This Post is by Clint Watson, founder of FineArtViews. Follow Clint on Twitter. This article is part 2 of a 2 part series on selling art. If you haven't read part 1, click here to go read it now.
Back in my gallery days, I sold art...quite a bit of art. In fact, in addition to being the gallery director, I was also one of the main salespeople at my gallery. While we often discuss "big picture" marketing issues in this space, it dawned on me that some of you might find it interesting to peek into my mind and take a look at my ideas regarding the some of the lower-level specific details of selling art. These ideas are not the only ideas that can help you sell art, but some specific thoughts based loosely upon what I used to do.
When we left part 1 of this series, we assumed that you had organized your records, and asked the question, now what? Let's dive in and I'll show you what comes next.
Let's start with an example: say that you've received (as a gallery) or created (as an artist) a new artwork, and you've generated your list of possible prospects out of your database, what do you do?
You contact those people, preferably by phone. Start with your most "important" prospects. (exception: if, in your notes about a particular prospect, you know that he or she prefers to be contacted by email rather than phone, then don't call).
Everyone wants to feel important. A personal phone call from the artist will certainly push most people's buttons. The trick here is being able to identify your true prospects. Don't call every single person on your list. If you painted a large painting, then don't call the guy who said he only had space for small pieces. If it's an expensive painting, don't call the lady who said she had a limited budget (caveat: I'm assuming you know what her budget actually is, otherwise you don't know what the word "limited" means...quick example: I once had a call from a person who didn't want to spend "a lot" of money and then purchased "only" $30,000 worth of art). Use common sense here.
But who are your most "important" prospects?. You'll generally know who they are. They'll be your best customers. They'll be the people that really should have first crack at purchasing your new artwork. They'll be the people that probably have accounted for the vast majority of your past sales (most of my sales came from about 20 people). You'll have to use some judgment here. Sometimes a new prospect will seem to deserve to go into this "important" group but, over time, it will become evident that they're not as interested as you initially thought. Other times, you'll have "important" customers for years and years who eventually migrate out of the "important" group. (That happened to me, usually about 20 people made up my "main" customers, but who those people were gradually changed over time).
Another thing you need to do every time you create a new artwork (or body of artwork) is notify your email list. If you don't have an email list, stop reading and go set one up. Yes, it's that important. And, again, that's all I have to say about that.
In addition to my main email list, one thing I used to do is maintain a special, smaller email list for my best customers. This list had a lot of overlap with the "important" prospects I talked about calling above, but was larger. I discovered, over time, that a lot of my customers respected and wanted my opinions when it came to art. They would call me to ask what I thought about particular artists' works (not necessarily artists I represented). They simply wanted my opinions. You might say that I had built my own Collector Clan (tm). So I started a little email list called, "Clint's Favorites." And anyone who wanted to receive "Clint's Favorites" would be added to that list. I kept a running list of all my favorite artworks and sent an alert anytime anything new was added to that list (with a link to a webpage so the customer could see the artwork). I removed artworks from the list as they sold.
You could modify this idea as an individual artist by having a feature in your newsletter where you actually recommend other artists to your prospects. Here's the thing: If you're always talking about yourself it can be ineffective. But if you have a feature in your newsletter for collectors that actually helps them find new artists and great artworks, then you're bringing them value. It's another reason for them to follow you . . . a reason for them to join your Collector Clan. They'll tell other people about you. And ultimately, you'll be right there for them (or the people they referred to you), when they are ready for one of your pieces. (Plus, perhaps you could set up a reciprocal commission structure with the other artist... but that's a different blog post.)
You might be worried about making the phone calls. "What do I say?" you might wonder. It's easy. You simply have a conversation. Yes, there are sales techniques that can help. But don't get too wrapped up in "selling", people expect that from a gallery salesperson but not, usually, from an artist in the studio, so just be yourself. Enjoy connecting with people. Tell people you just finished some artwork and it seemed like a piece that they would enjoy and tell them why (if you have your notes as discussed in part 1, you'll know why. If you don't know why, then you shouldn't be calling that person). One "sales technique" that is important to know is when to stop talking and "close" the deal. If someone asks how much the piece costs, how much shipping is, how soon you can get it to them, or says, "I really do love that," then ask that person if they would like to "add it to their collection" and then stop talking until they answer. Once they answer, you'll pretty much know if the deal is going to happen or not. Oh yeah, don't forget while you are having these conversations to add any new pertinent information to the notes document about each prospect. That will make your information even more targeted and complete the next time you contact this person.
Don't harass people with your calls either (hint: it's good to have notes regarding the best day and time to call each person). Just call each prospect once or twice and, if you can't reach them, or don't get a call back, then send them a personal email or handwritten note with a photograph (another great tip by the way, handwritten notes and photos get way more respect than email) telling them about your new artwork and why you thought of them. If they ignore you, don't worry about it. People are busy. There are work issues, family issues, timing issues, money issues, all kinds of issues. Just keep them on your list and try again next time. If they're really a prospect, sooner or later the timing will be right. If the timing is never right, then at some future point, you can "demote" the person from your "important" list to your "regular" email list. Don't get discouraged too quickly though. I used to be amazed when a client called me regarding a note I had sent them months earlier. Usually, they started by telling me, "I've had this photo tacked to the wall by my desk for the last six months and I've been meaning to call you . . . "
Be prepared for the fact that a lot of people aren't going to commit to purchase a piece off of a web image (Although people who have already purchased from you will be much more comfortable doing so). You might have to send physical photographs. You may have to send the piece "on approval." You certainly will have to have a good return policy in case they don't like the artwork as much when they see it in person. That's just part of marketing art. Expect it.
If all of this sounds like hard work, well, that's because it is. Art galleries earn their money (at least the ones that do all this stuff do). But if you want to sell art, you've really only got two options: 1. Do all this stuff yourself or 2. Get someone else to do it for you.
This is where the proverbial "artist's spouse" comes in handy. If you're lucky enough to have one, then you've got someone who can do most of this "selling stuff" while you create your artwork. (Give this article to your spouse and move on). Most artists will end up with a "hybrid" solution: You'll have to do some of this work yourself, but you'll probably have some sort of help, and maybe a gallery or two. Also, if you partner with some other artists, that can help too.
By the way, even if you have galleries that do all this work for you, you still need to be getting contact information for all of your collectors and putting them into your database. Your database of collectors and prospects can be your most important marketing tool and you need to know who those people are. Yes, I know galleries don't like to share that information. That's because they're afraid you'll sell your artwork directly behind their backs. Don't ever do that. Make sure that you're galleries know you won't ever, ever, ever sell behind their backs and you should be able to work something out.
The bottom line is that selling art is not about web "traffic", "hits" or "page views". Those are just ancillary statistics. It's all about connecting with real people and having conversations with them. You don't need a ton of people to make it work for you....just a handful of the right people are enough to start your clan. Hopefully the tips outlined in this article will give you some insight into practical ways that you can lead your clan.
Now go change the world.
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic