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Sales Is Not A Four Letter Word
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Sales Is Not A Four Letter Word
by Kathy Bauer of Fine Print

Reprinted by permission from the Fine Print newsletter

Our last issue addressed marketing from a booth-presence perspective. We discussed exhibitor attitudes, presence and the ability to help the customer make the emotional decision to purchase art. Your art. You are an artist, a photographer, a creator of visual images designed to enlighten, enhance, enjoy. But to become successful in the business of art, you’ve got to master a few techniques of (don’t gasp now…) sales.

There. We said it. Sales. Sales of your work make money. Granted, we can all be esoteric dreamers, but if you’re at a show or in a gallery, you’re there to sell. This next marketing installment will give you a few tips and techniques for selling your work without sounding like a used car salesman.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

If a visitor enters your booth, she is truly interested in your art – and you. That prospective buyer has seen something that stopped her from wandering down the row and enticed her to come into your space to see more. This is your opportunity to shine.

There is a delicate balance between jumping a visitor and standing back just to answer questions.

With a smile, introduce yourself and introduce your work by describing a location, a technique, an emotion you captured. Engage the customer in light talk. You have nothing to lose.

Believe in your work and the prospect will believe in your work, too. Believe in yourself, your vision, your method and technique. Assume this person is a buyer who is interested in you – your art – and project that positive confidence. Your work has value. Merit. Integrity. Envision the customer happily taking your work home. You have nothing to lose.

Imbue yourself with the courage to get to know the buyer’s “hot buttons” and identify whether she is looking to satisfy wants or needs. Wants or needs. Very different motivators but equally emotional. After all, a purchase of art is an emotional decision. If she buys it with her heart, she will complete the purchase financially. An incredibly composed panoramic photo of a slot canyon where she hiked with her friends will capture her heart and memories. And your shot is so much better than the one she took with her point-n-shoot, she just has to take yours home. She needs that photo to remind her of one fantastic journey.

We’ve seen too many exhibitors pre-judge a prospective buyer and turn a disinterested shoulder. Can you really tell a potential buying customer by his clothes, his walk or his attitude? Maybe some of the time. But not all of the time. By making snap judgments, you simply don’t have enough information to make assumptions, especially ones that may turn into an expensive mistake. You have nothing to lose.

Is your style a bit unusual? Not for everyone? Highly abstract oils sandwiched in between a sea of landscapes? Don’t assume that a visitor doesn’t like your style or won’t buy the piece. What you don’t know is that the visitor’s next door neighbor absolutely loves bold abstract

paintings and has been looking for a piece just like yours for the bare brick wall in her entry.

So the customer has come to your booth and expressed interested in your work. You have opened and maintained a good dialog with the buyer and listened carefully and actively, showing respect for her opinions. By asking questions and learning about her, you have identified the nature of her interest, her growing emotional attachment to a piece and focused on her needs. Plus, carefully crafted questions permit the customer to develop her point of view and make a decision. You’ve now reached a rather intimate relationship with the buyer. It’s going well. Now…how to turn a prospective buyer into a buying customer?

It’s easy for a prospective purchaser to walk away if you don’t ask for the sale. Sounds harsh, but using a little psychology of selling softens your approach and reinforces the safety of the relationship. Your mantra for an assumptive close: ‘I assume you are going to buy this photograph because I know you have already purchased it emotionally. You really do need this photo.’

Try sending up a few ‘test balloons.’ Statements to validate the buyer’s choice can encourage a pending decision.

“It really makes my day when someone becomes so attached to a piece.”

“You know, this is what it’s all about: people falling in love with my work.”

“I can tell you’re visualizing that print in your home.”

“That’s one of my favorites, too.”

Look for approving body language: a finger on the side of the nose is a sign of careful thought, open palms signal total acceptance, rubbing palms together means action. Be alert to eye contact, smiles, conversations with companions and react accordingly. These are all signs that that a sale is imminent.

If a prospective buyer is giving all the right signals but is still hesitating, it’s time to find out the barrier to a purchase. Is it price? Size? Inability to make a decision? It’s best not to ask directly (although you may want to scream, “Well, why not?!”) but perhaps give your buyer a little space. Begin a dialog with a new visitor to your booth, keeping eyes and ears on your prospect. Don’t hover but don’t walk away, either. Put a little activity into the scene. Take the piece outside the booth so your buyer can get a distance viewing. Hold it at eye level, wear a big smile, and ask “So?”.

Now, give your buyer two opportunities to say yes. For example,

“You know we do accept both MasterCard and Visa. Which would you like to use?”

“Credit cards and checks are both accepted. How would you like to take care of this?”

“Would you like me to wrap this now so you can take it with you or may I ship it to your home?”

“If you’d like, I can mark it ‘sold,’ take care of the details now and you can come back later this afternoon to pick it up. That way, you don’t need to lug it around the show.”

Avoid the temptation to put a piece on hold. If the buyer is serious, you can create urgency for completing the sale at that time. A dialog might sound like this: “You know, I really can’t hold an original piece of art. To be honest, this is such a good show and many of my collectors know I am here and come to see the new work available. If someone wants to make a purchase, I really can’t prohibit that. I know you understand. I can tell you are quite taken with this piece and I can’t promise that it will still be here an hour or a day from now. I’d hate it if you were disappointed. Should we wrap it up for you now?” You have nothing to lose.

If the prospect is still on the fence and you can’t close the sale right there, give her your cell phone number, hotel or contact information during the show. “If you go home tonight and decide that this is just what your living room needs, please give me a call tonight and we’ll arrange a meeting for tomorrow. The show doesn’t end until Sunday and you know where to find me. But honestly, I can’t put a piece on hold.”

Still can’t close? You did your best. Plus, you’ve met a new customer who loves your work enough to come close to buying. And that’s terrific. If the piece doesn’t sell, mail a photo of the painting with a thank-you note letting her know the piece is still available. If it does sell, still mail a thank-you note to keep her curious about what new work is coming and where you’ll be exhibiting. This will ultimately create urgency in the prospect’s mind and plant the seed of your work’s value.

Always provide a visitor with a take-along postcard, flyer or reminder of you that exudes your unique style and personality. Ask visitors to sign your guest book for follow-up direct mailings and make sure you have put those mailings into your calendar so you don’t miss that important marketing opportunity. Cultivate and follow up. You don’t have to spend thousands on a brochure; just spend the energy to get something out regularly. Quarterly is best.

Selling something you have created can be gut wrenching and exhilarating at the same time. Watching your beloved original leave your booth can be as emotional for you as the purchase was for the buyer. But you chose this profession – or perhaps it chose you. And if you’re in the business to make a living, learning selling and closing techniques are as important as learning how to use the tools which make your creativity shine. Visit a bookstore and wander through the business department. Or visit Amazon and peruse the 504 titles of books about selling and read their reviews. There’s bound to be something there that speaks your language and motivates you within your comfort level. Many books are clearly targeted to insurance, real estate and corporate salespeople; however, there are gems that speak of relationship selling, Socratic techniques and gentle approaches more appropriate for creatives.

Take advantage of the next show to practice, play and perfect your own personal techniques. Don’t get discouraged if results are not immediate. Set a goal for a show – try to close one sale in ten attempts and see how you do. Be flexible and creative. Once you become comfortable and confident, we know you’ll be pleased with the results.

After all, you have nothing to lose.

Kathy Bauer is a member of Fine Print’s customer resource team and has a diverse background in sales and marketing, and a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design. She was vice president of Advanced Digital Imaging, Inc., on a marketing advisory council for Eastman Kodak and a trustee on the board of directors of PMA’s Digital Imaging Marketing Association.

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