Fine art photography: Wreck of The SS Dunraven, Red Sea, Egypt, by Nigel MerrickHave you ever been in a situation where you had someone highly interested in your fine art photography, only to find yourself unable to make the sale? Afterwards, did you find yourself wondering in frustration, “what could I have done differently to help the client make the purchase?

You’re not alone!

Almost every artist and fine art photographer has been in this situation at some point in his or her career.

Editor’s note: This is a guest article by Jason Horjes, the owner of the Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale Arizona. I also interviewed Jason on one of my special “pick our brains” webinars with a special presentation and interview from Jason on how to sell fine art photography.

While not every encounter with a potential buyer will result in a sale, you can dramatically increase your fine art photography sales by understanding the sales process.

I’ve been fortunate to work in the gallery business for almost 20 years and have sold millions of dollars in fine art, including fine art photography, during my career. By using the critical sales skills that I’ll share with you in this post, I’ve had consistent art sales year after year – despite the twists and turns of the economic climate.

Want to sell more of your fine art photography? Let me show you how…

The Challenge Of Fine Art Photography Sales

The sales process requires persistence, patience and skill. Because it’s a skill, however, it’s something you can learn, and master with practice.

Over the years I’ve had some great teachers and I’ve learned a lot about the sales process through experience. Today I would like to share 5 of these skills that you can adapt to your sales process so that you can become more adept at selling your own photography.

The question on a lot of photographers’ minds at this point is, “do I really need to learn these skills?

Some fine art photographers might feel that because they’re showing their work in galleries or aren’t directly involved in the sales process, they don’t need to learn how to sell.

I would reply that every photographer can benefit by understanding the sales process.

You’re going to have opportunities throughout your career to interact directly with collectors at shows and in your studio. You’ll also benefit by better understanding what’s happening in the galleries that show and sell your work.

If you’re participating in fine art photography shows or festivals, or open-studio tours where you’re interacting directly with potential buyers, it’s even more critical that you begin mastering the sales process.

In this post, I’d like to share five critical skills that can serve as a starting point as you begin to devote your attention to the sales process.

  • Learn your client’s name
  • Listen to your clients
  • Tell a story
  • Ask for the sale
  • Follow up
Fine art photography: Mt Ngauruhoe Sunset - New Zealand

Fine art photography: Mt Ngauruhoe Sunset – New Zealand by Nigel Merrick

Fine Art Photography Sales Tip #1

Learn your client’s name and use it frequently…

The process of selling any art, not just fine art photography, is all about building relationships. The best way to start a relationship off on the right foot is by showing your client that you’re interested in getting to know them. Exchanging names is a great way to send this message.

It’s often been said that the sweetest sound in any language is the sound of one’s own name. I’m not sure if this is true, but I do know I always feel an instant connection to someone who goes to the effort to learn my name. It makes me feel important, so I’m sure your clients will feel important and will pay attention to what you have to say if you take the time to learn their names.

But I’m terrible at remembering names,” you say.

Guess what?

Everyone has a hard time remembering names at first, but there are several techniques I use to remember clients’ names.

First, as soon as I hear a name I try and repeat it back to the client. Instead of, “it’s nice to meet you,” I always try to say, “it’s nice to meet you Jim and Nancy.

Second, I repeat the name over and over in my mind. As I’m first conversing with a client, one part of my brain is repeating over and over, “Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Nancy, Nancy, Nancy.

Finally, I try to write the names down as quickly as possible. After an introduction, I step back to let my clients look around the gallery. During this time, I jot down their names on a note card at my desk. The sooner I write their name down, the more likely I am to remember it, so if I do forget I can always refer back to my notes.

Be sure to use your client’s name throughout every conversation.

It’s amazing how this one simple technique will change your footing in your customer relationships.

Fine Art Photography Sales Tip #2

Listen to your clients…

Another method that will help you build better relationships is to listen carefully to your customers.

Many art sales people think that in order to become a better salesperson you have to learn how to say the right thing to your customer (you may have even thought this yourself). Over the years I’ve found I’m far more effective at selling when the client is doing most of the talking.

I try to spend 80% of my time listening and 20% talking.

The best way to get your customers talking is by asking great questions.

  • “What are you looking for in particular today?”
  • “Where are you from?”
  • “What kind of work do you do?”
  • “What kind of art do you collect?”

These are all great questions to begin a conversation. Notice that none of these questions can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no“, but are instead open-ended questions that encourage conversation.

Once a customer begins to talk, be sure to ask good follow up questions. There are many directions a conversation can go, and I provide some great examples of follow up questions in my book, “Starving” to Successful: The Fine Artist’s Guide to Getting Into Galleries and Selling More Art, to help you steer your conversations in the right direction.

Recommended Reading

"Starving" to Successful: The Fine Artist's Guide to Getting Into Galleries and Selling More Art by Jason Horejs

Have you ever wondered if you have what it takes to show your work in galleries? Have you felt frustrated because you are unsure how to best approach galleries for representation? Do you know what you need to do to prepare your work, your portfolio, and yourself to make an effective approach?

"Starving to Successful" The Fine Artist's Guide to Getting into Galleries and Selling More Art will answer these questions and many more as you prepare to increase your presence in the gallery market.

Written by J. Jason Horejs, owner of Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ, "Starving to Successful" will give you pragmatic advice and concrete, actionable steps you can begin implementing immediately to become more successful in marketing your work to galleries. Gain insight into what a gallery owner is thinking as he or she reviews your portfolio. Understand why the most common approaches artists make to galleries are largely ineffective. Learn what most artists fail to do in preparing their work for sale. Starving to Successful will change the way you look at the artist/gallery relationship, and will set your art career on a new path.

Fine Art Photography Sales Tip #3

Tell a story…

I find, in most cases, that people buy art and photography because they feel an emotional connection to the work, meaning that at some deeper level your work has resonated with the client. If you can enhance the emotional connection with a great story about the work, you are far more likely to proceed to a sale.

Art buyers are interested in learning about your inspiration for an image, and will share what they learn with friends and family members who see the image in their home.

I work with an artist who types out stories about each of his pieces. In his narratives, he explains the creative process and shares his inspiration for the subject matter. While you may not need to write explanations for every piece you create, developing a narrative about your work that you can share with your galleries and directly with customers will help you tell better stories and keep your clients engaged.

You begin telling a story by answering the following questions (depending on your medium):

  • What drew you to your subject?
  • Have you created other art on the same subject previously?
  • What surprised you most about the subject?
  • What most excites you in the image?
  • What response are you hoping to inspire through the image?

Fine Art Photography Sales Tip #4

Ask for the sale…

While there are some buyers who will see a piece of art, fall in love with it, and reach for their credit card, more often you will have to ask the client for the sale.

You may have lost sales you felt were very close to completion simply because you didn’t ask for the sale.

Asking for the sale is one of the greatest challenges any salesperson faces. Your timing and tone have to be right, and you want to be careful not to sound pushy. Ultimately, however, it’s most important to learn to ask for the sale whenever someone is interested in your art and to then get a lot of practice closing.

My typical close is very simple. “Would you like to do it, Jim?” I’ll ask, or “Well Nancy, can I wrap that up for you?” You would be amazed at how frequently the response to this kind of question is “Yes!

Even if the answer is “No,” or “Not right now, I need to think about it,” I now have an opportunity to ask more questions and find out why the client isn’t ready to commit. This in turn gives me the opportunity to start to help the client resolve any concerns they have about the purchase (I include an entire chapter in my book on how to discover and resolve concerns).

I speak to many artists who tell me they hate to try to close the sale because they’re afraid of failure, embarrassment, or rejection. Isn’t it even worse to lose the sale and not know why?

Fine Art Photography Sales Tip #5

Follow up…

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, clients are unable or unwilling to make a purchase on the spot. While an immediate sale is always the goal, when this isn’t possible you need to have a good follow up system in place.

We have recently closed several significant sales at the gallery that were months in the making. These sales wouldn’t happen were it not for good follow up. This is especially true of many larger sales that require more deliberation on the part of the client.

Commit yourself to actively following up with every potential buyer.

In order to follow up effectively, be sure to do the following:

Collect contact information

You’re going to have a hard time following up with customers if you have no way to contact them! We’ve developed a simple method for acquiring contact information from our clients. Instead of giving them a photo of a piece of art or a brochure, we offer to email them the information directly. We hand them a card to fill out that asks not only for their email address, but also for their physical contact information so we can follow up by mail as well as electronically.

Be persistent

I have had to follow up with some clients seven or eight (sometimes even more) times before receiving a response. In my book, I give you templates you can use to follow up by providing valuable information so that your persistence isn’t annoying. During the course of your follow up, you may send a thank-you note, an image of the artwork, your biographical information, and additional information about the piece in which they are interested. Don’t send all the information at once – instead you can send a series of emails and notes so that the client is repeatedly reminded of you and your work.

Don’t give up

Several years ago, I made a sale to a client who never responded to my initial attempts at making contact. After sending about eight communications with no response I added the client’s name to my mailing list so that she would continue to be reminded of the gallery and the art she had seen. One day, out of the blue, she called to find out if the painting she had liked was still available. Even though the painting had sold, I was able to show her more work from the artist and she ended up making a purchase. This was over 18 months after our first contact!

Don’t worry too much about being annoying – your clients will let you know when they’re no longer interested. Until then, far better to be proactive and make sure they don’t forget about you.

The process of selling fine art photography doesn’t have to be mysterious, and I hope you’ve found this brief article helpful.

Thoughts, Comments, or Questions?

We love to hear what you have to say about any of the ideas here, so do share your comments and questions below, and we’ll do our best to get those answered for you!

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