When I first started teaching at DePaul University, in Chicago, I was told by someone in administration, as I was preparing my course outline, ” Whatever you do, don’t focus on sales. The kids are just not receptive to it.” I found this comment really insightful and also indicative of a mindset that has hurt artists ability to thrive for centuries.
Some of the comments I have heard over time from young graduates and artists are:
” Oh, I just play the gig and so-and-so books it.”
” Sales is something that anyone can do, but I am busy creating X.”
” If my work is good enough, people will buy it. I don’t have to sell it.”
” It’s too much work to be an artist and have to sell my work. There simply isn’t enough time to do both.”
” Salesmen- who wants to grow up and be like that? Art is so much more than that.”
Is selling the lowest form of existence or just an after thought or is it perhaps something to be revered and treated as an equally creative process just like the creation of art?
Well, let me take you back to my earliest experiences learning about sales to shed some light on these comments. My sales experience began when I needed to get the word out about my first business back in college. I printed a catalog, my first that cost about $5000.00 to print and another $5000 to mail, a huge investment for me at that time and certainly not an insignificant amount of money even now.
My catalog offered the products I had for sale at the lowest possible price. No one had a better deal than I did anywhere. I had done my research and my prices were the best. I thought surely I would get a big response and so off in the mail it went to 20,000 schools and individuals.
I then waited patiently by my phone for it to start ringing off the hook. Surely it would. But instead, I hardly got any calls.
Why did this happen?
Because no one knew who I was. I had not spent the time building relationships (yet) with others who would trust me and learn to know how and why my services could really help them. Anyone could sell them a product at a low price, but what my potential customers really wanted, I soon learned, was for me to compellingly offer them something unique that they could not find from anyone else.
It was a financially painful and an eye opening experience to realize that sales is often not really about price, that it did require my whole hearted involvement, and that there was in fact an “art” to it.