Early on in my career, I got some advice about the world of sales from a TV salesman. I was taking down Snow Days, my series of local television news personalities which I had exhibited in his show room, and we were chatting. I had just turned 23 and I was barely making a living selling my work. I was sure I could learn from his long experience. He revealed to me that the biggest mistake any salesperson can make is to forget to ask for the sale.
While he may be right when it comes to televisions, I can now say with absolute certainty that it doesn’t work that way for art.
These days,* I never ask for the sale. I am friendly and I make sure that people know about what it is that I do. And that’s it.
To my mind, it’s for the buyer to take the final step of asking to make a purchase. And anything I might do will only get in the way. To illustrate:
I once showed at a non-profit venue where one of the gallery representatives believed in asking for the sale. After my artist’s talk, she approached audience members—many of them my clients and subjects—and made comments like “I’m sure that one would look great over your couch” and “wouldn’t you like to see how she would paint your portrait?” Each of the clients and subjects she spoke to came to me and reported her behavior, saying “this is exactly why I hate going to galleries.”
For most people, art is not a necessity. If they buy art, it is special, and it’s probably not a decision that they are making on the spur of the moment. To that end, there are two things artists can do in order to sell art more effectively:
- Be available for questions and make sure that the people know what it is you do. When I meet new people, I tell them that I’m a painter, but, unless they show an interest, I avoid talking more about my work. Small business owners and freelancers have a reputation for being pushy and desperate since the only way they make rent is by drumming up business. It’s off-putting and I don’t want to come across that way.
- Focus on getting third party sponsorships. Nothing will make a potential client want to buy art more than reading about an artist in the paper or seeing her-his work at an impressive venue or getting an earful from a friend who loves the artist’s work. Happy clients make most of my sales for me.
*I’ll come clean: I have asked for a sale, but only on a handful of special occasions.