9 Golden Rules for Selling Art | Artsy Shark

by Tamzin Lovell-Miller

Set your art business up for success using practical strategies that make sales a pleasure.

Rule 1: Know what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to

The greater clarity you have the better your business will be, and the faster you will grow. To test your clarity, ask a few people who know you well, and a few strangers to tell you what it is you sell and who they think it is best suited for. If they struggle to answer or come up with a vague response, like you “sell art to art buyers”, then you should work on making it clearer.

Describe what you do/produce. In what price bracket? Who are you doing/making it for? Why would they want it? Where else could they get it? Why should they choose you?

Know your customer. Write down what your ideal client needs, wants, and what their budget is. Create a profile of a single person who represents your ideal client. Describe them in detail so that you can picture them. When you create any communication, aim it at that person. For more information on customers, read Understanding your target market in the artworld

Rule 2: Have a clear vision and a plan to achieve it

A vision is about where you’re heading. It’s important to have a clear picture of that in your mind. Think about the milestones that will tell you along the way that you’re getting there. Write down your objectives and how you could measure success.

Plan the sales path to reach your goals. That may involve you selling directly or through partners. The plan may need to be adjusted along the way, but without a plan, you’ll struggle to succeed. You’ll need to be open to unforeseen challenges and opportunities, but that’s life. That’s what makes it hard, and fun too.

Rule 3: Don’t sell, help people buy (there’s a difference)

You might hate selling, but the good news is, the people you’re selling to hate “selling” too. No one likes to be sold to. If they’re visiting your space or website, all you have to do is help people buy. Buying art is a challenge. There’s a lot to choose from, and people often don’t understand art pricing.  They need reassurance about the investment, and they want to feel confident when they buy. This all adds up to needing help! Ask questions to kick off the conversation and just think about how you can help them.

People like to look around and think and may need some time or a few conversations before committing to a purchase. Therefore, a system for quick and easy professional follow-up could mean the difference between a sale and no sale. You need to be able to send a PDF catalogue or Private Viewing of the works they expressed interest in immediately after the interaction. A good art inventory system with instant catalogues takes the pain out of this process and makes a great impression.

Rule 4: Sell the story, not just the facts

Yes, people want to know the facts about a work, such as medium, size, and price, but they really want the romance, so sell a good story. This counts just as much for online sales and is so often neglected. Online, artists and galleries often just show images of an artwork. This is basic information with a link to the cv of the artist, but if you add video telling the story of the work, you are much more likely to help the viewer connect with you and the work and want to own it.

Provide a short and memorable version of the story which they can tell their family and friends about the work, its inspiration, and its value. People often post-rationalize a purchase, and this helps to avoid that post-spend regret and helps them become your ambassador too. Here’s some interesting reading: Helpful tips for artists to increase success by telling their stories.

Rule 5: Make friends

When you first meet someone, you start by developing rapport. Tell them a bit about yourself, and focus on your positive energy. Then ask questions they will want to answer, which will help you understand their needs. This will make them want to stay to hear and talk more.

Making friends doesn’t happen in one moment. It develops over time, so it’s important to make notes after each interaction to help you remember details about the conversation and the person’s likes in the future. If you can demonstrate this “memory” of them next time you see them, talk to them, or write to them, they will feel noticed and warmer towards you. A CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system can help with this. Many art management systems have a basic CRM that will do the job.

Rule 6: Do sales activity repeatedly (and use tech to take the pain out of it)

Sales don’t happen by accident. They can be planned because there is a process to selling. Think about it as taking people on a journey from COLD to WARM to HOT, and only starting to have the sales conversation when they’re ready. Typically, it takes eight interactions to get people there, including online and in-person and third-party interactions. These can all be condensed into a single visit, but it may also take weeks or months.

The sales process is also about continually filling up your funnel with new people coming in cold and moving through to hot. So where do you find this continual stream of new, suitable (ideal customer) people? Regular activity in the places where they hang out. Regular posting on social media, visiting the same art shows, exhibiting in the right places, updating your website regularly, writing a blog, sending out a newsletter, making videos, and keeping in touch.

Technology can help a lot with this process. You can for example track website visitors, capture leads via your website and social media so that you can e-mail people who are interested in you. You can even automate a sequence of e-mails in accordance with their interests and actions, to continue to nurture them over time without you having to do it manually. More sales activity will lead to more sales! For more information on art management software, read The Ultimate Guide to Art Management Software: how to grow your art business through technology

Rule 7: Ask

Approach the sales conversation as a dialogue. Ask questions, remembering that the person asking the questions is in control. When the other person responds, listen actively with the intention of understanding, even if what they’re saying is making it evident that your art may not be a good fit for them. Be open. Body language, holding your arms comfortably at your side, and looking people in the eye, signals openness, puts people at ease, and increases trust. Ask questions to elicit all the relevant information about the needs of your prospects so that you can propose the best solution for them, even if it may not be what you would like to sell at that time. The relationship will bear fruit over time. When you see the prospect is interested, don’t forget to ask for the sale!

Don’t be afraid of rejection. No one turns every conversation into a sale.  Don’t see a ‘No’ as a bad thing; see ‘No’ is a good thing as it stops you from wasting your time and you can move on.

Rule 8: Success builds through consistency

“Overnight” success is not real, the real story is slow and requires a lot of grit. Mentors help, courses and webinars help, technology can make it easier to manage all the tasks, but mostly you’re going to find your own way. As long as you know it takes time and patience.

Rule 9: Celebrate the wins

Remember your vision and celebrate the wins that get you every step closer.

Set sales challenges, individually and as a team and link them to your plan and milestones. Most of us don’t do this nearly enough. We tend to be too hard on ourselves, and forget the little things, like the simple ‘Thank you’, the high-five, the glass of champagne, or the afternoon off to celebrate your progress.

Tamzin Lovell-Miller is the founder of ArtFundi, a multi-faceted online platform and software system that helps artists display, promote and sell their work. Her business is focused on turning passion into profit, joy into success and making art more accessible to more people, more of the time.

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