Confessions of a Professional Art Gallery Closer

Mckenna HallettGuest blogger Mckenna Hallett is the owner of My Golden Words. She helps artists brand and market their work more effectively.

 

Back in the 70’s, pre-internet (heck – PRE-computers, even!), I was selling art in some “big name” art galleries in San Francisco. I was a “natural” salesperson from an early age. It led me to a career in sales of high-end collectables and rarities; art, jewelry, antiques, but especially art. As I honed my skills, I became a professional “closer” in art sales. My entire job was to take the reins and lead the horses to water AND get them to drink.

The salespeople… er… I mean, the “art consultants”, would jump through some very specific “qualifying” drills and then I would enter the closing room… I mean, the “viewing room.” If the salesperson had set things up properly, I would close in about 10 to 15 minutes for an average sale of $2000. There were usually 10 consultants on most evenings and I would close several sales each night. My specialty was upselling. If someone really loved a limited edition print from a new edition we had just released, they surely would want two: one to keep forever and one to sell on the secondary market someday, right? Of course!

This was a well-oiled machine. I coached salespeople and wrote scripts for the telephone banks in the mornings and worked “closing rooms” at night. It was not unusual for these galleries to have a $500,000 month – in 1970’s dollars! It was not unusual for me to be the closer on $200K and more in personal sales as well. There was ONE golden rule: create urgency.

One day, in the midst of closing a sale, I had a sudden change of heart; a revelation. I felt my early salesperson’s heart; the one that wanted people to buy my Girl Scout cookies to help my troop. That little girl wanted people to buy a bunch of different kinds so they would get more choices. How do you choose between Do-Si-Dos™ and Thin Mints™? “Get ‘em both”, I would say with that big “missing-tooth” smile. But I digress.

The bottom-line in my childhood selling was all about pleasing my customers. I wasn’t making a penny from those sales, but felt more rewarded and happier than my art sales ever made me feel.

I began to feel that same powerful and deeply rooted desire to please my buyers in art sales. And from those feelings came a core lesson I still teach in my seminars today:

You must believe (always remember!) you have a deep and lasting impact on buyers of your art. Know that they will never have a better opportunity than today, now, (this very minute) to make that positive decision towards a lifetime of enjoyment.

Understand that when they leave sight of your creation, you are no longer able to help them win the internal battle between the increasing desire to own versus the decreasing hesitation to spend.

Your ability to tip the scales with encouragement is gone when they walk away. They slowly lose the passion, vision, and attachment they were developing; the connection to that part of their heart snaps. The fire dies.

They begin to forget how good the art made them feel. In hours, and most certainly in days, there is little anyone can do to rekindle the fire. They lose.

You don’t lose. The piece will sell someday to someone, but most likely, not to them.

As you have already experienced and know in your heart, your collectors are forever thankful each time they lay eyes on your art and the life-enriching spirit that is seamlessly wound into your art and bonded with their hearts.

My best advice after 50 years of sales: Love yourself, your talent, your art and your client’s long-term needs. Help them, guide them, and encourage them to become owners, today; not for the money – but because it is the right thing to do.

 

Comments

  1. YES!

  2. Well said! Really well said. And from an impressive pedigree.

    Recently I’ve been contacting owners of my work to whom I’ve sold pieces directly over the years to collect photos of the paintings on display, shown how the people proudly share my work with visitors and family. Even if they haven’t gotten a great shot of it, all have let me know how wonderful it is to have the work to show off, that people marvel at it and so forth. It’s gratifying mostly because I know I’m doing the right thing by selling my work and providing what you’re talking about to them. It’s really fun.

    Thanks for the post!

  3. A great article and very to the point. The urgency you mention is a very real one. The excitement that the viewer has in the moment, speaks volumes about your work and closing the sale based on the reaction is critical. I’ve experienced it a few times and know how critical timing is.

    Thank you for this article. Would love to work with you 🙂
    Gabrielle

    • Thanks for your comment, Gabrielle. You truly understand my basic premise. And BTW, I teach the “E’s of Selling” seminar via skype. Feel free to contact me anytime even just to chat.

      It really comes down to love. Love your work, love what it creates in the hearts of those who view it. I just read a quote from Picasso: The Purpose of Art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

      That is a powerful way to make a living, yes? Makes me all goose bumpy!

  4. Good read, but I’m not sure about your philosophy.
    “Help them, guide them, and encourage them to become owners, today; not for the money – but because it is the right thing to do.”
    I prefer those who won’t be able to live without my art and will come even day or two later.
    If it is so easy to distract them, that they change their mind – why should I want to buy it NOW?
    Yes, I know, I’m a bad sales person. Just wanted to share different point of view. And yes, some of my customers had to make additional effort to find me and buy something they’ve missed earlier – it was worth to wait 🙂

    • Bozena, you are not alone in not wanting to be in the here and now in a selling situation. It’s complicated, yes? And certainly we all have had “be-backs”, it just so rare.

      But when you know without a doubt that this is something that will thrill this person for a lifetime, that they are truly moved and feeling your soul, and that they can afford it (that is to say, they didn’t run away when they heard a few prices so it’s a value issue – not a price issue) and they have the “perfect” spot for your work, then you truly do owe it to them to see that match occur.

      I liken it to the same part of our sharing spirit that will go overboard trying to get someone to see the latest movie, or eat at our favorite restaurants. Our “humanity” is always working in the back-ground to bring good experiences to others – even perfect strangers.

      Tap into that part of you and you will find it is natural to want to encourage ownership. Especially when you know it’s such a special outcome.

  5. I need you…Now!….Right Now!

    • Hey James: Opps… I seem to be “here for you” in a reply to Marko – NEED MORE COFFEE (it’s still really early here on Maui!) But I will repeat: do more nudes!

      • lol I didn’t see a remark about nudes! Think that was me that made the mistake/your reply to Marko! any~ way! ! I’ll “take’ you as well, also and too! I’m confused was painting all night! (rest time)! TY 🙂

  6. Wow! Thank you for this great sales and life lesson. This is the kind of information that artist need, if they want to survive in a sellers market. McKenna Hallet is the Zigg Ziglar of art sells. Very inspirational and just what I needed to hear today. Blessing.

  7. Please tell me more about your Skype seminar!
    Oh, and aloha Mckenna! 🙂

    • Fancy meeting you here, Treasure! Aloha nui loa!

      I teach selling basics and not so basic (from the heart) via skype and can handle up to 6 people at a time. It’s about 90 mins to 2 hours of genuine “aha” moments that includes some serious life-long homework with worksheets afterwards.

      I had the pleasure of sharing my seminar as a member of the ABI (Arts Business Institute, where Carolyn is the Executive Director) when we went to three Islands last Fall with their terrific workshops. The link to E’s is in the short bio above.

      It’s a powerful bunch of how-to’s based on my “E’s”: Empathy, Enthusiasm, Elasticity, Encouragement, and Emergency.

      Thanks for asking and give a hug to your hubby and kids for me! And I am blowing a kiss to you!

  8. Gabriella, I just sent you an email – love to help you!

  9. Thanks for your kind response to my website and portfolio, McKenna.

    The responses you’ve made to the other comments really amplify your approach/outlook you mention in the article. Thanks also for those–they round out your presentation nicely.

  10. Hello McKenna,
    Yes I did read this before, that is how I found the artists I mentioned-Gabriella.
    Love her work !
    I used to work for an artist who had an agent/gallery so that all he had to do was paint the paintings.
    Bliss ! I suppose you don’t represent artists any more?
    Wish you would !

    Irena

    • Hello Irena! Fancy meeting you here.

      Sorry (and this goes double for James, too), but… I do not represent artists anymore.

      But I will be working on a project this year that might help artists represent themselves with more ease and certainty. Keep an ear to the ground.

      And make sure you are on the Artsy Shark Mailing List. This is an essential site for artists and makers. And I will drop in an article from time to time. Carolyn is very gracious about letting me guest post here.

  11. DO you represent artists any more? II’m concerned only with me. 😉

  12. Great article. Thinking about my branding after coming home from an ABI Wholesaling Workshop, I was trying to come up with a tag line for my art. I sat thinking about all the comments I get at shows and some of the things that my buyers have said to me about why they buy my pieces. The overwhelming theme seemed to be that it made them feel good. Boom- “Art that feels good”. Your article hits home in a big way. Thanks.

    • Bravo on so many levels, Karen. Good job!

      Taking the workshop is very smart for your growing business. Thinking (and rethinking) your branding is essential. I encourage all my clients to do exactly what you are doing. Sales, like every other thing we do, involves us digging in and exploring what our work’s REAL value is in the market-place. We make people feel good, smart, ahead of the crowd, happy, and successful – and SO much more – when they buy our art.

      And so…I love the tag line – that’s “out of the park” good! PLUS: I now am completely intrigued and really want to race to your website. THAT is a very good thing indeed!

      I am beaming and so glad my article has impacted you in such a positive way! You are welcome!

  13. Wow. How true how true how true. Thank you for such an articulate communication, and the personal encouragement. I can recall several occasions even now where clients were quite gripped, could afford the paintings and I probably left them alone too long. Yes you are correct, typically one doesn’t see them again. A rare exception is once when a client returned years later wanting a particular painting as the first thing to put in their new home, having completely lost the previous home to fire. It was the very first thing they wanted. I was so grateful for such an honor, but also that they didn’t purchase the painting earlier as it would have been destroyed with everything else. I have to remind myself what a treasure a painting is to a collector. Thank you. I wish you lived next door. 🙂

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