Be Smart About Art

Stay behind the desk or get up and talk to people?

written by: Susan Mumford Aug. 14, 2016 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 2162 views

Stay behind the desk or get up and talk to people?

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here

When someone walks in off the street to your show, should you jump out of your seat and exclaim, “Hello!” or stay chilled and let them come to you?

In truth, there’s no “should” when it comes to selling. While some might think that the activity is a dark art, it’s really an exchange (of goods or services) based on value within the given market (where the show’s taking place). The first trick is getting the right people to attend, and the second trick is getting them to buy.

The question of staying behind the desk or getting up is important, as it’s not only the work of art that sells a piece, but the experience. This includes prospective buyers enjoying their visit to a show.

While I’ve previously written about cultural considerations in how you communicate with visitors*, when it comes to the on-site experience, you want to be available, welcoming, professional and sensitive. I’ll break down each point and relate it to getting up or staying put…  

Being available is easier said than done. As a starter, it means always having someone there to greet visitors, provide insight into pieces and practice, and to answer questions. Bear in mind that you’ll need to eat lunch, take rest breaks and the like, so having a second pair of hands can help. You ideally want to be open for the promised opening hours, as that’s the expectation you’ve set with your own list and the general public. If you need to leave, put up a sign saying when you expect to return (a time, not “back in 5 mins”).

Being welcoming gives respect to each and every person walking through the door. I know of major collectors who haven’t been properly welcomed into exhibitions owing to how they were dressed on the day. Shame on the gallery staff for not treating each and every visitor with respect, resulting in the loss of sales! And being welcoming needn’t mean getting in front of people’s faces; it can be a friendly smile, a gesture and so on. If appropriate, you might even have an ice-breaker (such as having freshly baked goods or a raffle), providing a ready-made conversation.

Being professional is just that. It’s the presentation of yourself, the desk, the space, all of it. It’s a consistent reinforcement of your brand that will help people buy. Whether you stay seated at the desk or get up to chat, be a professional.   

Being sensitive is arguably the trickiest of all four points, and requires keen observational skills. Does the visitor want space, or do they want you to come over and tell them about works on display? Pay close attention to subtle signs, such as someone glancing over to you or trying to get away (!). Whatever you do, be friendly and verbalise that you’re available to provide insight about works on display as well as answer questions.  

Regardless of where you’re positioned (according to what’s right for the occasion), be sure to take action on the spot. Positively encourage signing the visitor’s book, ask about a person’s interest in visiting the show and see if they’re minded to acquire a piece. What do you have to lose? Do your best to read people, from the moment they’re walking through the door to the moment they’re exiting. Successful selling relies on it.  

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* See the blog post: Cultural antennae for showing abroad – a tale of hotel art fairs

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