When and How to Speak to Buyers

What is the best way to connect with potential buyers or collectors at gallery openings?  How much can I say or not say? How can I not get in the way of sales?

During our recent two-person show at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Chris Eagon and I had a chance to experiment with this. Since our show was installed in Kempton Hall, where congregants gathered on Sunday mornings after the morning service, we decided to join them. Our goal was to be on hand, which we hoped would increase sales and at the least, allow us to connect directly with more people interested in our work.

The first Sunday, which was also our opening, I tried what I though was the direct approach.  Since I was completely panicked that no one would know I was the artist, I found myself walking up to groups of people and announcing myself.  I have to report that this does not work. People tended to back away rather than engage with me about my work.  I forgot that this was their church, their coffee and social time and they weren't necessarily there to see my work. What a shock!

The next week I came prepared with a name tag that had an image of a painting on it to identify me. I didn't accost anybody. It felt awkward, but I just walked though the crowds of chatting coffee drinking people with a smile on my face. That day, a woman asked me about the work. I had also heard that it is better to let them lead the conversation so I just nodded and answered her questions. It was painful not to add more information. Like how I had felt when I made it, details about my medium and process, and of course my connection with that place. I noticed her husband across the room looking intently at one of my paintings, even touching the sides. I stopped my feet from heading over to him and turned around. Allow him to get to know the piece on his own, I reminded myself.

I initiated a discussion on a LinkedIn group about this issue and was amazed at the response. So many opinions. But the upshot supported my experience. Talk less and not about yourself. Don't hover. Ask them what they think. Be interested in their experience. The goal is not to insert yourself between them and the artwork. Answering direct questions is okay.

Turns out that my urgency to explain the work is just me wanting to talk about something that fascinates me, my art process. It has very little to do with if how how a viewer connects or doesn't connect with a piece. Sometimes it does make a difference that a buyer knows me. But in the end, the relationship is between the work and the buyer.

In the end, Chris sold 5 paintings, mostly to friends who had come specifically to see her work. I sold one painting to a woman who I never spoke to, though I had noticed her every week. She told me that she decided to buy it because each week she kept being drawn to it and couldn't imagine not seeing it again. I love that.

So my lessons were: Talk less, be interested in them, don't hover, be relaxed and know my work is strong and communicates without explanation.