyers, your goal should be to have them talking about 75-80% of the time. I find many artists and even gallery staff who think they should be doing most of the talking when they are trying to sell, when actually the opposite is true.