The Easy Way to Sell Art (Or Anything)


There’s a simple reason so many artists don’t like to sell art – including most of those who sell for a living. “Selling” typically can feel manipulative, phoney, even sleazy.

That’s because selling, as typically taught, practiced, and rewarded by most businesses, IS manipulative, unethical, and often sleazy. It’s centered on what salespeople must do TO customers in order to get what they or their company wants: an order, a sale, a commission.

Consider the conventional language that subconsciously frames the selling process for seller and buyer:

  • “Prospecting” (digging up the ground to extract the gold)
  • “Targeting” prospective customers (remember that a “target” is something you shoot at)
  • “Hooking” the customer (now the customer is a fish)
  • “Pitching” products or services (the goal of pitching is striking out an opponent)
  • “Educating” the customer (telling them how ignorant they really are—and how brilliant you are)
  • “Smoking out” concerns and hidden objections (“smoking out” is what you do to get a skunk out of your woodshed)
  • “Combatting” and overcoming resistance (now it really IS a war)
  • “Closing” the sale by conning the customer into saying “yes” (get the order, then get out the door)

The problem: most people don’t like to be prospected, targeted, hooked, pitched, educated, combatted, or conned.

the easy was to sell art
Fortunately, there is a much better, easier way to sell art than using the old, outdated conventional methods.

[Even if you’re not selling in person (at live art fairs or events, to art galleries, to agents, publishers, art collectors, etc) this is a fantastic example of how the ‘artist journey’ works via email and other digital marketing too – from prospect (checking out your art online) through to loyal fan. These are the obstacles your email copy and other marketing need to address to maximise your sales.]

Conventional selling, therefore, is a struggle. As customers, we instinctively feel pressured and we push back, forcing the salesperson to push back against our resistance even harder.

Because most of us have conscious and subconscious unmet needs and vulnerabilities, skilled, unethical sales people can trick us into buying something we don’t need or even want. But perhaps during the sale, or certainly afterwards, we know we’ve been taken for a ride.

So, while you can make money selling snake oil off the back of a wagon, make sure to keep your team hitched and be ready to get out of town, fast. And never come back!

It’s a hard way to make a living. And what advice do the self-styled “sales gurus” have for dealing with the stress of trying to force reluctant customers to buy? “Work harder.” “Never give up” (keep doing the things that drive you crazy in the first place).

Fortunately, there’s a better, much easier way.

If you’ve read this blog or watched my videos, you know my passion about never coming off “like those sleazy, scammy online marketers.” In terms of a sales and marketing process, this approach is right on the money: it’s about creating real value for customers as the basis of marketing and selling— offering value before you ask for their commitment.

As a blogger and online entrepreneur for over a decade, I’ve experienced the power of this approach: changing selling from something you do TO customers to something you do WITH them—transforming the relationship from “me against you” to “you and me against the problem.”

In his book, The Tao of Sales, Dr. E. Thomas Behr argues against adversarial-based sales metaphors that create battle plans to attack customers like they’re a military objective. Instead, he suggests we create a genuine values-based partnership with customers.

In The Tao of Sales: The Easy Way to Sell in Tough Times, E. Thomas Behr says if we merge our goals with the client’s goals, we will encounter less resistance. If we stop pushing, they will stop pushing back.”

– Chris Lytle, Contributing Writer and author of Sell in the Zone.

“The Tao of Sales, by E. Thomas Behr, [illustrates how] the greatest value we bring clients is this sense of how things work: creating balance by helping them question their own goals and solutions, expanding their sense of what is possible, clarifying their awareness of outcomes, not as an expert, or an opponent, merely as a friend.”

– Sandy Roth co-founder of ProSynergy

“I find myself going back to this book by E. Thomas Behr again and again for inspiring and implementable reminders. I find the title misleading; this is a book about integrity-based thinking and relationship-building, so it goes well beyond the sales process.”

– Jaime S. Walters, founder of Ivy Sea Inc. and author of Big Vision—Small Business.

Staying on that path, however, in the face of setbacks and the resulting anxiety and self-doubt, may require that you change how you think about selling.

What we think as people, consciously and subconsciously, essentially determines what we do; what we do similarly determines the results we achieve.

So, if you want better results, you need to change what you do. In order to change what you do, you need to change how you think.

As a sales professional and a writer, I would argue that everything you do as a writer encompasses “selling.” The more skillful and ethical your sales effort, the better the results.

Sell Art by Changing Your Thinking

Pay attention to and disregard the negative messages that pop into your mind: “You can’t do this.” “If you try, you’ll fail.” “You know you hate selling; you’re no good at it.” These messages come from our subconscious desire to be protected from emotional harm by staying in our existing comfort zone. Treat these negative thoughts like well-intentioned but unsolicited, unhelpful advice from a friend, colleague, or family member. “Thanks, but I’ve got this under control. I’m choosing to succeed by offering value to customers.” (When I get messages like these, I treat them like robo-marketing phone calls and just mentally hang up on the “caller.”)

Create your own positive, ethical, value-proposition. [For example] “I choose to succeed by offering my customers the greatest possible value I can—in both my social media communications and relationships. If I take care of the people who like and support my work, they will help me grow my business.”

  • Write your value proposition on a piece of paper and post it where you can easily see it as you work.
  • When you get attacked by anxiety or self-doubt, read and repeat to yourself what you’ve written. Remind yourself that you have chosen to be successful by creating value with readers, not trying just to take money from them.
  • Some people won’t like your work; some may even criticize it. That’s OK. They have the right to do that. (Often their criticism can help you get better.) But their negative response is about them, not you. Remind yourself of the wisdom of Dr. Seuss: “The people who matter don’t mind; the people who mind don’t matter.”

To keep yourself centered and focused, create your own “Personal Selling Skill Guide.” Post it where you can see and refer to it constantly. Here’s an easy way to do that:

  • On a piece of paper, list the things that salespeople and marketers do to you that absolutely drive you nuts! You want to hang up, click off the site, walk out the door, or kick them out of your house. Make the commitment NEVER to sell this way to anyone.
  • Now think about people who provide important services to you whom you implicitly trust—for example, your doctor, attorney, financial advisor, tradespeople, maybe even salespeople. On a second piece of paper, list their behaviors—how they treat and relate to you—that inspire your trust. Make the commitment to treat the people you sell to the way you want to be treated when you are the buyer.

Sell Art by Changing Your Actions

If you use a mailing-list system like ConvertKit, much of the organizational and technical business of communicating with readers and supporters can be handled automatically (thus saving you more time to write!). But the messages you send out still need to be personal communications, as if you were talking, face-to-face, with another person. And sooner or later, whether in selling your work to collectors, arranging marketing appearances and interviews, or interacting with the public in art shows, you will be selling face to face.

  1. Always give something of value to the other person before asking them to reciprocate with their support or endorsement. Take the time to research what they care about, then link what you’re offering to what they want or need. If they’re an author, share with them some aspect of their writing that you really enjoyed. Critical tip: BE GENUINE. You can’t fake integrity.
  2. Make your value proposition verbally explicit. Let them know that you aren’t trying to “sell” them, but rather to see if there’s a good fit between their needs and what you’re offering. Make their agreement a matter of their choosing, not your compulsion.
  3. Prepare a 1-minute “elevator speech” about how your work has positively impacted collectors. (It can include positive reviews and testimonials). Key: it’s not a “Why you should support my art” pitch, but rather, “Here’s how people have responded to my work.” Limit your statement about who you are and what you do to that short statement.
  4. Explore with them where there might be a good fit. Ineffective salespeople talk 70% of the time and ask open, exploratory, and follow-up questions only 30% of the time. You want to reverse that ratio. The more they talk, the more you can listen and learn. The more you talk, the less either of you wind up listening.
  5. Once both of you see where the best fit might be between what you’re offering and what they need, summarize the opportunity, then ask them what they think the next step should be. Key: Instead of trying to force a close on them, ask them to choose. “How would it be if I …?” “Suppose we …?”
  6. Affirm your commitment to make the mutual implementation successful, then ask them for their commitment. If they hesitate in making a commitment, ask them what concerns they may still have. Try to answer them satisfactorily. If that doesn’t lead to shared commitment, thank them politely for their time and attention, and leave or end the relationship gracefully. You don’t need to succeed with every customer you call on—only the ones whose support is genuine and enthusiastic.

Rehearsing and Practising

If you’ve never “sold” before – or especially if you’re a traditional salesperson – these skills will probably be unfamiliar. Learning to relate to readers, subscribers, and potential allies like this will be a challenge that can easily make you anxious in and of itself.

You can prepare to be successful. You can proactively and positively deal with your anxiety.

  1. Choose specific, dedicated times to rehearse how you want to handle a specific selling situation. A half-hour, three times a week is plenty—but it must absolutely be uninterrupted personal time. (Turn off the cell phone!) You’ll probably need to carve added time out of an already busy schedule. When I’m preparing for a major client sales call, engagement, or presentation, I get up a half-hour early in the morning to rehearse when the rest of the house is quiet.
  2. Visualize, as if you were filming a video, how you handled situations like this in the past. What do you see yourself doing? What were you physically feeling? What were your thoughts? What did you notice about the other person’s reactions?
  3. Mentally reframe that experience using the positive techniques in your “Personal Selling Skill Guide.” What are you doing, thinking, and feeling that make this interaction more collaborative and value-based?

You can practice these new behaviors easily, in non-threatening situations. The next time you’re at a party or some other social gathering, strike up a conversation with a stranger (or even someone you know well).

Practice paying full attention and asking open, exploratory and follow-up questions to draw that person out about what’s important to him or her.

Adapting and Re-focusing During a Sales Conversation

Learning new skills can be difficult. But you can “coach yourself” during a client conversation with the following reminders (From The Tao of Sales):

  • When you feel the urge to speak, pause and be silent until the client speaks.
  • When you feel the urge to interrupt, continue listening.
  • When you feel the urge to argue or contradict,ask your client to explain their idea in greater depth.
  • When you feel the urge to solve a problem, ask the client for their solution.

(These skills, by the way, will strengthen any relationship!)

Finally, remember that you are choosing to be more effective. Honor that choice with your continued commitment.

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