Build Rapport With Your Collectors and Sell More Art (Get This Right and the Rest Will Follow)

How to sell art to collectors by building a rapport with your customers header image with two figures holding up a piece of art

Have you ever met a stranger who put you instantly at ease? Some people know how to build rapport with anyone. It’s a skill you can master and you can use it to sell more art.

The art of building an instant rapport is in establishing a mutual bond. Finding common ground and sharing similar thoughts and feelings. It’s a two-way exchange between equals built on trust, empathy, and understanding. Above all, it must be GENUINE.

Yes, some people have an uncanny ability to engage with everyone around them. They instinctively possess the knowledge that I’m going to teach you here. Let’s break it down into easy chapters.

Two short-clawed otters playing in water. A Framed pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler. A collectors piece
‘Twist and Turns’ A pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

Build Rapport in an Instant With Your Potential Collector – First Impressions

Who is it that said;

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”

It’s never been truer than in sales. A good first impression is essential if you are to build trust with your prospective customer.

That’s not to say you should dress up and wear a cheesy grin. Trying too hard is as bad as not trying at all. You should instead find the middle ground. Well-poised and relaxed. Be casual and have a friendly smile.

Most researchers agree that at least 70% of our communication is non-verbal so you can’t afford to dismiss this stuff as trivia.

  • Smile and be approachable
  • Be presentable, clean and casual
  • Make eye contact
  • Keep a good upright posture
  • Acknowledge everyone

These things should be obvious but it’s incredible how many market traders break every rule and do the exact opposite.

What you DON’T do is this:

  • Look sullen and miserable
  • Look like a rough sleeper
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Slouch and/or fold your arms
  • Ignore anyone

You may not make a sale with all the right boxes ticked but you sure as hell can lose one.

A framed pencil drawing of a Sumatran tiger by Kevin Hayler. Sold to a collector
‘Tiger Rising’ a framed pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

Build Rapport With Your Collector by Finding Common Ground

Most of us are drawn to people who are most like ourselves, it’s the conformity bias. We use common reference points to judge how likely we are to get along. In a sales environment, we want to find as many of those connections as possible, and quickly.

You don’t have much time to build a rapport so you have to break the ice as soon as possible. The easiest way to do that is to ask a few questions.

I ask innocent questions in a casual way as if I’m passing the time of day. The idea is to discover something we have in common and follow the thread. I wait until they start looking and showing some interest. Then I ask a question or make a remark, such as:

  • Where are you from?
  • What’s your favorite animal? (I sell wildlife art)
  • Do you like drawing?
  • I like your t-shirt
  • Are you happy?

I’m not looking for a profound conversation. I’m sizing up the shopper’s reaction and indicating my friendliness. That’s all.

Further Reading: How to Sell Art Prints Using This Classic Retail Trick

If the initial approach was welcomed I can follow it up with a supplementary question to get the ball rolling. If the answer was returned reluctantly, as a mono-syllable and without eye-contact, I can back away. They now realize I’m not going to pounce.

It doesn’t matter if you get a negative reply. Lot’s of sales advice suggests that you ask open-ended questions or solicit a positive answer. This is a step too far for me. That’s more like manipulation.

I try to chat more naturally and I AM GENUINELY keen on meeting interesting people. It makes my day so much better.

My favorite question is ‘What’s your favorite animal?’ but not everyone has a favorite, so they reply with a negative response. In theory that’s poor salesmanship, but no, I answer by agreeing and saying something like:

“Nor do I really but many people do, they collect anything to do with cats or elephants or whatever’

That’s true and most of us know someone who is like that. That’s potentially our common ground.

That takes us neatly to my next point

A framed pencil drawing of a Tawny Owl perched in a tree by Kevin Hayler
‘Chestnut tree and Tawny’ a pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

Learn to Listen to Build Rapport With Anyone

A good conversation requires good listening skills. You must be the listener to build rapport.

If someone is talking to you, listen and return their gaze. Don’t interrupt without good cause and don’t correct people.

I often hear people talk about animals and get their facts all wrong. What purpose would it serve to correct them? Who cares if they call great apes, monkeys? Where would pedantry get you? Listen quietly, nod, and give way.

There’s nothing to be gained from the debate, only pointless friction. No one appreciates being corrected. You can add to their knowledge but don’t challenge it, it’s easy to sound patronizing and no one likes a bighead.

The only times I break my rules is when I’m educating children or if I want to get rid of someone.

Speak clearly and without fancy words or jargon. It’s not good to ramble, mumble, or stutter. Keep your sentences short and snappy. No one wants to know your life history, they want the highlights in punchlines.

Put your ego to bed and let the customer have the stage and if they go on too long steer them back to your art.

Further Reading: Should you Teach your Art Skills in Public? (Pros and Cons)

If you tell a story make it a brief one and don’t talk yourself out of the sale. There is nothing more deflating than meeting someone who’s enjoyed your chat so much they forgot about your art!

Some customers are windbags of course and only through experience will you learn to distinguish them from real customers. It’s OK while you have an empty stand to listen to a monologue but if it means ignoring the next customer you MUST break away. Be friendly but firm.

I usually touch their forearm with my fingers and say something like:

‘Sorry, I’ve got to stop you there, this customer has caught my eye and I have to break off. Gotta make a living. Take it easy’

All but the incurable will take their leave in good spirit.

Lastly, if I don’t like to disagree with people, I’m also loathed to offer a strong opinion. I don’t want to risk a contentious remark unless I’m sure we’ll agree. Then we can go on to share a good gripe.

How to sell your art to a collector framed example of a drawing which sold for £1200
‘Monster Croc’ a pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

Bond With Your Collector by Finding a Common Enemy

An easy and effective way to build rapport is to pinpoint and highlight a common enemy.

That might be big business, bureaucracy, social injustice, crime, prices, politics, you name it. There are thousands of gripes that can be mined to establish a mutual bond.

It’s not about bitching, it’s more about creating a common cause. It’s both of you against the system. You recognize an absurdity and you put the world to rights.

As an artist you might rail against the elitist art world and it’s self-importance. You can be outraged at the rigged market, inflated prices and the pretentious pseudo-intellectual codswallop that goes with it.

And what’s your solution? Hand-crafted, talented art at a price people can afford.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

You might choose to point out your struggle with the authorities who seem hell-bent from stopping you earning an honest crust with mindless red tape, licenses and rules.

You’ll soon learn where your prospects sympathies lie. Use their reaction to create your connection.

Mirror Your Customer to Put Them at Ease

When two people get on really well they instinctively mirror each other. Knowing this, you can tailor your behavior to reflect your customer.

And no, I don’t mean do an impression. Don’t synchronize your nose-picking, that would be spooky.

Your body language should be similar and your tone of voice should match.

Further Reading: Sell More Art – 9 Selling Skills For Artists (Are You Missing Sales?)

We gravitate towards people that are like ourselves and the more we relate the more comfortable we feel.

That includes our manner.

  • If someone talks, jokes, and behaves like you, they probably ARE like you. That’s why reflecting your customer’s behavior can help ease their uncertainties.
  • If your customer is a chirpy, cheeky chappy, respond in an equally chummy way. Likewise, if someone is reserved and formal, take note and tone down your delivery.
  • If you are serving someone who expresses themselves in simpler English, then lower your language and cut out a few syllables.
  • If someone is well-spoken, raise your game. Limit your slang and don’t swear.

I’m not suggesting that you should be a fake. We all have different personas depending on the social circle we mix in. Be aware of behavior patterns and recognize what’s happening. Each person who comes over to look at your art comes from a different social world and you should adjust accordingly.

A framed portrait of a female lowland gorilla by Kevin Hayler.
‘Time to Think’ a pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

Rapport Building With The Power of Touch

Touching the goods is a very positive sign of interest but touching the person is so much more intimate and has a powerful effect.

It’s use must be measured and neutral.

There are ways to make it work for you as long as you respect personal space. The neutral zone is along the arm.

It’s perfectly acceptable to give a slight elbow nudge to someone in good humor. So too is the tiniest finger touch to the forearm as part of the banter.

You build rapport rapidly after making physical contact. That, in turn, helps to sell your art.

I used to work next to chap who sold jewelry and he had a very clever way of touching that worked a treat.

He encouraged women to try on the rings knowing full well that they are often hard to remove.

He would stop them struggling by taking their hand. He dabbed some vasaline on their finger and using a cloth removed the ring and cleaned their finger at the same time.

He would chat and polish the ring with the same cloth. All deliberate but innocent.

He could easily have let the customer do it for themselves but this way he held their attention and built rapport with ease.

Brilliant selling!

Further Reading: Do Artists Need Business Cards? (Warning: They Can Kill Your Trade)

If touching increases the likelihood of making a sale, it’s also great for finishing the sale too.

When I customer pays with cash I like to count out the change in their hand. The old fashion way. It sounds trivial but people appreciate you counting out the money and the touch seals the deal. So much friendlier than plonking a pile of coins in an outstretched hand.

I will also try to shake hands if possible. It cements the transaction, confirms the personal nature of buying your art, and ends the encounter in a positive and respectful way.

And that marks the end of this article with a virtual handshake, so let’s sum things up.

Conclusion

Building rapport is a skill easily learned and it works well when you are genuine. It not only increases your sales, but it also boosts your mood and confidence, and that’s not to be dismissed lightly.

Selling your art is a tiring and emotional business, so don’t try too hard. Be approachable, responsive, and inclusive. Share what you know freely and people will respond in kind.

That’s how you build rapport and sell art to your collectors.


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