The key is to provide the guidance and direction that will give them hope of not just making ends meet, but excelling in this difficult economy. You can accomplish these goals by .
First, objectively assess your staff’s morale. The economy has caused significant changes in foot traffic and made every sale more difficult. If the result is low morale in your gallery, you need to take immediate action. If your consultants are complaining that the economy is so bad that they can’t make sales, then they need a wake-up call. The soft economy is an explanation–not an excuse! You can raise their morale significantly simply by raising your own. If you’re optimistic about the new sales ideas and efforts you’re going to put in place, that optimism will be infectious.
However, optimism without constructive action is short-lived, and that’s where motivation comes into the picture. You need to have a plan that you believe in, and take action to implement that plan. Last month’s article outlined a strategy to focus on high-value collectors, which is a good place to start. Begin by having a candid conversation with your consultants about the current economic situation and its impact on sales. Share your strategic plan to keep the doors open, and outline the specific actions you will take and the specific actions you expect them to take. Set action goals in addition to the sales goals you normally set. Make sure that your consultants track their efforts and report to you regularly so you can provide them with additional guidance. Give encouragement and praise regularly and often for no particular reason–simply because you appreciate their efforts and want to keep their spirits up.
Presentations to collectors have to change in this market. The “hard sell” has to be dialed back a bit. Even if you’re able to convince collectors that they absolutely must have cheap canvas art, they will still be reluctant because they don’t know what’s going to happen in the economy next week, much less next month. Encourage your consultants to view the first presentation to a collector as exactly that–the first and not the only. In a strong market, the traditional wisdom is that a sale is twice as hard to close once they walk out the door. In this market, I’d encourage tempering that strategy. Qualified collectors are more likely to need some time to overcome the uncertainty factor.
Watch your consultants practice this new form of presentation on one another. Provide suggestions to help them ease off the aggressive sales tactics, and give them ideas to get the collector back to see the artwork again. Suggest that evening visitors come back during the day (and vice versa) to see the difference the light has on the artwork. Ask a collector to come back after lunch or dinner while you move the art to a spot in the gallery that is similar to the place they have in mind to hang it at home. Send them to the restaurant next door for a drink–on the gallery–while they consider their acquisition.
Acknowledge your consultant’s efforts to adjust their presentations and techniques to today’s market challenges. You might not be able to reward your consultants with cash bonuses, but kind words of appreciation cost you nothing and go a long way for improving morale and motivation. When they accomplish their action goals, reward them with small, inexpensive gifts in recognition of their success in taking action, even if the action didn’t result in a sale.
Don’t allow your consultants to depend on walk-ins to meet their goals. Encourage them to focus on the top collectors you’ve identified (see last month’s article). Provide them with expense reimbursements to take those collectors to lunch or dinner. Ask that they review with you, in advance, the list of collectors they want to treat to a meal. Offer them advice on how to handle the individual collectors. If the collector isn’t on the “whale list,” make the consultant justify the meal. Why does the consultant think that a meal with that collector will result in sales? What is the consultant’s specific strategy to get the collector to buy?
Encourage your consultants to get actively involved with your local museum’s patron group. If you aren’t already a member, sign yourself up as well. Sponsor your consultants’ membership dues on the condition that they go to a certain number of events each year. Suggest that they get involved in high-profile charities. Your goal is to get your staff in front of as many high-net-worth people as possible. Give them a game plan: They should not be selling the gallery at these events, but rather making connections with the people so they can eventually get them in the door. Getting a sale from one of these new connections should be viewed as a mid-to long-term strategic goal rather than a way to meet this month’s quotas.
The key is to take action, to focus on your consultants, and to help them survive and excel in this tough economic climate. It’s hard work, but it’s also a critical part of your survival as a gallery. The efforts that you and your staff put forth now will make a significant difference in the short-term and shape everyone’s long-term success.