I suck at closing.

I get a fair amount of appreciation for my photographic prints, and am usually able to manage a good turnout for my big photo exhibitions, but closing a sale can still be a challenge for me.

It seems to me that one of the hurdles we’re trying to clear is the tendency to put off the buying decision. Like any larger purchase, it takes time for people to be sure they want a particular piece, and to some extent that’s understandable and unavoidable. I want my customers to have artworks they’ll enjoy and appreciate for years to come. But it’s important to not leave the customer entirely alone during this process, as weeks and months pass, there’s a tension between the impulse to poke the customer every day (and eventually annoying them), and letting the subject slip from their minds. Having good people-reading skill helps here a lot.

One technique I’ve had some success with is, in some situations, offering installment terms. I know that for some, perhaps many of my customers, my artwork is a significant investment, and I respect that. So, if I know a particular customer, and know that they’re a little tight financially, and I think their hesitation is financially motivated, I will occasionally offer to allow them to pay over a particular period of time, while internally not building expectations that there won’t be delayed. Here’s an interesting data point—almost all of my installment plans have taken longer for me to get paid than either the customer or I expected, but in every single case to date I’ve always gotten paid in full, and I’m comfortable with that.

A common sales tip for closing is to work to generate a sense of urgency. There are a couple ways of translating this into the fine art sales business.

The first is limiting the availability of a piece of work. One-of-a-kind and limited-edition works won’t always be available, if you create a situation in which the customer may not always be able to buy a particular image, this may induce them to make the decision to buy, rather than putting it off. While I haven’t experimented with it, a better solution might be the solution that Disney uses for videos of their movies, the so-called Disney Vault. By putting video releases out for a limited time, and them making them unavailable for years afterward, Disney effectively creates a “buy now or you won’t have it” urgency in the customer, and paradoxically increases it’s sales. For artists like myself, it might be possible to limit the availability of artwork to a particular period of time. Giving people a deadline, and telling them about it beforehand might very well spur sales.

While I haven’t experimented with completely removing an image from sale to promote sales, I do sometimes promote “special offers”, such as my regular “print of the month” offer. In giving customers a short window in which they can purchase a given print, I put them in a position of having to decide if they want to buy the print in a given time frame.

I do use a variation of this technique in promoting my “Print of the Month” sales. By offering a discount on a particular new image for a month and no longer, I often do manage to create sales that might otherwise get put off and put off until forgotten.

Closing is hard, but it’s an important skill to keep working on for any photographer.

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