by Carolyn Edlund
You’ve probably seen them – paintings and other works of art listed online that are $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 or more. And next to them, a “Buy” button. You may have thought, “Does anybody actually ever put those expensive things into a shopping cart and buy them online?”
Not very likely. Although I am very much in favor of artists listing their prices online, I know that these items and their availability don’t really translate into “click and buy.”
Those works of arts with their high prices are usually just the beginning of the conversation. This is the start of the “sales cycle” where potential buyers will be identified, qualified, and where the artist will enter into communications with the customer to move the sale along.
Letting the public know your prices means they can either self-select out of your pool of prospective buyers, or they will have key information that your price is affordable for them, and that will help move them on to the next stage in the sales cycle.
Some sales cycles are short. You exhibit at an art or craft fair, and a customer comes into your booth. They see something they like, say a handmade necklace. They love it, try it on, and buy it. Is your part over after you wrap up their purchase? Actually, no – because you will be getting their contact information so that you can stay in touch and make other sales to them in the future and start another cycle with the same customer. A sales cycle that will then be shortened because they have already purchased from you, and the second sale is usually easier.
Other sales cycles are long, and some are waaaaay long. If you are a bronze sculptor and you are seeking to create large outdoor installations at universities or for public areas, you have a very different cycle, one that most likely starts with research, finding the very few prospects that are looking to commission this type of work. Presentations and negotiations can be protracted, and you must have patience. As in “the patience of Job.”
But if that is your type of art business, you will well understand how to go about finding and attracting prospective customers, and what you need to do every step along the way to move the sales cycle forward to the “close.”
Some industries have longer sales cycles because you need to become known, and seen, and remembered. These customers need to become comfortable with the fact that you have established a business that isn’t going to disappear, because they will develop a working relationship with you that endures. Artists who license their work often have a long cycle since manufacturers will be signing contracts with them that last for years, and they will need to have an ongoing relationship. Likewise, wholesale buyers often need to see the artist and their work several times before even considering a purchase for their store or gallery.
Your different collections or lines may have different sales cycles. Reproductions or prints, lower-end or production work might sell more quickly and have a different customer base altogether than your higher-priced, original or one-of-a-kind work. And you may have to sell them in very different ways. This means that you need to understand the different sales cycles for your art and you have to create systems to move prospective customers through those cycles.
Most potential sales fall through. Ultimately it is a numbers game, because lots of people need to see your art before a sale is made. It’s up to you to choose those venues (whether in person or online) which attract the most ideal customer for your work so that your art can be seen, and seen again, and that you can start to get nibbles that turn into opportunities that you can then turn into sales.
That means you need to clearly understand your process and your timeline. Outline the steps you need to go through in selling the different types of work that you make. The best way to lose sales is to ignore your cycle and fail to step up and contact your customers at the right time and in the right way to seal the deal.
This happens all the time. Artists who don’t feel comfortable sending an email or making a call – and who don’t follow up with people who could become collectors of their work – leave money on the table and drive away the very customers they would like to cultivate.
“Cultivate” is actually a perfect word for bringing customers through your sales cycle as an artist. Like a farmer planting a seed that must be nurtured and grown into maturity and harvested, your actions in promoting and putting your art into the marketplace plant the seeds of your own future sales. Don’t walk away from these opportunities once they appear. Create a solid and workable plan to move those prospects into a new category – called “your collectors.” Become sharply aware of the cues that your prospects give that they need communication from you, answers to their questions, or that you need to work to overcome any fears and objections they may have.
Follow up regularly. Focus on great customer service. Offer lots of information so that the customer has a comfort level with buying your work. Be accessible and responsive. And make sure you are absolutely clear about your goal of making the sale and the actions to be taken to make it a reality.