There are polite greetings, there are annoying meaningless greetings, and then there’s true engagement. You choose!
Recently my husband and I visited a chic little town north of us. A friend had mentioned some gorgeous galleries that might be a good fit for my work, and both of us wanted a pleasant road trip.
Things started out well, but ended….well, rather badly on several issues.
First, as we crossed a street, I tripped and fell on a complicated section of curb. (Very high and uneven curb, above an equally-uneven sort of culvert-shaped road edge.) I took a serious fall, wrenching my knee, straining my back, and smashing my glasses, which also gave me quite a headache.
We found a delightful hardware store nearby, and the clerk gave me excellent customer service. She walked me over to the glue section and helped me select the right glue to repair my glasses. It didn’t work, but I have no complaints, because she “met me where I was” and did her best to help me move forward.
We continued on to a beautiful gallery. By this time, I was really starting to feel the effects of the fall. I tried to focus on the artwork, but I was suffering. My back was spasming, my shoulder and knees hurt, my head and nose hurt.
The gallery attendant was busy and didn’t look up when we entered. That’s actually a good thing, giving people a minute to “land” once they walk into your booth, studio, or gallery space.
But what happened next was a travesty of good customer service.
They said, “How are you today?”
I was struck speechless. My bad. I wanted to say, “Fine, thank you!” But the reality of that fall was kicking in, and I was momentarily confused. I didn’t want to say, “Not well.” But mostly, I didn’t want to engage in small talk.
So I hesitated. And things went downhill from there.
The person seemed to take offense. They repeated the question again, louder. This was annoying. Because of this, I admit, I was unsure how to respond, and didn’t. (I was thinking, “Really? I have to take care of YOU?!”)
And while I gathered my wits and words to defuse the situation, they grew angrier still.
They threw their hands up in the air dramatically and snapped, “Fine! I get it! You’re on vacation and you don’t want to be bothered!”
Okay, that pissed me off. What an assumption to make on their part! And how not to win over a customer, on their part!
I politely said, “I apologize, I took a terrible fall on the sidewalk a little bit ago, and I’m in a lot of pain. I’m pretty distracted right now.”
Of course, they were embarrassed, and instantly apologized. But the damage was done.
Anyone who gets offended because a visitor doesn’t want to respond to empty greetings and conversation is not going to represent me or my artwork.
Anybody who leaps to conclusions about why someone is quiet, or reluctant to engage (what if I didn’t speak English?? What if I were hard of hearing? What if I had cognitive issues?), and anyone who responds in anger within ten seconds of this interaction, is simply not someone I want to have a conversation with.
And many of us do this all the time. We pressure people to engage in meaningless conversations, thinking we are doing it right.
Consider your visitors’ journey to see you. If you are doing a show, they may have wandered into a dozen or more, maybe even 50 or 100 booths before they get to yours.
And every single booth holder has greeted them with phrases like these:
“How are you today?”
“Nice weather today, isn’t it?”
“Are you enjoying the show?”
Or we jump into asking for too much information right off the bat:
“How many years have you been coming to this show?”
“How did you hear about this event?”
“I work with stoneware fired to cone 10 with copper oxide glaze.” (I have no idea if that even makes sense, which should tell you something. I collect a lot of pottery, and I don’t know, or care, about the conage or the glazage…. I just know if I find it beautiful or not, and if I can afford it.)
By the time our studio/booth visitors get to us, they are tired of talking about the weather, they want to wear a sign that says, “I’m fine, thank you”, and what they really want to hear about your pottery is, is it lead-free, and will it go in the oven.
What’s a better way to engage a visitor?
Don’t pressure them.
After a they take a few seconds to look around, and decide if they want to stay, you do a brief introduction of yourself, the setting, the work, etc. (“Brief” is the operative word here!)
When someone enters my booth or studio, I give them that moment to settle in, a quick hello if anything.
Then when they “collect themselves”, I say, “I’m Luann, and this is all my work, jewelry, wall hangings, sculptures. I make all the artifacts you see here that look like bone or ivory. It’s okay to touch the pieces, it’s okay to pick things up, and if you have any questions, I’m right here.”
Always. They have been acknowledged, they are not being forced into silly non-conversations, they have been given permission to relax and enjoy my space.
And so they dig in, and start looking.
Then I shut up and go back to work.
“Work” being relative term. I work on something simple I can pick up and set down at a second’s notice. I am “engaged”, but also “available”.
This is all I want to share today. There’s a lot more on how to proceed, when to talk, what to talk about, what not to talk about. There’s knowing that when people are ready to talk, they will ask a “stupid question” that may feel annoying to us, but is simply their way of saying, “It’s okay to talk to me now, and I want to know more about what you do!”
For example, if someone says, “How long does it take you to make that?” the worst answer you can give is, “It took me 30 years to make that!” (And saying it works because people laugh when you say it, is not understanding that people laugh when we embarrass them. Because you just made fun of their ignorance, and they KNOW that.)
So for today, think about a softer way to address visitors.
Something that doesn’t force a person in pain to put on a cheerful face. And doesn’t force them to apologize to YOU when you take offense, if they don’t.
Think of a simple greeting that doesn’t put them on the spot. An opening that doesn’t force them to respond, or engage. An introduction that allows them to explore your work, and to approach you confidently when they are ready to talk.
This post was originally published May 30, 2004, on a now-defunct blog-hosting site. This slightly edited version is dedicated to Rhonda K. Hageman, who read it when it first appeared on DurableGoods/Radio Userland. Thank you, Rhonda!!
Still timely. So enjoy!
A topic came up this week on a small private e-mail list I host. The list started as a way for artists to learn how to get their work in front of a larger audience than friends and family, by exploring ways to sell, publish and exhibit their artwork.
Some have found the process daunting. Perhaps they had difficulties selling their work as it was, then started producing work they thought would sell better. Or well-meaning people made discouraging remarks or suggestions that just didn’t feel right.
I’ve never advocated making anything just because you think it will sell. I realized from the get-go that this process will whisk you away from your core vision (making the work that is in you and pleases you) and sends you scuttling down the path of trying to please others. No can do, says this girl.
The thing is, so many times, when I hear artists have decided not to explore ways to sell their work, it’s for all the wrong reasons. They don’t get enough money, they find the quality of the work degenerates, the sales are disappointing, and the whole process doesn’t make them feel very good, nor creative, nor successful.
Part of the reason this happens is we misunderstand what selling our art can really mean. In fact, many people associate “selling art” as “selling out”.
I have found the complete opposite is true when I sell my work.
I make the most beautiful work I can envision. Someone else appreciates the work I have made. I tell them the story behind the work. A connection is made. An exchange is made—usually their money for my work (or, if you prefer, the fruit of their labor for the fruit of my labor.) Hopefully, both parties are pleased with the transaction.
That’s all. That’s it. That’s what selling my art means to me. No value judgments, no demeaning transactions, no loss of my artistic vision, no selling out.
Lately, though, I’ve come to see another dimension, just as rich (no pun intended) to this transaction. ..
And that is the power my art has on others even after the sales transaction.
The last few weeks I’ve received half a dozen e-mails, postcards and letters from people who have bought my work, or seen it in a magazine, or read what I wrote on 9/11.
Apparently, the impact of my work on their lives has continued long after I sold them the piece.
One woman wrote to tell me how much she enjoys looking at her wall hanging every day when she works at her computer. Another wrote to say how much she loved hers—and that it even inspired her to revisit her own interest in fiber art. She is now creating her own unique pieces, revitalized by our discussion on art and life and my passion for my work. She now appreciates my handwork even more, if that is possible, she wrote. (You can see this incredible letter from Kathleen Faraone here.) (N.B. I had forgotten all about this, until I found it just now–April 20, 2018! Kathleen, wherever you are now, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your powerful words!)
And that is the magic of selling/exhibiting/publishing your work. Not just the excitement of being able to generate some cash flow, perhaps even a livable income (which is pretty darned exciting!) But seeing how what you create working from your heart, seeing it start its own journey of inspiring hope, creativity, and passion in others.
That is something I did not expect when I started my journey of making my art accessible to a larger audience. It is something I could not predict nor control. It’s just another affirmation that I am doing the right thing and on my true path.
So before you sell yourself—and your art—short (or decide not to sell at all), consider this: Selling your art can be a good thing. A very good thing.
It is a process, and sometimes a long process. As the saying goes, “It took me twenty years to become an overnight success!” Most small business consultants say it takes at least five years for a business to get established. Most people only plan for a year or two at most. Many artists give up after one bad show or one dismal gallery experience.
The secret to success with your art?
Stay with it.
Keep on making the work you are passionate about. Then look for its market.
Ask for help, but don’t assume what someone else says about your work is automatically true. Experiment. Adjust. Tweak. Sometimes small changes in format, size or presentation can make huge differences. But these need not be fundamental changes in what your art is. You should still be able to work with total commitment to your inner voice.
In fact, most of the time, when I see an artist or craftsperson who is not having much success, it’s because they’ve “dumbed down” their work, made it more cheaply, made it more mundane. They doubt their ability to astonish, so they set their sights lower. They end up aiming too low.
Make your best work. Make sure as many people as possible see it.
Then you will never have to worry about “selling out.”
Because your heart and soul are not for sale.
They can only be given, with love and joy.
To make a sale, you need a DIALOGUE, not a MONOLOGUE….When you’ve answered all your customers’ questions,, there’s more to say. It’s up to YOU to start this particular conversation…
By asking THEM questions!
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.
To make a sale, you need a dialogue, not a monologue.
To date, this series has focused on how to respond to the (usually) innocent but sometimes awkward or even tricky questions people ask us when they are intrigued by our artwork.
I still have questions I want to cover. But I also sense that many of you are “getting it”. You now realize that these moments are not an inconvenience, but an opportunity for you. A chance to have a conversation about your work, and you….and your potential customer!
Yes, them! They know who WE are. Time to find out who THEY are.
So we’ll set aside for now about how to answer the questions about your prices, your process, your website, your galleries.
You’ve gently shifted the questions about your materials into your reasons WHY you choose those materials (in ways that benefit your customers).
You’ve used the questions about your process to share WHY you work the way you do (and how that benefits them). You’ve answered the questions about your subject matter with the reasons WHY you feel drawn to this work, these subjects, these landscapes—and how that lifts YOU, and why it might lift them, too.
You’ve used their questions to direct their attention to another work they may not have noticed, or another piece that tells a similar story.
If they’ve asked for a discount or made an offer that’s not acceptable to you, you’ve used the “No, but if…” response to challenge them gently to commit.
You’ve answered the questions about where you get your ideas, with the story of how you came to be the artist you are today, and where you want to go with that in the future—and how that’s made you a better person in the world, and how that helps OTHERS be better people in the world.
Now there’s a lull in the conversation, but the person is not looking around for a way out, moving away to look at another piece, or saying, “Thank you, I’ll be back!”
There’s more to say, and it’s up to YOU to start this particular conversation.
By asking THEM questions!
Let’s focus on some simple guidelines for the questions YOU will ask.
Every question you ask will be a gentle, light way of finding out what this visitor finds fascinating about your work.
“So I’m curious—what brought you into my booth?” or “So what is the piece in my studio that first got your attention?” “What spoke to you about it?”
From their answer, you can expand into what’s special about that particular work, what it is that supports and justifies their attraction to it: “I’m glad you like that one, it’s one of my favorites because…..” or “You’re right, it’s an unusual piece for me because….”
You’ve explained what you’ve learned about that “first enticing piece”—that it’s not the same for every visitor, that every person has been attracted to different works, for different reasons. There’s an unspoken, non-verbal, unconscious connection between your visitor and that particular piece. And it matters, on a deep level. Let’s find out!
Use open-ended questions. Keep away from questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”.
Instead of saying, “Is this the kind of work you usually collect?”, ask “What kind of work do you usually collect?”
“Are you attracted to a piece for yourself, or are you shopping for a gift?”
Instead of, “Is the price too high?” ask, “What price range are you working with today?” If it’s higher, or lower, show them a similar piece, accordingly. If the price is right, keep moving!
And when it’s obvious they really, really, REALLY love that one piece, and yet they’re still hesitating….
If you’ve done your homework, anticipated their questions, replied in good faith, in an authentic way that’s kept the conversation going…
If you’ve asked YOUR questions…if you’ve determined what it is in your work that’s calling to them…
If, in spite of the connection you’ve made, and the trust you’ve established…
They are still hesitating…..take a moment.
NOW You can quietly, gently, ask:
“What’s holding you back?”
Listen carefully to what they say.
These will be what are known in sales as “objections”. It may be one thing, or several. They may be major concerns, or simple. They may be insurmountable, or easily fixed.
It’s good for us artists to anticipate what these concerns are. Some we may have heard before, and many of us will assume it’s the price. Often, it’s not about the price, though, and “assuming” they can’t afford it can be off-putting for the client. This is why I prefer to simply ask, rather than assume, or guess.
I’ve been astonished by some of the responses I’ve received.
And most—if not all of them–are easily addressed.
Next week, I’ll share some of the objections I’ve received, and how I’ve handled them.
Take some time to make a note on the “objections” you’ve heard (“I love this one, but I hate the frame!” “It’s a little more than I usually spend.” If you don’t see your customers’ usual objections in the list, let me know.
I also know some of you have come up with some wonderful solutions, yourself, to meet these obstacles. Be sure to share them!
Be prepared to respond in a way that moves the conversation forward. (Hint: “Sorry, can’t help you, gotta go” is not a way to do that.)
And remember, even if we can’t find a way around the issue NOW….and they leave without purchasing the work…..
They’ve asked. You’ve engaged. You’ve asked, and they’ve responded.
They know who you are, and they’re intrigued to the point of allllllmost buying something.
Give them your card. Now is the time to refer them to your website. Get their address (email, snail mail), and stay in touch.
Because someday, they really, really will BE BACK!
Luann Udell is a regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.
You, too, can deeply connect people to your art.
In my last Fine Art Views article from April 7, 2016, THE BIGGEST QUESTION OF THEM ALL“The Biggest Question of Them All”, I talked about how to uncover what the true ‘objection’ is to a prospective customer who wants your work. In response, one reader said:
“As I read the article I was struck by how your questions to people (and trying to figure out what their objections may be) really reflect a deeply sensitive way of viewing things. Particularly the bit about how we feel about our bodies and why we choose to wear certain things. My working theory so far has to do with the work that you make. It’s so personal to begin with and carries quite a bit of meaning with it already. I suspect you are automatically set up from the get go with a deeper (and different) way of needing to connect to buyers. (And I am not suggesting that a different media such as a beautiful and traditional painting isn’t deep but only that it perhaps needs another type of connection.) Hope this makes a little sense!”
YES, the comment makes perfect sense! BUT –
Recognize that this push-back (“Great idea, but it won’t work for me!”) is a natural reaction to being introduced to a different way of doing things.
We immediately believe the strategy is unique to the presenter, that it can’t be transferred to our situation. (I’ve done it, we’ve all done it, you may be doing it right now!)
BUT though not all of my solutions and thoughts will relate to your unique situation, there are always interesting parallels you can explore, experiment with, and eventually apply to yours.
And so YES, jewelry can be an ‘easier’ sell – BUT not always. Let’s explore some the pushback claiming my work is ‘too different’ to mine for ideas:
- Pricing/Affordability: YES, I may have a wider range of price points than most 2D artists, and a lower ‘entry’ price.
BUT 2D artists have these options, too. Cards and prints (lower price points), smaller work, unframed work, older work.
Conversely, jewelers who work with gold and precious gems certainly have a higher overhead than most 2D artists (not just materials, but overhead and insurance.) And yet many have built a thriving audience for their work.
- Demand: YES, much of my work can indeed feel like a more personal product (they intend to wear it, after all!) and therefore easier to sell.
BUT If you think YOUR chosen medium has lots of competition, let me tell you: In my world, jewelry is the single most competitive category, in stores, at fairs, and online. My aesthetic, and my work, actually appeal to a much smaller audience than most other jewelers. (I’m not even gonna go there with my 2D work and 3D work! Its audience is EVEN SMALLER.)
- Comfort level: YES, People may feel more at ease buying home décor, decorative objects, and jewelry rather than art.
BUT 2D artists can create a comfort level, too. Painting/drawing, throughout history and our culture, is a readily-accepted and popular way to decorate and personalize our spaces, both personal and professional, public and private. When you say “art”, 2D work is the near-automatic response. It’s what we all think of as ‘real art’. Your reputation precedes you!
AND, one of our roles, as artists, is to advocate for the power that art has in our lives, over mass-produced tchotchkes and mass-produced reproductions. To stress why real art is important, especially with new collectors. To share how timeless it is, not only through our history, but is long-lasting appeal. Much more cost effective than that popular little whatzit that will be off-trend in a few years. How it speaks to us on a deeper level, how integral it is to our human nature, because it speaks to us in a way that actually bypasses our ‘thinking brain’, going directly to the ‘feeling brain’—just like music, like dance, like stories and books and movies, and other creative acts.
- Connection: YES, how I make my work, how I display my work, how I interact with potential customers, etc. is very personal.
BUT 2D artists also have that potential for connection. Your potential customer will pre-select themselves for connection to YOUR work, too. It starts with initial attraction: They see something they like and come into your booth. If you are at an opening reception, or your work is in a gallery, they gazed at YOUR work longer than anyone else’s. That’s an opening, a place for you to start that conversation.
AND though I’ve worked hard to create powerful emotional connections between my work and my audience, it wasn’t always that way, it wasn’t easy, and it took time.
I have almost two more articles included here, on how to connect, and how not to DISCONNECT. (I see it all the time.) But I’ll save those for now.
In the meantime, let’s assume the world is a big place, and there’s a big enough audience for ALL of us:
Will you share some of the connecting strategies that have worked for YOU?
The scariest question to ask a potential customer is also one of the most powerful.
Today’s column at Fine Art Views may help you close that big sale.
I was talking with several people who worked for decades in fine art galleries. We talked about the process, describing the entire process as a dance—an excellent metaphor!
We “start the music” when someone first encounters our work—our body of work, our display and presentation of our work. We “ask the customer to dance” by briefly (BRIEFLY, people!) introducing our work. We wait for them to say yes, when, after looking at your work, they give you permission to talk to them more about it. Last, there’s the actual dancing part, the give and take of sharing your story, engaging their response, and responding to their story in ways that form a powerful connection between you, them, and your work.
I don’t know what to call the last part, when we’re supposed to “ask for the sale.” That’s the most important—yet hardest part–of the sales process for many of us (including myself!)
That’s also where the dance metaphor stumbles a bit. However, it may help to understand that the dance isn’t actually over yet.
Usually, I don’t have to ask for the sale. People either love a piece, and buy it. Or they hesitate.
That hesitation is a powerful moment. Something is holding them back.
I’ve learned that trying to guess what it, is usually doesn’t work. I tend to instinctively think it’s about the price, even after I’ve explained my process (**time consuming**).
I’m surprised how often that’s not true. How do I know?
I ask them.
So simple. Yet it took me a few years to actually have the courage for this simple little question: What’s holding you back?
I ask quietly, gently. Often, the things that ‘hold people back’ are things they are hesitant to say out loud. It could be personal. It could be something they feel is ‘silly’ or ‘unsophisticated’ (though it’s still powerful.) It could be something they’ve never had to say out loud before. Whatever it is, many people—most people!—will usually keep it to themselves, rather than volunteer it.
And they won’t make that purchase unless you can address their concerns.
Over the years, I’ve heard surprising reasons why people are hesitating about purchasing my work. And what’s really surprising is, how easy it is to address those concerns.
Some are worried that the work won’t “go” with their color scheme.
Some are worried the jewelry won’t look good on them. (We human beings often have so many issues about our bodies, we often say no to something we absolutely love because we’re afraid we’ll ‘look stupid’ in it.)
Some people are nervous, because they aren’t usually attracted to things like I make.
Some people worry about my fiber work ‘getting dusty’ and being ‘too hard to keep clean’.
Of course, sometimes price is indeed an issue.
The important thing here is, if you don’t really know why the person is hesitating, it is almost impossible to propose a solution or resolution. And almost every obstacle has its resolution.
To the person who worried the large wall piece would clash with their heirloom woven rug, I first I asked her about the room-sized rug’s pattern and color. Then I showed them how my color schemes actually go well with many other colors, including theirs. And then, the clincher: I let them take it home. (I asked them if it were okay if I wrote up the purchase as a credit card charge. If, after a week, they decided it wasn’t the right piece, they could return it for a full refund. If they decided to keep it, I would put the charge through, saving them a return trip to complete the transaction.) They agreed, and the sale was made. (On their way out of my booth, they whispered, “I don’t think I’m going to be bringing this back!” We both laughed. But I still waited for the agreed-upon date before I ran the charge.)
For the person who worried how my jewelry would look on them, I have two strategies:
First, I turn to the other shoppers in my booth, and ask their opinion. I have to say, I’ve never had anyone say anything negative! (After all, if the other shoppers are avidly looking at my work, I’m pretty sure they like it.) The dynamic here is powerful. The group comes together, and encourages the shopper’s choice.
If the person has an enthusiastic friend, I ask their opinion. (Silent, cranky friends can be trickier—tread carefully! Make sure they’re on board before asking them.)
Second, I tell them my favorite story about a dear friend. She loves my work, but is self-conscious about her weight and her short neck. (I’ve told her we all have the same number of bones in our necks, but no one believes me.) She fell in love with a new earring design, very long dangly earrings, and immediately put them on. “But Ruth, I exclaimed, “you hate long earrings!” To which she responded, “Shut up, I’m taking these!” It always gets a laugh, and almost always, a sale.
To the person who is anxious about why they like something they’ve never seen before, we talk about what brought them into my booth, or my studio. If it’s a memory or a yearning, we talk about that. If it’s unknown to them, I talk about some of the themes behind my work—the push-pull of what it is to be human, of wanting to belong and wanting to be an individual, of a modern material (polymer clay) evoking prehistoric artifacts. It gives them permission to simply allow a work of art to speak to them, something many people have never experienced before.
To the person who worries about “dusty fabric”, I share my struggle to keep everybody happy: I started framing my fiber pieces under glass, in shadowbox frames, and how then people complained they wouldn’t be able to touch it. It gets a laugh, and then a discussion over whether they’d be happier with a framed piece, or if they prefer a ‘touchable’ piece.
(Bonus: Didn’t make it into the FAV article…. Unspoken obstacles to selling your 2-D art might include: The frame (they don’t like it), the lack of a frame (what do they do with it??), the price (which includes expensive framing), and probably a host of other factors I’m not familiar with. Simply being aware of the possibilities, and being ready with work-arounds might help seal the deal.)
Price is the easiest to manage. I offer to show them similar, less expensive options. If they stick with their first choice, I describe my unique layaway plan. (Prewritten checks or credit card slips, to be deposited/run through on a mutually agreed-upon schedule. Which often results in them saying, “Oh, I’ll just take it, and take care of the credit payments myself!”)
Trust. Connection. Information. Choices. Integrity. Gentle humor (at my expense, never theirs!) Convenience. All of these are responses that can overcome almost every objective.
But before any of this can come together, you have to ask:
What’s holding you back?