Don't assume all art collectors are rich fat cats. Handle buyers with sensitivity
It might sound obvious, but people get this wrong on a shockingly regular basis.
I was recently in conversation with Emery, a fun-loving, larger-than-life architect. Her father had passed away, and she decided to invest in a work of art in his memory. Buying art for such personal, symbolic reasons is commonplace. She set the budget at £10,000 and was on the lookout for suitable pieces.
Before long, she discovered sculptural installation pieces by a contemporary British artist, presented on a London gallery’s website. This was an important acquisition and she was ready to commit.
The gallery was due to exhibit at an art fair, so Emery made arrangements to visit. The pieces were even better in life than on the screen, however the experience with the gallery was less than ideal.
When she arrived at the stand, the gallerist pulled out a number of works to show her. So far, so good. Though excited about what she was viewing, Emery started wondering about what the asking price might be. The gallerist hadn’t enquired about budget, and hadn’t mentioned prices, so Emery took it upon herself to ask about one piece. The price, as it turned out, was £15,000… yikes! She immediately felt embarrassed, yet still hoped to find something. Accordingly, she asked what other pieces by the artist were available in her price range.
The gallerist’s response? “15,000 pounds is not a lot of money.”
Ouch. Why hadn’t he reassured Emery that budget wasn’t a problem, that they could find something that worked for her? The still-potential client was right there. She was ready to commit. She simply couldn’t afford the most expensive piece in stock.
Completely mortified, Emery decided it was time to go.
She made her excuses and left the stand. Rather than trying to rescue the situation, the gallerist walked alongside her, complaining about all the effort he had gone to in laying out all the pieces. This was pure emotional blackmail, and it was never going to close the sale. Instead, his attitude drove Emery away from both the gallery and the artist, permanently.
Such an approach will never work for selling works of art (or indeed, anything else). When the motivation is deeply personal, the conversation requires particularly careful handling. Emery should have had 100% positive associations with her purchase, but instead, she had been lambasted for not buying a piece that cost more than her budget.
What can be learned? Above all, be sensitive to your client’s needs. Endeavour to work out the reason that someone is looking to buy a work of art. Is it to build an art collection, decorate a home, celebrate a marriage, commemorate a person’s life? The answer will help guide the way you handle communication.
It’s also worth remembering that it is easiest to sell to your existing clients. And thus, it was not necessarily just one sale that was lost, but potentially more to come.
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Photographs © Chris King.