This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
See the intention, not the insult.
There's a favorite pastime artists and craftspeople indulge in. Get a couple of ?em together, in person or online, and soon they're swapping stories of the stupid things their customers say.
And it makes me cringe.
First of all, come on! Let's be a little more tolerant. We all say stupid things from time to time. I myself am the Queen of foot-in-mouth disease, and yet I rarely ever deliberately say something mean. Things just fly out sometimes. Only in retrospect do I think, "What was I thinking??!!"
Second, understand that people are trying to be sociable. (Arguably, some more successfully than others!!) Many are in a venue they are unfamiliar with?they aren't the working artists and craftspeople, after all! (I would feel funny and out of place wandering around a hospital or a construction site.) And sometimes that sociable intention goes awry.
Example: A jeweler told a customer who was admiring her work, "Here, look in the mirror with those, they look even better!" She meant, "Hold the earrings up to your ear, look in the mirror and see how good they look on you." The customer, who was obviously confused by the directions, tried to cover. She held the earrings up to the mirror and obligingly said, "Oh, yes, they DO look better!" Do you see it? The customer thought the jeweler had said something odd and was trying to go with it to make the jeweler feel better. But the story ended up in an online forum (open to the public) as a "stupid customer" story.
Third, it's mean. I hate to think how our customers would feel, if they ever saw our comments. I know some of you are thinking right now, "Well, I want them to know!" But somebody who asked a "stupid question" in my booth one year became one of my all-time biggest collectors. What would have happened if I'd shared that story?and she'd seen it?
My point is, the people who say the truly mean things and the truly rude things, those people are not our customers. Our real customers are saying "something stupid" for a very good reason. And that reason is the total opposite of what we think.
They have connected with our work and they are trying to engage us. They are asking us to tell them more about it.
Bruce Baker is a craftsperson and store owner who speaks professionally on the art of the sale. His CD on selling for artists and craftspeople (at http://bbakerinc.com/) is worth its weight in gold. He talks about this phenomenon and it rings true:
People who see your work for the first time need time to look and browse and think. After you greet them (at a show, at an exhibition), they want time to do that.
If they like what they see, they eventually give you permission to talk to them about your work.
And they usually do that in the form of...a stupid question.
If you react to the surface meaning of that question?if you do not recognize where it comes from or what it really means...
If you react with anger or resentment or even sarcasm?and yes, even your "joking" answer is sarcasm and they know that...
You risk losing that potential sale.
Instead, see the stupid question as the way a person (who is totally ignorant of our work) to reach out and connect with us. Let it slide off . Go with the intention?the desire to talk more? and you will go a long way to building a relationship that eventually results in a sale. You will have made a collector out of that "stupid customer."
How do you do that? Here's a good suggestion: You don't have to answer the question. You can simply use the question to open up a conversation.
Example: Something I hear all the time in my booth: "Are these made of wood?" Or, "Where did you buy the animals carvings?"
Now, I have signs all over my booth talking about the artifacts, how I make them, what they're made of, etc. So my first answer might be, "No, they're not wood ("idiot!" under my breath.) They're polymer clay."
Instead I say, "Oh, I'm delighted you thought so! I actually make them myself, out of polymer. Look at this piece?doesn't it look like real ivory? And real soapstone?"
Which gets the customer to do exactly what I want?.they look at the work again. And as they look, I pick up the piece they were looking at and put it in their hand and I talk about the stories behind the piece and I show them the exquisite attention to detail that goes into everything I make.
If get annoyed?if I get angry, if I say something sarcastic like, "Oh, right, like I made them out of knotty pine!", or blow them off with, "There's a sign right next to your head that tells all about that", then I totally crush that attempt to connect.
Lose the snappy comeback, too. Even a joking answer will make that person feel awkward--because they know you've just made a joke at their expense. And you will have to work three times as hard to rebuild the rapport.
A painter friend shared with me the most annoying question a landscape artist hears: "This looks like that field in Maine with the lone oak tree in the middle. Is this really the field" Since some landscapes are composites, or meant to be more generic, this sounds like someone who's going to argue that you left a critical fence out.
What they are actually trying to do is connect what you've painted with an actual place that they know, and remember, and have a connection with.
And if you can feed that sense of connection, you have a good chance of selling them that landscape.
"That's one of my favorite views! What is it in this painting that reminds you about that field?" or "I love it when my work reminds people of special places. Do you have a story about that field?" Listen to what they say. Build on what they're feeling, and how your work made them remember that feeling. Remind them that they'll remember that beautiful field every time they look at your painting.
Let's turn around the "stupid question" stories into a new tool for great customer relations! What responses have YOU used with a potential customer to engage them more deeply with your work?