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Becoming a Better Art Salesperson – Part 2 | The Power of Silence

by Jason Horejs on December 11, 2013 · 21 comments

Last week, in the first part of this new series on how to become a better art salesperson, I discussed how many artists and art salespeople make a fatal flaw by giving buyers an easy way out. In the discussion about last week’s post, artist Lori Woodward shared the following suggestion about her closing process:

When it becomes obvious that they are considering buying the piece, I ask if they would like to add it to their collection. They either say yes, no, or state why they are on the fence… Which, as you say Jason, helps the sales person work with the collector to resolve an issue.

The last couple of sales, I got to know the collector, and when it became obvious that they were thinking of buying, I pulled the work off the wall and set it on a separate easel in the light… Then didn’t say a word… Just let him or her speak, and it became a sold piece.

This a great example of moving boldly to the sale. We often use similar techniques in the gallery, asking for the sale and moving the artwork to a more prominent wall or isolating it. I particularly want to focus on Lori’s last suggestion though – not saying a word after placing the artwork on an easel. This suggestion points to one of the most powerful, and yet most underused tools we have in our sales kit: silence.

As your client finds an interesting piece and you move toward the close, silence can be far more powerful than talk.

Many salespeople mistakenly think that selling is a process of talking potential customers into buying something. While establishing rapport and creating narrative are important, we often make the mistake of saying too much. I’ve listened to salespeople fill every moment of an encounter with talk, never giving the buyer a chance to commit. As your client finds an interesting piece and you move toward the close, silence can be far more powerful than talk.

We are Afraid of Silence

Let’s face it, silence feels awkward. A sales encounter can be, at times, a slightly tense, if not nerve-wracking experience. When we’re nervous and encounter silence we feel an almost irresistible urge to fill it.

When a client raises a question or objection, or doesn’t respond right away, we may feel it’s our job to say something more, to further explain the art or respond to anticipated objections. Our job, however, is to make the sale, and sometimes saying nothing can be far more effective than anything we might have said.

Silence is Powerful

I  heard an interview on the radio several years ago where a police detective was talking about interrogation techniques. The detective mentioned that after a suspect answers a question, the detectives will often simply maintain silence. The detective said that the suspect will often provide vital information after the silence. In the pause, the nervous suspect keeps talking to avoid the silence.

Obviously, the sales process has a different end in mind than an interrogation, but the power of silence is just as palpable in selling.

There’s an old adage in sales that “the first person to speak, loses.” I don’t like the implication that the buyer is losing if you let them speak first (in the art sales process, everyone wins!), but experience has shown me that the point is correct. There are moments in sales where letting your client speak first will result in a sale.

When to use Silence

When a client raises an objection or question

Don’t feel like you have to instantly jump in and answer questions or offer immediate solutions to objections. Frequently you will get valuable information from your potential buyer by saying nothing at all. If you remain silent and expectant, as if you are waiting to hear more, the buyer will sometimes answer the question, or further elaborate on the concern. There’s no law that says you have to jump right in with a response. Try and keep the ball in the buyer’s court.

When negotiating

Silence can be particularly useful in the negotiation process. Allow a pause after a client makes an offer to see if they will soften their request for a concession. Allow for silence after you make a counter-offer.

After asking for the close

As Lori suggested in her comment, silence is particularly effective after asking for the close. If you keep talking, you’re preventing your buyer from having the opportunity to say “yes.” After you ask for the close, you should never be the next one to speak. Wait for your client to respond, even if the pause is long and uncomfortable for you.

Use Silence – Close More Sales

As with all sales tools, silence should be used judiciously. Experience will teach you when to say something and when to keep your mouth shut. The only way to get that experience, however, is to begin putting silence into practice. I would encourage you to consciously use silence at least one time during your next sales encounter. It may be awkward, you may use it at the wrong time, and it might simply not work, but you will feel the power of silence and begin building the resolve it takes to sustain silence.

Have You Used Silence as a Sales Tool?

Do you have experience using silence to close sales? Do you find silence particularly difficult to endure? Do you have questions about how to use silence? Leave a comment below!

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About 

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

David Kessler December 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Jason,
I put silence into practice just this week. I had an exhibit opening reception where quite a few of my collectors attended. A young couple who purchased a painting from me earlier this year was in attendance with the husband’s mother. We talked for a long time and I helped make the feel welcome. They spent time really looking at a particular piece. I offered up a story about the piece and it’s creation and then shut my mouth. After a few moments of silence I said “I am going to let you look while I speak with some other collectors”. On my way home I wondered if I should have done more, but the husband’ s mother was an additional factor to consider- was she considering the purchase or were they? The next morning I received an email from the couple saying they wanted to purchase the piece for the husband’s mother! While I may not have handled the situation perfectly, I came up with the intended result.

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Robert Colburn December 11, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Hi Jason – Yes!, and by “Yes!” I mean the “Yes” pause. I use it frequently when selling work in the gallery. After a thoughtful and thorough presentation on a piece and a little Q + A perhaps, it is a great way to let the client know you are LISTENING to them. They know you are waiting for a response, and it is up to them to guide the conversation, either to answer further questions or assuage remaining doubts, or to finalize the sale. I also think it shows them that you are confident about your presentation – sometimes the more a gallerist or artist talks, even if they think it is to inform, a client may read it as trying to “explain away” some kind of problem. Great posts!

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Jeni Bate December 11, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Will try this one a little more this weekend….

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Michael Binkley December 11, 2013 at 5:08 pm

This is a lesson I was taught many years ago, as we Binkley’s tend to talk a lot! The key is knowing when to stop talking, and that has come after many years of making mistakes. Of course, I still don’t get it right in every situation, but I am much better now at giving enough information about a particular sculpture, how well it would fit into the prospective client’s life, etc. and then stop and let the client digest. 9 times out of 10, they will nod and purchase the sculpture. The silence can sometimes be lengthy, but I usually quietly busy myself in a far corner of the gallery and give the client not only room for silence, but physical room of privacy, too. Being silent right in front or beside them is too expectant and psychologically pushy, which is detrimental to the process. I’ve also learned to read the patterns of the client’s body language, and try to adapt my sales pitch to match them.
But knowing when to shut up IS a very valuable tool in the sale!
Great post(s), Jason!

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Joyce Wynes December 11, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Jason, this couldn’t have come at a better time. Tomorrow night I am invited to a private, corporate, gala event where there will be corporate people surrounding me with my art displayed on the wall, because my painting was chosen to be on the cover of a local business magazine in a competition. I have been thoughtful all week on how I should approach this situation so I am going to try to speak about my art and tell its story but then keep quiet. I wish I had more practice at this “keeping quiet” bit before the event but maybe if I repeat it over and over before I go to sleep tonight I can visualize myself giving the right responses and pausing and waiting for the other person to respond.

Of course, this piece is not for sale because it is a commission that I asked the owner to let me show in the gallery for this event, but I would like to entice interested viewers to take a look at some of my other work at my website. Any suggestions on how I should handle that situation? Do you think I should, in this case, print out some postcard size advertisements with some of my other work on it and hand it to them as they are walking away?

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Beth Hartmann December 11, 2013 at 10:37 pm

You betcha on the postcard to take away! People love to get mementos. Even if they immediately lose the card, the act of receiving it from you will help cement your name/images in their minds.

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Marshall December 11, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Jason,
I find that silence on my part helps the client to sell themselves on the piece. I may ask a question like
” What is it about the work that attracts you?” Then I shut-up and listen. What they find attractive
about the piece may surprise me but beauty is in the eyes of the checkbook holder.

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Lisbet Damgaard December 12, 2013 at 12:04 am

Thank you for bringing up this subject. You so correctly state in your book that a buyer needs to make a “emotional connection” with your art in order to buy. We all know that we cannot make any form of positive emotional connection if someone is talking away on the side line. We need time to get that special connection that is art. I have spoken to some art collectors about the buying/ sales process (great way to learn – ask them!) – three brought up the same issue… never say “This is my best piece” – in an art collectors ear this is a very worn line. We must also remember – as in your story Jason – to allow people to simply enjoy our art on display and perhaps the sale comes later. We are servicing the customer – allowing them to make a purchase rather than us making a sale….

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Diana Adams December 12, 2013 at 4:50 am

I couldn’t agree more. Everyone in north america feels correctly that they are being sold to all the time. We are highly sensitive to all sales techniques. The gift of space to actually make a decision for oneself without noise or chatter, is a sign of respect. People like to feel respected.
I sell my portraits this way ( i am a portrait photographer, but sales are sales). I rarely speak during sales sessions after i have explained how a slide show will go. I only speak if they ASK my opinion on whether x or y is a stronger image. It is frequently uncomfortable for me to hold back, but it is a kind of self discipline that requires practice and yields great rewards. Great post, Jason.

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John Powell December 12, 2013 at 6:52 am

I learnt that ‘words’ are powerful but ‘silence’ is equally powerful…? A work of art speaks for itself without the aid of a salesperson.I believe that a work of art can sell itself.The ‘power’ of art is much,much more than a salesperson,or the artist or agent.

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Jeannie Griffin-Peterka December 12, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Jason, as someone who has an aversion to trying to “sell”, I was so happy to read your column. I just finished a weekend open studio show in a building that houses artists’ studios. This year I put a number beside each painting and printed up a price list. This saved me from stammering when someone asked me the price. I also tried to make eye contact with and welcome each person as they came into the studio. I answered questions and talked about my work when I felt it was appropriate and also engaged people in conversations about themselves. I never once tried to sell. As a result I sold several originals and sold out of some of my prints. We have an open studio show once a year and this one was definitely my most successful.

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Jana Parkin December 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm

I read this post earlier in the week and took your message to heart. Two days later a collector came to look at a specific piece. I took your advice and let silence close the sale. It worked!

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Paul M Harman December 14, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Hi Jason;

Thanks so much for your excellent books and your online blog that is so helpful to artists. I followed your advice from you book and asked the owner of a local frame shop and gallery if he displays the work of local artists. I was having him remat a piece that came back damaged in transit by UPS from a show at the National Sheep trials in Meeker, Colorado. He said if this is an example of your art, definitely. Asked him if I could bring in some samples of my work when he called me to say the work was rematted, and he said sure. I took three paintings in with me on that day and they are now displayed at Sunset Oaks Framing and Gallery. Perfect timing for Christmas. Thanks for your advice and encouragement to step out there.

Paul M Harman

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J Chelten Davis December 15, 2013 at 7:17 pm

WOW! This past Saturday a man and wife entered my gallery. After touring the entire gallery they focused their attention on a set of two framed photo art prints. I waited an listened to their discussion as they tried to decide if they would actually make the purchase. Once they indicated they had a space in their home to hang the art I ask for the sale (hint from part 1) and then remained silent. They agreed to my request and I made the sale.

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Bobbi Mastrangelo December 19, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Hi Jason,
Thanks for the reminder that “Silence can be Golden” in closing a deal.
In the world of “Wordiness,” Silence can be like a Japanese Garden
or a Tiffany Window. Less is Better…
Fewer words enable the buyer to Ponder the Purchase.

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Greg Thompson December 22, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Dear Jason:
I love your blog and I’m looking forward to reading your book.

I’ve been a professional art dealer for 19 years.
I seemed to have an intuitive sense of the power of silence early in my career.
I remember a meeting with an executive director of a museum. I contacted them about an important artist who I felt needed to be in their collection and an important body of work they needed to see.
Once I had secured the meeting, I laid out the portfolio on a very large desk in the museum’s library.
He asked me important questions about each one of the pieces, I answered the question and then kept my mouth shut!
I let the director lead the discussion. The silence at times was deafening and even palatable but with it was a mutual air of respect which hung in the room. The director ended up buying a piece from the portfolio and then I used the fact as a major selling point to other collectors in the community and ended up selling every piece in the portfolio.

Over the years I continue to use this tactic amd have found it very effective. I agree with another gentleman who posted on your blog noting that the dealer’s true job is to discover what a collector likes and is looking floor, locate the work, and then place it before them. As the representative of the piece of art, I am there to answer questions, honestly, and precisely. I try and find out everything I can about the artist and the piece so I can answer the collector’s questions and allow them to make an informed buying decision. Answering questions with brevity and then being silent firmly places the ball back in the collector’s court, where it should be. As per another posting on steps toward closing a sale, when the collector askes wht the best possible price is, you know you’re moving towards the sale. Once again, after you have answered the question, stay silent. I have found 90% of the time the next response from the collector is “I’ll take it!”
Doing this allows the collector to close the sale and they feel satisfied and confident with their purchase.
I have closed millions of dollars worth of transactions this way and highly recommended it!

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clyde Theophilus mclaughlin December 25, 2013 at 6:39 am

Excellent article and comments.
I have been in sales practically all my life and have learned that buying art is like buying a car,it is an emotional thing.Some of the biggest mistakes sales people make is they don’t or forget to do is greet the customer! The way you welcome a customer makes such a huge impact..that in itself is priceless.The second thing is to be knowledgeable about the piece and the artist.And last give them enough space to breathe, to look around to feel the ambience, smile,answer questions and ask open ended questions relax, BE QUIET! And watch the customer sell themselves. ..with a little help from you of course.

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Saltness Parks January 1, 2014 at 6:48 pm

All true.
I try to get the client emotionally involved with the painting.
When asked about an award winning painting, I replied that “once the artist is finished with the painting, the most important person is the one viewing it. I have seen two people stand in front of this painting and cry (true). What do you think could affect them that much?”
They dive into the painting – studying the emotional impact using their imagination. Connecting. I just listen. I learn a lot about my work that way. Hey, I’m not going to tell them that I was annoyed that the model hadn’t shaved her legs, and she kept letting her hair fall over her face!
Most important…never ask a question that can be answered NO.
Once, as a child, I asked my attorney father – “how do you always know how to say the right thing. ” His reply was, “you stay awake at night wishing you had said something else, I stay awake at night thinking about what I will say.”

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Tina February 7, 2014 at 12:55 pm

I like this. Now, I know how I’ve been “worked” in the past, and it definitely got me to decide to purchase. I would add that what it does (this is from my own experience) is to allow the client some time to justify where the money is coming from and to not only let them feel their impulse, but the silence gives the impulse room to grow in their mind. If the sales person chatters too much, it distracts the buyer from their impulse buying feelings and crowds the buyer’s mind and feelings with thoughts other than the impulse. The buyer might have been on the verge of giving up their Starbucks ritual to afford the piece when the sales person interrupts their thought. We humans can be so impulsive.

I’m also wondering about the power of humor in making a sale, you know, “get them laughing.” What do you guys think?

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Michelle Andres March 8, 2014 at 10:27 am

This is great advice. I’ve seen artists “pressure sell” and it does them no good. Actually, it comes off as rather obnoxious. I usually greet the viewer and make it clear I’m available to answer questions. If they linger on a piece, I may tell the “story” of it briefly…then I give them space. Most of the work I sell is when I’ve said nothing at all. Hahaha – maybe I talk too much!

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