My father was a salesman. I’m an artist. To me, it was as if we lived on different planets.
I had been taught by a well-meaning but idealistic art teacher that making art was good, but commercializing it was ‘bad’. He did not explain to me how an artist was to make a living, but I was young and impressionable and bought his philosophy. It turns out I picked the wrong mentor.
I took a long trip with my father one day, and we started talking about my work. As I was defending the ‘starving artist’ syndrome, my father listened to me for a while in silence. Puzzled, because he had always argued with me previously, I suddenly realized that I was no longer explaining, but complaining. I was essentially asking questions couched as ‘facts’. I was absurdly defending failures rather than looking for guidance. I thought I knew how the world worked, but I was clearly struggling. As my arguments began faltering, as I was making shallower and more insipid excuses, Dad simply asked “why”? Suddenly, I was out of answers. Once my contrived defenses were shattered, I could do nothing else but listen.
It was then my father’s turn to reveal life lessons that I had been programmed to resist from my early days. My art teacher ‘mentor’, who had projected his reverence for pure art, had also stymied my efforts to earn a living doing what I loved.
While Dad has a whole list of philosophies (his rules for living as a salesman), these three points stood out at the beginning;
You have to believe in your product (even if it is yourself) to convince customers to buy. Salesmen hawking flawed used cars on TV with inflated prices have given the art of ‘sales’ a bad name. In reality, a true salesman finds a customer’s need and then fulfills it in a way that adds value to what the customer is doing. Anyone will buy something that adds value, as long as they understand how it helps them and trusts the vendor. And if that product or service is honest and meets their needs and their budget, then your confidence and integrity will seal the deal.
It’s a numbers game. In most instances, not everyone is in the market for what you are offering every day. Therefore, you need to determine when they need your goods or services. That takes a regular routine of contacting them. For customers who know you and buy from you regularly, it may take a few calls before the timing is in your favor. For cold calls — people you have never met but who you believe will want what you have — it may take dozens of contacts. There is a ratio of rejections to affirmations. Each ‘no’ brings you that much closer to a ‘yes’. Turn each rejection into a stepping stone.
Don’t forget to close. Surprisingly, many artists will develop a relationship with a potential client, then not follow through. Business people require paperwork – proposals, contracts, invoices. They expect negotiations, so be prepared to defend or discount your costs. And they expect you to convince them. When you get to the point where it looks like the sale is eminent, finalize it.
Once my father ‘closed’ me on the idea that he and I were the same in different fields, I began to benefit from his wisdom. Once I figured out that as an artist, I had to ‘sell’ my talents as well as use that talent to ‘sell’ what my clients were offering, the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and I found my work to be not only more fun, but more interesting and more profitable. Once I saw myself as a ‘salesman’ in my father’s image, I was able to better aid my customers, and their appreciation filled my bank accounts.
I also discovered that in most other aspects of life, the ability to ‘sell’ honestly and confidently helped me to form good relationships, associations, and gain other rewards. With confidence and a belief in one’s self, the pathway to a successful life becomes less rocky.
Douglas Filter has worked in legal support for three decades, developing visual communication tools that help litigators, prosecutors and defense attorneys tell stories in court. He is an author, presenter and designer, and has worked on cases ranging from mapping body locations by interviewing a serial killer to explaining and animating the life style of trout in a water pollution case. He is also a contributing writer at Forensic Outreach, an educational organization based in the UK.