by Bruce Baker

I meet so many people at shows and workshops that tell me that they feel they are good at sales, but admit they have a hard time "closing" the sale. The dynamics of selling in your booth at a craft or trade show are basically the same as selling in a store (or even selling online). But, in a store, you have customers' attention for a little longer than at a typical crafts show. The relative small size of booths and with so many of them to see, buyers are in and out, often before you can fully engage them. When someone enters your booth, a great hurdle is already crossed, your work or display has captured their attention, and they are interested! Now it is your job to turn that initial interest into a sale.

You only have the briefest moment to turn someone who enters your booth with interest in your work, into a paying customer. Both parties, you and your customer, know you are looking for a sale, but you can't be too passive or too aggressive or you will blow the sale at either end of the spectrum. If you are too shy or passive, you will not get your message out there. If you are too pushy or in their face, you will lose some customers because they don't want the pressure. There is balance in everything, and learning to walk the line between passive and assertive is a sales skill for sure, but the real key to closing more sales is learning how to uncover and solve the customers' objections. You cannot close a sale without dealing with the customers' objections. When artists say to me, "I am not a good closer!" my response is always the same. "That is because you have not learned how to uncover and solve customer objections."

It doesn't matter if you are selling wholesale or retail, to young or old, high-end or low-end, customers are always going to have objections before they spend money, particularly in the current economic climate. It is your job to find out what they are objecting to, before you try to close the sale. Otherwise, they will always say, "I'll have to think about that," possibly asking for a catalogue or (website address) and then walk out of your space. Once you have engaged the customers and given them all the benefits of your products, the only thing that stands between you and closing that sale are their objections.

First of all, you need to know what their objections are, and sadly you can't just ask, "What are your objections?" It would just be too forward and probably turn many customers off. You need a more subtle approach to figuring out what the customers' objections are.

Countering Price Objections
There are a myriad of things customers can and will object to. The first and most common is the price--for this objection, you need focus on how rare, unusual, special, or how long the labor of love was creating the piece. If those solutions don't work, you might try a payment plan. For a wholesale customer objecting to price, you might try a return policy on unsold work after six months or 60-day payment terms. The path to successful selling is imparting important information to a potential customer, which deflates their objections and entices them to buy. If a potential buyer objects to your price points, you clearly need to counter these objections with facts. Sometimes printed information can help with this. I once saw a sign in a booth that said, "These rugs are woven on vintage looms from Vermont wool, dyed in the colors of the natural world." This craftmaker also elaborated on how long it took to weave them and how the dyes were made, topping off the conversation by saying they wear like sheet metal, the rug we were standing on has been used at over 100 shows, and it still looked new. This is the kind of dialogue that helps to uncover and solve objections. It was fascinating to see how this dialogue turned lookers into buyers. Having the right words to counter the concern over price was just right. I am sure that a wholesale buyer would tell customers in their store the same story about the rugs.

Make Customers "Need" It!
Another common objection that customers have is that "they do not need it!" In this case, you need to counter that objection with lots of benefit--how owning one will make them feel, enhancing or changing their lives. Sometimes it is beneficial to say something like: "My customers tell me that every time they wear one of my scarves they get so many compliments!" Or, "My customers tell me that my colors go with every item in their wardrobe, and they are very easy to wear." A related objection that I am currently encountering a lot when I sell is the customer that says, "I have too much stuff"--too many pieces of home d├ęcor, too many earrings, too many clothes, etc. This, for me, is one of the toughest objections to turn around. It is hard not to give up on the sale at this point. But once again, you need to turn to the benefits of your products. For wholesale markets, that might be stating how easy it is to turn over the merchandise. Say something like, "One of my new accounts ordered three times in the month of December alone!"

If you are not making any headway closing the sale with an individual that is convinced they don't need any other objects in their life at the moment, remember they still have a value to you as a salesperson. You can use their attention to say things to them that other customers will overhear. So much of what we learn about a product line is overheard in a conversation. If you are sure the customer you are talking to is not going to make a purchase, use that opportunity to put a lot of information out there about your work so that others will hear. One easy way to do this is to move to the other side of the booth to straighten or tidy something up while delivering a subtle sales message along the way, with higher volume so more ears will hear. Your job as a salesperson operating at peak performance is to convince customers that they do need what you make.

Personal Touch, Flexibility
Most customers are in awe of artists and craftspeople because of their lifestyle. Photographs or better yet, a scrapbook (old school), or photo album/slideshow on a tablet device (new school) in your booth of you creating your product in your studio or of your products displayed in a home environment is another silent sales tool. Projecting the personal side of your image that customers can relate to can spark questions or conversations--both of which lead directly to sales. I cannot tell you how many times showing customers photos of my garden has led to sales. It sparks a conversation and, if they are gardener, an immediate bond has been forged. Many customers want to solidify that bond by buying a piece of your artwork.

The Elisabethan booth exhibits use of great posters, which contribute to catching a customer's attention and silent selling.

Do not believe that someone walking in your booth wants to be left alone; even if that is the vibration they are projecting. Surveys show that customers do want to be greeted when they enter a space. Lines like, "Let me know if I can help with anything?" break the ice and tell them you are "in charge" and interested. Then you need to back off and leave them alone until they ask you a question. Any greeting that is logical and does not get a "no" response (from the customer) can work to get the ball rolling. People do not want to be accosted with "salesman-like" banter. Use this moment to impart the most valuable information about your work, such as, "My dinnerware is dishwasher- and microwave-safe," or "The colors of my work are influenced by flowers that I grow in my garden in Vermont." If further interest is shown, then proceed to talk about what inspires you to make your work.

When working with an interested buyer at a wholesale show, be as flexible as you can. If a store wants to try your work and your minimum is too high for it to try your line, see how you can compromise. Work out terms that will work for both of you. Opening a potentially great account is the purpose of being at a wholesale show, and many times these relationships start off slow and need to be grown.

Get E-mails, Follow-Up
Try to get e-mail addresses whenever you can for anyone who seems interested in your work and leaves without buying something or placing an order. I know this is a tall order, as people are so reluctant to give out their e-mail addresses, but try convincing them that you will inform them when you are back in the area or are having an event. If you give potential customers a benefit, as well as convince them that you will not spam them or share their e-mails, they are more likely to share this information with you. This is particularly true if there is chocolate involved. I know that sounds funny, but I am serious! Give a customer a piece of wrapped chocolate, and you most likely won their heart.

So many sales can result from follow-up by phone or e-mail. Don't think your sales are over when the show is over; a good effort to follow-up with customers immediately upon returning home will yield big rewards. Keep in mind the trail goes cold very quickly. If the follow-up doesn't happen within a few days of meeting the person, the power of the follow-up is lost. Make sure also that all customers who are interested in your work, leave your booth with a business card or, better yet, a post card (or flyer). With this information, they can easily contact you.

Silent Sales Techniques
Clearly both retail and wholesale buyers need to be prudent and make sure that your work is for them. Any silent sales techniques, like photos of you doing your work, models wearing your jackets, or photos of your sculpture in a garden, for instance, say more than you ever could in the brief time that someone is in your space. Signage is also an excellent silent sales technique. A sign so simple as "Best Seller!" or "Perfect for Weddings" will help you close more sales.

You can see from the above information that a good salesperson is not shy. There are cases where the artists themselves are just not able to rise to the occasion of selling their work. Some are just too introverted or reticent; if this is true for you, consider having someone else come to work with you at a show. Over the years, we have all experienced someone who just doesn't have the persona to sell his or her work, and it can be painful to watch. The solution to this problem is to hire someone who will close more sales for you. Making beautiful work and being an excellent salesperson are two entirely different skills. If selling is not your strong point, recognize it, bite the bullet and learn how to sell, or hire someone to sell for you. If you hire the right person, your sales will skyrocket. You will have enough money to pay that person and more cash flow to grow your business.