This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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. 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...."
The scariest question to ask a potential customer is also one of the most powerful.
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.
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?