Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Sell your art, not your soul

Selling is an art that we can all learn.

I was reading an article in Forbes titled “When To Dump That Great Idea” by Wil Schroter (09 July 2007). One of his statements prompted me to write this entry:

“At bottom, it doesn't matter how ingenious your product is--if you can't communicate its value, it may as well not exist.”

What is the value of your art? Artistic value and price spring to mind, but there is more to it. When trying to sell our art, we often take an “Art-centric” view of the word, as illustrated below.

  • The Art is what matters, so everything should gravitate around it.
  • The Artist comes second. After all, he is the one who created the Art and therefore the one closest to the work of art. 
  • The Customer is in the next circle. His interest in the Art warrants him this place.
  • The Rest of the World does not understand the Art or is not interested in it and is relegated to the periphery. 
This vision may seem a simplistic caricature, but how far is it from the way some artists approach selling their art?
When selling, your art is a good place to start, but only a starting point. Sales manuals will teach you that you should find and use your Unique Selling Point (USP). For example, your USP could be that:
  • You use a unique technique or precious material 
  • You use acid free conservation material (including for your framing)
These features are interesting, but only as far as they are relevant to your customers and translate into real or perceived benefits for them. It is time to look at the customer’s perspective. Why would someone buy your art? Here is a (non-exhaustive) list:
  • They fall in love with one of your works of art 
  • The work triggers an emotional response 
  • They feel proud to own an original piece of art 
  • The work reminds them of a special place or a special occasion 
  • They collect art 
  • They know you 
  • They just bought a new place and want to make it personal 
  • They want to buy a work of art for someone close to their hart 
  • They want to leave something special to their grand children

In his book Selling to Win , Richard Dennis wrote a chapter on The Rules of Professional Selling. His number 1 rule is: “Sell to people” and he explains:“understand that every sales presentation must be different because you will never find two identical people.”
Listen and understand your client’s motivation. Then you can use the features in your USP that support what the customer is looking for. For example, if your customer wants to leave something special to his grand children, she or he will be delighted to learn that you are using acid free material (feature) that warrant an optimal conservation for your work (benefit).

Don’t be afraid to be selective about the features you describe. It is tempting to go through the full list and try to impress customers, but irrelevant features will just put them off. How many times have you bought an electronic gadget with dozens of features and ended up using only one or two? The customer’s mind work around WIIFM: What’s In It For Me?

In other words: features are irrelevant unless they bring some benefits to the customer and bring him value.

The last piece of the equation is you, the artist. Art is personal and customers are more likely to buy if they are emotionally engaged. Hearing your story will just do that. This is your personal USP.

Rather than the “Art centric” view, think of the selling process as a balanced relationship between your art, yourself and your customer.

In Summary:
  • Know the USP (Unique Selling Points) for your art and yourself 
  • Listen to your customers (You have two ears and one mouth and should use them in this proportion) 
  • Understand your customers’ motivation 
  • Translate your unique features into benefits for the customer
To take it further

To work on your own Unique Selling Point, read the post by Alyson Stanfield from http://www.artbizblog.com/ on how to build and use your stories (while you are there, make sure you bookmark her blog and subscribe to her free newsletter. You won’t regret it): 
Some excellent books on selling: 

Selling to Win by Richard Denny is straightforward and very practical. Don’t be deceived by its apparent simplicity. It will teach the ABC of selling. A book to read again and again.

Selling Art 101: The Art of Creative Selling by Robert Regis Dvorak. As the title suggests, this book is geared towards selling art. You will find here some practical ways to get better at promoting and selling your art.

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