When I first started in the gallery business over twenty years ago, it was common practice to hand someone printed materials when they expressed interest in an artist’s work. When I was working with a client and she said she liked a particular piece, I would first try to close a sale, but if I wasn’t successful, I would hand her a printed copy of the artist’s biography and a photograph of the piece that had caught her attention.
I suspect that this remains a common practice with many artists and galleries today, but I feel that handing out printed materials is an ineffective selling technique, and today I would like to share an approach that I’ve found far more effective.
Let’s begin by exploring the problems with handing out printed material. First, and most importantly, handing out printed material and letting the client walk away deprives you of the opportunity to follow-up. In the vast majority of cases, as soon as a potential client walks away, you will never hear from her again.
Another problem with printed materials is the production and organization. From a gallery perspective, we would need to keep a stock of brochures and bios for dozens of artists, along with boxes and boxes of photos. Back in the ’90s, when I began in the business, we had to organize and store both prints and negatives for each of the several hundred pieces of art in the gallery. Digital photography made this a little bit easier, but it is still an organizational challenge.
The solution? Email!
Now, instead of handing someone a folder full of bios and photos of artwork, we let an interested client know that we would be happy to email her the information. Emailing the information is better for everyone involved. The client doesn’t have to carry a folder of paper out of the gallery, and we now have an avenue for follow up.
You might wonder if some people are reluctant to provide their email address. Actually, very few visitors to the gallery decline an email follow up. People have become accustomed to interacting through email, and most look at it as a convenience rather than an invasion of privacy.
After a client agrees that she would like to receive an email, we provide her with a contact card to fill out. This card asks for not only her email, but also her other contact information, including her mailing address and phone number. The beauty of handing someone a form asking for all of her contact information is that she will usually simply fill the form without even thinking about it. Even though we don’t need the additional contact information for our email follow up, it’s very valuable for us to be able to add that information to our database for further follow-up.
When the client hands the card back, we ask if she would like to be added to our mailing list. We keep the invite very simple: “Would you like to join our mailing list to receive updates about new artwork?” You don’t need to sell this too hard – you only want people to join your mailing list if they really want to. Never add someone to your mailing list without their explicit permission.
We try to send the follow up email with an image of the artwork immediately after the client leaves the gallery, while the interaction is still on their mind and on ours. Most of our clients have smartphones, so many of them can view the email immediately.
Your follow-up email should be simple and too the point. Thank the client for visiting your studio, show, or gallery, and provide the information about the artwork in which they expressed interest, along with the image. I prefer to have the image show up inline in the email, rather than as an attachment. Close by letting the client know you would be happy to be of service. In other words, don’t be too pushy.
If you don’t hear back from the client within 2-3 days, send another quick email with an image of the artwork. You might also provide additional information about the artwork if available. Your inspiration for the work, a copy of your biography, or some other detail you feel might be relevant to the client.
Keep following up until you hear back from the client. Start out with follow up every 2-3 days, and then begin stretching out the intervals between follow up as time goes on. I will talk more about the follow up process in future posts, but it’s important to note here that some sales require 8-10 follow up emails before getting a response. Don’t allow your sales to fail because you aren’t being persistent enough. If you keep your emails short and courteous, you can be persistent without being pesky.
And there you have our replacement for brochures and photos. Email follow up has been far more effective than handing someone a brochure could ever be. We have the added satisfaction of knowing that we are, by some small degree, reducing waste and helping the environment.
To be clear, brochures and catalogs do still have a valid place in your marketing efforts. Brochures and other printed material can be a great way to send images to clients to update them about new available work. We do a lot of marketing through printed catalogs and brochures – but the key is that we use brochures for our marketing efforts, not for our sales efforts.
Finally, the last caveat. If we have sincerely tried to get follow up information from a client, but for some reason they refuse to give it, we may hand them a brochure as they are leaving the gallery if we felt that they were truly interested in a particular artwork or artist. This, or handing someone a card should be an absolute last resort after all efforts to sell and get contact information have been exhausted. These last-ditch efforts are only rarely effective, but if we’ve tried everything else (sincerely tried) it’s better for the client to walk away with images and contact information than nothing.