I Hate Selling … But I Love Relationships

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.


Ceramic artist Brenda McMahon

Ceramic artist Brenda McMahon at an outdoor festival.


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.


Brenda McMahon at work on a ceramic mural

Artist Brenda McMahon at work on a ceramic mural.


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 Aha! 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 that 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.


Unloading a saggar firing.

Unloading a saggar firing from the kiln.


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, and 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 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.


Saggar fired vessel

Saggar fired vessel by artist Brenda McMahon.


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!


Group of three vessels

Group of three saggar-fired vessels by ceramic artist Brenda McMahon.


This sales techniques builds trust and 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.


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  1. Wow, that was an amazing piece of information. Very well thought out and can be applied to all kinds of creative avenues. It’s so simple–and not “sales-y” at all!

    • Thanks Ronnie – I’m glad you liked it. It has taken many years to become comfortable in my sales role. We are trained as creators, not sellers, so that part is a challenge to many of us. Thanks for your comments!

    • I feel the same way. I can talk to people (one on one) but hate to push my art. I hate selling. But this was a great way to think outside the box. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Elaine Newell says

    Yes, Brenda, that all sounds VERY familiar!! Thank goodness you developed that philosophy. We loved your work immediately. We totally loved chatting with you that first year. Then the second year arrived and we stumbled across your booth again. Our experience the previous year drew us in. We became one of those that were so sure we were going to buy but never went back for the purchase. Too much money. Next morning came your follow up email, a nice communication with no sales pressure whatsoever. It was much more a personal connection and not a big sales push at all! But it was enough to let our heart take over. The service of bringing it to the house was wonderful. And the rest is history. The piece was so perfect for our location and the wonderful evening we spent with you was even better. Way to go girl! Keep it up. This works!

    • Thanks Elaine!!

      Ditto on the great evening to top off the wonderful sale and beautiful transformation of your backyard!!

    • It’s great to see all the comments. Thanks everyone, this is something I have been actively working on for several years. It’s fun to put the love back into sales…which also fills the gratefulness bucket!

  3. Very good article and a super artist. Beautiful work. I have just recently been given a, reduction in force, RIF, after 8+ years. But, I have decided to make this the chance I have always hoped for to make my ceramic business full time. Your article, really inspires me to do more. And to understand the fragileness of relationships and selling art. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for this insightful article, I found it to be very helpful. I am also an artist, and not a sales person. You gave me some food for thought. I like it! 🙂

  5. Thank you very much for such a timely article as I am just entering into Art Fairs from this weekend for the first time in my business. It is very informative and I will put it into practice!

  6. Very informative and I can completely relate. I’m going to start using these techniques immediately. I enjoy meeting and talking with people 10 billion times more than trying to sell them something!

  7. Thanks Will! I hope you love the shift as much as I did. Everything changes when you focus on the client and not the sale … and then everything changes with the sale! have fun.

  8. I’m very pleased to have found your take on selling art. It’s been the bane of my life. Now I understand what I wanted to do in the first place.
    Thanks for your honesty, it will help.

  9. Thank you Lily… just that energy shift of ‘the bane of your life’ will help everything move from resistance to flow! By the way, this is all ‘off the mat’ yoga!

  10. Your work is wonderful n your story Was beautiful n informative 😉
    Thanks for sharing

  11. Thank you Nadine!!!

  12. Great article and I love the specific questions and service suggestions you include. I have found in my own experience that I can go the opposite direction and focus too much on the relationship/interacting on a personal level and thus pull focus from the possibility of a sale: ending with a great interaction (which I *do* follow up on later) but no real sales prospect.

    All of which stems from my own dislike of “sales” (the verb, not the noun 😉 It’s much easier for me to relate with people than to step into a “selling space” – if that makes any sense – which has to be done at some point, regardless of how much good feeling has been built up between myself and the potential client. And that for me is the difficult transition to make. I feel it’s either being completely disengaged from selling (e.g. just a friendly creative person chatting with a stranger) or too pushy. So again, I appreciate the specific questions to employ!

  13. Donia…
    I think often people’s ‘dislike of sales’ is due to a feeling that you’re trying to ‘take something away’ from your customer, rather than the reality that you’re ‘giving something to your client’ in the form of your creativity. It would be worth taking a look at your own relationship with money as well. All artists deserve to make a living and it’s up to us to make that happen. I always consider money as an exchange of energy…or love … or appreciation… that comes in the form of a socially agreed upon form… green bills with white men’s pictures on them! 🙂 (make it fun!) Everybody’s relationship with love, appreciation and energy (as with money) varies… some extend fully, while others withhold or approach it with fear. We don’t have to take their reaction on… just work on our own. Best of luck.

    • Mahalo for taking the time to respond Brenda! Yes, I know for myself my “relationship with money” definitely comes into play as it’s a frustrating one.

      But I don’t feel like I’m ever “taking something away” from a customer – that’s not my hang up. It’s more like the opposite: with art and artists being undervalued in our society, I hate when I feel like I have to convince someone art is worth spending *actual money* on… so many people seem to think artists should just be happy creating and getting whatever pence are tossed their way (and even approach art sales/festivals/open studio events as if they’re garage sales at which it’s appropriate to offer an absurdly low amount, completely ignoring prices posted when they would never dream of walking into a shop, pick up a piece of merchandise and haggle with the shop owner).
      But as you say – artists deserve to make a living as much as anyone else!

      I’ve noticed, however, that the value placed on *objects* doesn’t extend to art for whatever reason, and people will spend crazy money on extraneous *things* and turn around and say they just can’t afford art. For instance, I was a member of a co-op gallery which showed paintings, photography, and handmade jewelry. I would watch time and again as people would walk around and balk at prices on paintings, only to turn around and not think twice about plunking a piece of jewelry down on the counter that cost three times more than the (very inexpensive) painting they decided against buying.

      So I guess for me, I often prefer to present what I have, be friendly and open, and expect that if they’re really interested in buying art they’ll do it — but obviously that doesn’t close sales as often as could be possible! 😉

  14. It’s important to remember, Donia, what you just presented are your thoughts. You believe that they are other people’s thoughts as well. We always have to watch what we think because that becomes our reality. Not to minimize the truth that jewelry or adornments (aka functional) in general is an easier sell… but art has been around and selling for a very long time, so obviously people love it and support it. It may be a smaller group, but it is a dedicated one! Be aware of those thoughts as you watch yourself sell. You’ll be surprised how much of our inability to sell has to do with our own minds…or how we perceive things. The reverse is also true as it relates to our ‘ability to sell’.

    • I agree Brenda. And that’s actually why I said “many people” rather than “most people” or even “all people” — because as you say “It may be a smaller group [of people who love and support art], but it is a dedicated one.”

      My point was basically that I would rather enable people who already love and support art and artists to acquire my work than struggle to convince people who don’t that art is worthwhile and worth spending more than just a token amount of money on… (and this was all in response to your observation that some people feel like they are “taking something away” from their customers)

  15. Thankyou, this article has been so helpful to me and has inspired me to tell my own creative story on my own website. Thanks for sharing.

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