Jeppe Hein, It's Not You It's Me, courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner.
On Artsy, in 2014, collectors inquired on over $5.5 billion dollars of art, up from $1.3 billion in 2013. These inquiries were generated from collectors in 812 cities and 80 countries worldwide; the average distance between buyer and seller was over 2,700 miles (4,345 km). Additionally, 71% of collectors say they have purchased art online, according to the 2014 Hiscox Online Art Trade report. More than ever before, online inquiries represent a sales channel that cannot be ignored. “In the art world, the way information is shared is rapidly changing,” says Cooke Maroney of Gagosian Gallery, “a growing group of internet-savvy collectors are searching for art online with galleries eager to provide it.”
Having worked with hundreds of Artsy collectors, I have seen how galleries communicate with potential clients. Based on Artsy’s data, 20% of inquiries are not responded to by galleries. We estimate that as many as 50% of sales opportunities are lost due to poor communication ($2.75 billion in inquiry value on Artsy alone).
Here are the top mistakes we’ve seen galleries make time and again. If your staff can avoid them, you’ll be better positioned to stay ahead of the crowd.
David Benjamin Sherry installation view, Salon 94
6. Using Confusing Formatting in Emails
Oversized fonts, colored words, and creative formatting are reserved for text-based art; for gallery communication: cleaner is better. As with white gallery walls, visual simplicity is key. Don’t distract the client from the first objective—obtaining relevant details about the artwork.
5. Long Responses Challenge Short Attention Spans
As with over-formatted emails, lengthy messages distract and confuse the client. Provide only pertinent information and a call-to-action, without seeming curt. Confirm availability first, then provide price and information the collector will find useful. Consider adding links to additional information, such as auction results, recent press, or upcoming shows. With collectors’ shrinking attention spans—and screens—make sure you get to the point and provide only information that will help close the sale.
Tip: Context is always good. Consider including some information about the work that will provide the collector with added relevancy—but keep it brief.
4. Disregarding “Digital Clients”
Many gallerists feel that “virtual” inquirers are less likely to make a purchase. Combined with gallery visitors, calls, and other daily urgencies, it’s easy to see why online inquiries often fall to the bottom of the list. Successful galleries know better. Bortolami Gallery’s Raphael Lepine sets the bar high: “We strive to respond within 24 hours of receiving the inquiry and then following up to make sure the information was received.”
With 89% of galleries selling artworks sight unseen, digital inquiries cannot be discounted. In fact, savvy galleries often have a dedicated associate assigned to managing inquiries. The most promising inquiries are responded to immediately, while the rest are followed-up on by day’s end.
Tip: We’ve found that art fair previews generate a lot of traffic. Sundays are twice as busy as any other day of the week (it’s when we send Artsy’s personalized emails). Consider assigning a staff member to your inbox on Monday morning, even if the gallery is closed.
3. Forgetting to Include an Image
It may come as surprise, but responses are often sent without an image of the inquired-on artwork. When replying to emails, images and attachments are sometimes automatically removed. So, unless you are selling a “constructed situation” by Tino Sehgal, I always recommend including the image embedded within the email body (“in-line”).
2. Forgetting About Mobile
Between 2013 and 2014, mobile visits to Artsy.net increased by over 350%. Additionally, over 60% of U.S. consumers now read emails on a mobile device. Since your response is more likely to be viewed on a smartphone than a PC, make sure your gallery emails are mobile-optimized. If you follow the advice above (clean visuals, succinct message, in-line images), your emails should already be mobile-friendly.
Tip: To ensure your emails look great on mobile, send a test response to yourself and a few colleagues. Note the differences on different devices.
1. Not Following the ABCs: Always Be Closing
Art dealers are adept at storytelling and positioning—creating excitement and eliciting urgency with collectors—in person. Use these skills to create a compelling call-to-action in your digital conversations. After you’ve ascertained the collector’s goals and motivations, follow up with a strong next step—what is it you’re proposing? An in-person meeting is helpful, but not always possible. Use what you’ve learned about the buyer to propose the best way forward.
“Online platforms do a great job of guiding a collector to works that they may not have known existed five minutes before... If both the collector and the gallerist are open to creating a new, trusting dialogue and relationship with each other even though they have never met, then a successful connection is possible,” says Erin Goldberger of Half Gallery.
A final thought: from a collector’s perspective, it costs nothing to submit an inquiry. Most collectors have several options (unless they are after a specific work), and will therefore send multiple inquiries. Why not be the gallery that responds first, and best?