Guest blogger Brenda McMahon shares insights that helped her transform from a reluctant artist/salesperson to falling in love with the process of building customer relationships.
I’ve been a full time artist for a long time. I’m easing into my 19th year of making a living creating ceramic artwork. The truth is I’m a part-time artist and part-time sales rep for Brenda McMahon Ceramics.
It has not been an easy road, but through the highs and lows of the economy, I have persevered. One philosophy has served me well through the last decade – that is to make the ART of business as exciting as the BUSINESS of art.
The biggest place where this has changed my business life is in — THE CLOSE OF A SALE.
I am not a natural salesperson. I’m quiet, sometimes shy and I don’t like to push people. If someone likes my work, I can sell it – but I don’t want to sell someone my work, if you know what I mean.
A few years ago I was having a really hard time closing deals on larger wall art pieces. I would have clients love the work, know where they want to put it, but then not buy it. Art show after art show, I would get so close – then no deal. I knew I was the problem, but I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.
At the time I was working with a business coach (who also happened to be my sister) and we were working on my sales close. Did you follow up with them, she would ask? Did you call them the next day? No, I would say, they didn’t come back, they must not want it. I had a wall and I was not budging. After a few insightful questions, my coach uncovered one of my greatest Artist Ahhh Haaa!!! Moments. I realized I HATE SELLING – but I LOVE RELATIONSHIPS.
When I thought of sales, I thought of the used car salesman. I hate dealerships, and the process of buying a car. I thought in order to ‘sell’ my work, I have to be just like them, and I couldn’t do it. My business coach helped me ‘reframe’ the sale. Sales, she said, is all about relationships. (She has been selling for more than 20 years, so she knows her stuff.) If there is one thing I know about myself, I love and value relationships – be it friends, family, partners. I do well in communion with others because I work from the heart.
We all know customers love ‘the story’ of the art as much as they love ‘the art’. But they also love the personal nature of our business, they are drawn to the relationship with the artist! I’m sure you’ve had this experience: someone comes into your booth with no intention of buying. After chatting with you, they find they’ve fallen in love with the piece and buy it. They love the artwork AND the story but they’re also buying a part of us – be it our energy, vision, lifestyle, joy. Well, this concept of relationships is just an extension of that understanding.
When someone walks into my booth now, instead of selling my artwork I connect with that person. I find out why came in and what they’re looking at. Once a conversation begins (I of course allow customers to first enjoy the work without being bombarded) I share my vision and creative joy, but then I ASK QUESTIONS. Just like any exchange, it takes two sides participating to have a relationship, not just me going on about my work.
Do you have a wall you’re contemplating today? Have you been looking to fill this space for a while? The answers to these questions will open up new questions. What wall in the house is it? What color is it? What is it about my work that you are drawn to? The conversation becomes a back and forth, an exchange. You are artist, art consultant and expert. Questions arise, they share their thought process, maybe their insecurities ‘I don’t know anything about art, but I like this.’ The client opens up – and the relationship is underway.
This can easily lead to wrapping up a piece, a house showing and a sale. Or the exchange can lead to a commission. ‘If you don’t see exactly what you want, I can create a piece just for you.’ A service is now offered and another door is open. I have a whole commission path I take when it looks like I can’t sell a particular piece. For me, it’s perfect, the piece I’ll be working on is already sold!
In addition to relationship, I’m a fan of offering services. ‘I can bring these two pieces by your house to see how they look in your living room.’ That’s a nice service. ‘If one works, I’ll hang it up right then and there, for free.’ Another service.
‘If neither work, I’ll put them both back in the truck and be on my way, no pressure to purchase.’ Yet another service. ‘Perhaps along with your input, together we can design a piece just for you – a commission.’ Service! ‘When I do commissions, I create two for you, to select the one that fits perfectly.’ 4-star service!
This sales techniques builds trust, sharing and it’s really fun. It also works – really well! My sales have exploded since I changed the way I sell, and I’ve moved into more specialized work. Many clients are willing to pay extra for this service. In this time of computer operators and no customer service, as artists, some of the most valuable things we offer in our world is connection, passion, friendship and trust — the foundation of any good relationship.