How to Diagnose (and Correct) Problems in Your Art Sales Funnel

Understanding your art sales funnel can help you diagnose and correct the right problems at the right time on your art e-commerce website.

There once was a chef who lived in a not so small town. This was not your ordinary chef. This chef was amazing.

Everybody who tasted her food thought it was unbelievable.

If only everyone could taste her food, she’d be on her way to making millions.

If there was ever a lock, this was it.

And so she opened her first restaurant. But after the first three months, sales at the restaurant were extremely disappointing.

The restaurant was pretty much empty all week long. It was losing money.

“How could this be?” she thought. “Is it my food? Is it my decor?”

So she started working on new recipes and began changing the menu around. But the results didn’t change.
Then she started changing around the decor of the restaurant. Again, no improvements.

Three months later, as she sat in the restaurant peering over a stack of unpaid bills, it all just became too overwhelming. Doubt started creeping in like a virus.

She started thinking that maybe she wasn’t good enough. Maybe she just wasn’t as talented as she thought. She burst into tears and stormed out of the front door of the restaurant, sitting down on a bench.

A few moments later, a gentleman, who had just left another store in the shopping center, walked by on the way to his car and saw the chef sobbing uncontrollably.

“Excuse me ma’am, is everything okay? Is there anything I can help you with?”

“Oh…I’m sorry…I really shouldn’t be crying out here like this,” she said. “You see, this right here is my restaurant. We’re about to go out of business and I feel like I’ve tried everything, but I can’t figure out where I went wrong.”

“Hmm, I come to this shopping center all the time,” the gentleman said. “I never even knew there was a restaurant here.”

Right then it clicked.

The chef realized that she had been spending all of her time on the wrong priorities. She was spending all of her time inside the restaurant — changing the decor, changing the tablecloths, changing the menu.

But she didn’t have a problem inside the restaurant. She had a problem outside the restaurant. It wasn’t her food, decor, nor her talent – she simply needed more people to know that her restaurant actually existed!

Similar to this chef, many artists and photographers have experienced the same struggle at one point or another when trying to sell art from their own website.

Just how the chef opened her restaurant with excitement, an artist or photographer launches their new website with excitement. They expect their website to gain them new exposure and to expand their audience of collectors.

This is what a website is supposed to do, right?

audience-chartBut like the chef, the honeymoon period for artists and photographers usually ends after a few months.

The sales from their website aren’t rolling in. There isn’t a bunch of “new exposure” occurring, and the business is largely unchanged.

Even though a website is supposed to be a marketing tool and a viable sales venue, instead it is just a glorified business card that really doesn’t produce anything of value.

Does this experience resonate with you at all?

If the answer is yes, this article is for you. You, my friend, have an art sales funnel problem. Welcome to the club.

Whether you are just starting out, or you’ve already had some sales traction – everyone has an art sales funnel problem at one time or another. And once you’ve solved your first art sales funnel problem, your second one will soon surface.

The difference between your first one and second one is simply that they occur at different stages within your art sales funnel. You will need both a different mindset and different solutions for each.

But in the end, once you’ve identified and solved all the problems at each stage, your visitors will finally have a clear path to buying your art.

Understanding the Art Sales Funnel

A sales funnel is the buying process that your typical customers go through in order to make a purchase, like so:

The chef in our story had a Stage 1 problem – Awareness. However, notice that when she was spending her time changing the menu and the decor, she was actually trying to resolve a Stage 3 problem – Evaluation.

It turns out that none of the time she spent working on Stage 3 was actually helping her business right now. In fact, if she didn’t fix the awareness problem, she would have to shut down her business.

The Importance of Focusing on the Right Problem

You might be saying to yourself “well maybe she created some great recipes during this time and perhaps she made some great decor improvements too, so not all is lost”, and this is true.

You could make that argument for every minute you spend working on your business. But that doesn’t mean it was the right thing to focus on at that time.

“The most important part of every business is to know what ought to be done.”
– Lucius Columell

The difference between successful business owners and failing or stagnant business owners is in prioritization and focus.

Successful business owners are able to identify and focus on solving the right problems, right now, with minimal distraction.

At the same time, this means that successful business owners are able to mentally defer those aspects of their business that need improvement. They are able to abstain even when these aspects are tugging at them like shiny objects.

When a business owner fails to focus on the right priorities, the clock eventually runs out – you either run out of cash, or your business is forced to shut down (or take a back seat) due to its lack of success.

Therefore, it goes without saying that focus – and working on the right priorities – is key.

How to Diagnose Your Art Sales Funnel Problem

In order to solve a sales problem, you need to first identify where the current bottleneck is in your art sales funnel.

So now, we’re going to describe each stage in the art sales funnel and provide some tips on how to resolve a bottleneck. Taking our recommendations and coming up with ideas on your own, your job is to completely focus on fixing that bottleneck until it is resolved.

Let’s get into it.

Stage 1: Awareness

In order to get people to ever consider buying your art, they actually need to know that both you and your art exists.

You might be amazingly talented, and there could be hundreds of thousands of people out there (if not millions!) who would love to see your art and who might become your customers, fans, and biggest promoters. But if their eyeballs never see your art, none of this will ever happen.

Awareness is where it all begins.

The most obvious symptom of an awareness problem is low traffic to your website. What constitutes low traffic? That depends on your sales expectations.

Let us break it down for you.

If you are an Art Storefronts customer, go to your Stats section, and look at the quantity of incoming traffic you have coming in. Otherwise, hopefully you have Google Analytics installed and can follow these instructions.

Let’s assume your website is generating a total of 100 unique new visitors per month (after you have deducted your own visits to the site). Then, let’s assume a conversion rate of 1% as a low starting point (there is a problem with this assumption that we will explain later, but for now, keep following).

This means that if you get 100 new visitors, one of them should place an order.

100 visitors x 1% conversion rate = 1 order

If it takes you 3 months to bring in 100 new visitors, this means you will get one sale every 3 months. If that’s good enough for you, then your traffic is fine, and you don’t have an awareness problem.

Assuming it is not, you have an awareness problem.

You might think your website isn’t performing well and you might be discouraged and searching for the wrong answers. When in reality, there’s nothing all that discouraging about this. You’re actually on the right track.

At the current time, you just need more eyeballs. So that’s what all of your focus should be on.

Let’s get back to conversion rates.

A conversion rate is the single most important thing to understand when you are selling online.

Any savvy marketer will tell you that a 2-3% conversion rate is great on an e-commerce website. This means that if you are getting a 2-3% conversion rate, your focus should pretty much be 100% on generating more traffic because you have reached a point where all you need to do is scale your awareness.

In other words, work your tail off and start generating 1000 visitors per month, and you’ll be getting 20-30 sales consistently. You shouldn’t touch anything on your website, because you might actually screw something up and see your conversion rate drop.

We see this happen all the time.

Some super savvy marketers are able to boost conversion rates into the 4-6% range after a period of time, but this usually only happens after word-of-mouth has kicked in and the website starts getting some easy sales.

Conversion rates in the art industry are completely different.

You notice how we, and others, constantly say that “selling art online is hard?” What we mean by this, is that it is very difficult to achieve solid conversion rates with an art website.

It takes a plethora of art-selling features, critical trust elements, and a specific site layout strategy and user experience optimization to just achieve the 2-3% conversion rate that other industries enjoy.

This is why most websites that are not specifically designed to sell art online have abysmal conversion rates. We have seen some that hover around a 0.1% conversion rate. This means you will have to drive 1000 visitors to your site just to earn one sale. That’s a lot of work for one sale.

Do you know what the conversion rate is on your current website? It would be good to find out.

Not being informed about real world e-commerce conversion rates is the main place where we also see artists and photographers have the wrong expectations about the potential sales that they can generate given their current traffic levels.

We have spoken to artists who are receiving 100 visits per month and are disappointed because they believe they should be getting 10 or 20 orders from this, instead of 1 or 2.

Once we are able to teach them about conversion rates, and they understand that they will only ever convert somewhere between 1-6% of their traffic, it becomes easier to understand where the problem is and where the focus needs to be.

If you feel you have an awareness problem, let us just say that you are probably not wrong. In our experience, most artists and photographers have an awareness problem. What is worse though is that most of them don’t focus enough on solving the awareness problem.

Too often, we find artists and photographers who only have an awareness problem constantly tinkering with their websites, changing print fulfillment companies, adjusting files, or anything else that isn’t bringing in new eyeballs. Many just can’t resist the urge. Don’t let this be you.

If you continually ask yourself, “What’s important now?” you won’t waste time on the trivial.
– Lou Holtz

This is something we constantly have to remind our customers of here at Art Storefronts.

One of the major benefits of being on the Art Storefronts platform is that you get, right out of the box, all the art-selling features and all the elements you need to get a decent conversion rate as an art seller.

You have to realize the sheer power in this. All of this heavy lifting is already done for you by an expert marketing team, and it is something we are constantly watching and improving upon. Which means all you have to do is focus on creating awareness and leave the rest to us.

If you are able to do this, the traffic will come into your website and it will convert at a far above average clip, and you will scale your art business. It’s as simple as that. Your art sales in your first year should be better than your last year, and it should continually build thereafter.

Tips on how to resolve a Stage 1: Awareness problem:

Stage 2: Interest

Once prospects are aware that you exist, a percentage of them will become interested in your art. This is the Interest Stage.

Keep in mind, the vast majority of those in the Interest Stage are not ready to buy right now, but perhaps at a later date, when the need arises. Therefore in this stage, it is critical to capture an email address from those who have interest so you can maintain an ongoing relationship with them and be at the top of their mind when the time is right.

Here’s where things get important.

According to our data, and as a benchmark, you should be converting approximately 10-20% of your unique visitors into “contacts” (note: different sources of traffic will convert at different rates). We consider a “contact” (or a “lead”) to be someone who has opted to give you their email address. These people are who we frequently refer to as your “audience members”.

If you are an Art Storefronts customer, you can see exactly how many visitors you are converting into contacts by using our proprietary Conversion Doctor tool, located within your Stats section.

Here’s an example of the Conversion Doctor stats from Art Storefronts customer Mike Taylor, an extremely talented professional photographer:

If you are not converting somewhere around the aforementioned amount, then you likely have an Interest Stage problem.

You know why it is so important to convert at the Interest Stage? Let’s revisit our previous discussion on conversion rates.

According to our data, it is common for Art Storefronts websites to convert between 1-2% on first-time visitors. However, the way to get your conversion rates within the 2-6% range is by converting returning visitors when the timing is right.

Therefore, our data clearly shows that converting returning visitors is of equal value to, and in some cases more valuable, than converting first-time visitors.

While we are on the topic of the Interest Stage, it is the perfect time to discuss a very important mistake that most artists and photographers make when they are selling offline, such as at fairs and shows.

It is a mistake so devastating to growing the future of your art business that we have to stress the importance here and now. If you are someone who exhibits at fairs and shows on the regular, please pay very close attention to what we are about to say.

When you exhibit at an art fair, at a gallery opening, or any other in-person event, you have the advantage of immediately hopscotching the Awareness stage. This is because people are made aware of you simply by walking the show and seeing your art.

And, a small portion of these people will move down all the stages of the funnel right there on the spot, ending in that beautiful moment when they pull out their wallet and make a purchase (i.e. Stage 4: Purchase).

All of this is great.

But what about all the rest of them that actually reached this Interest Stage while perusing your booth, but didn’t end up buying? For most of you, we’re going to guess that these people left your booth without ever giving you their email address.

Remember, when it comes to your website, only 1-2% convert on the first visit, but 10-20% will join your email list if you simply ask. You will see the similar results at your in-person events if you change your approach and actually start attempting to convert people who have reached the Interest Stage.

And again, similar to what happens on your website, the chances are, this group of people in the Interest Stage will result in an equal amount – if not more – art sales over the long run.

Don’t believe it? Let us tell you story about Art Storefronts customer Randy Hufford, a professional photographer and long-time industry guru from Maui.

For several years, Randy exhibited at a local art fair in Maui. Each year he struggled to sell anything and finally gave up on doing the show.

Until a couple years later, when Randy came on board with Art Storefronts and learned about the difference between these stages of the art sales funnel and what he could do differently to earn a return at an art fair.

So Randy went back and did the show again.

This time, he came armed with a tablet and used our full-screen email capture form. He also had a fishbowl that people could drop a business card in. And most importantly, he ran a contest giveaway to incentivize people to opt-in.

randy-hufford-3You see, by doing this, you naturally weed out all the tire kickers from those who are truly interested. And you will find, as Randy did, that those who are truly interested in hanging your art on their wall will willingly give you their email address.

Randy collected around 25 email addresses from doing the show. (He also made a high-dollar sale at the show using the tablet and the wall preview tool, but we’ll save that discussion for another time).

But it gets even better.

The week following the show, Randy sent out a last chance offer to those 25 people. He provided a 25% off discount coupon that expired in a few days. One of these 25 people converted into a sale.

email marketing offers
The best part was, according to Randy, that the gal who made the purchase never actually spoke to him at the booth. It was just a random person who passed by. Someone who Randy would have never sold anything to, and would have no future relationship with, had he not understood and deployed this Interest Stage strategy.

Randy’s audience grew by 25 people that day.

Since Randy is a regular executer of the Weekly Marketing Playbook, he is able to compound the size of these new audience members as they share his romantic emails, blog and Facebook posts with others.

A final word about the Interest Stage. Until a prospect actually has a need to fulfill, such as open wall space above the couch in their living room, they will remain in this stage as an “audience member” sometimes for long periods of time. There is nothing wrong with this.

During this time, it is critical to execute on The Weekly Marketing Playbook in order to remain relevant in your prospects’ mind. Otherwise they will never move down your art sales funnel, which means you’ll likely never convert them into a customer.

Tips on how to resolve a Stage 2: Interest problem:

  • Implement the lead capture tool. If you aren’t seeing 10-20% conversion rates onto your email list (“Contact Conversion Rate”), go back to our setup article and follow it to the letter. The purpose of the setup article is to show you the best practice. Any changes you make on your own are likely to affect your results.
  • If you do fairs and shows, always run a contest and implement the tablet full-screen email capture form & drop business cards in a fishbowl methods. Email the list after the show with a 25% discount and a 3 day expiration. On the final day of expiration, always send a second email with a final reminder.
  • However you do it, always find a way to capture emails whenever you do an in-person event. If you do a gallery opening, and you can’t have an email list or a tablet present, the next best thing to do is collect business cards.
  • PRO TIP FOR ART STOREFRONTS CUSTOMERS: Are you using the lead capture automation feature? This will automatically send your new email list signups a special coupon with a sequence of reminder emails.

Stage 3: Evaluation

At a certain point, your prospect will have a need to fulfill.

At this time, they will evaluate things like pricing, colors, size, and perhaps other competing pieces of art or alternative objects that they can hang on their wall. They will evaluate your credibility (whether or not you are a trustworthy art seller) and other things like your return policy or what options they have if something goes wrong (do you have an easy to find phone number?).

How can you tell if you have an evaluation problem? It’s easy.

It’s when you don’t have an awareness problem, and you don’t have an interest problem, yet the sales are still not converting.

If you are at this point, the only way to solve this problem is to dive into the data and find out where in the checkout process people are getting held up.

If you are not an Art Storefronts customer, we recommend hiring a Google Analytics expert to build out something similar so you can see all the steps in your checkout flow. Doing this, you can try to hunt down your own bottlenecks.

For Art Storefronts customers, this is precisely what the Conversion Doctor was built for, so let’s head back there. Let’s take a look at Art Storefronts artist Yvonne Dixon to see what a relatively healthy checkout flow looks like in terms of conversion percentages all the way through checkout:

Here, you want to pay attention to the percentages as you go across. Starting with the Shopping Page Visit Conversion, all way to the Checkout Conversion.

If the percentage of people reaching your Shopping Page is low, it means you have a site optimization problem, likely resulting from a poorly executed home page. If this is you, see Site Optimization: Lesson 1 and Site Optimization: Lesson 2.

If the percentage of people reaching your Shopping Page is okay but your Product Buying Page is abnormally low, there could be multiple problems at play.

For some reason your visitors are not enjoying your content and have no desire to go further. Either you have untargeted traffic coming to your site, or your visitors are not interested in your content and have no intention to buy it.

If you are displaying prices on your shopping page, it may be that your prices are too high. Perhaps you are not displaying prices at all and your customers have no idea that your work is affordable or that it can be even purchased if they click on through.

If the percentage of people reaching your Product Buying Page is okay but you have an abnormally low percentage adding an item to their shopping cart, you either have a usability problem, a credibility/trust problem, or a product offering problem.

A usability problem is when your website lacks the critical art-selling features and does not provide an interactive art-buying experience that is consistent with what the leading online art retailers are offering. As such, your visitors are left with too many unanswered questions and buyer-friction, and they rarely go any further.

A credibility/trust problem is when your website lacks all of the critical trust elements that an art website should have. This includes trust badges, an easy to find phone number, a clear return policy, clear shipping policy, an FAQ page, and other elements that create a trustworthy art website.

A product offering problem can happen when you offer limited number of sizes (not a wide enough range from small to large), a limited number of media types (you fail to offer the best-selling mediums such as canvas, paper, and metal/aluminum), when your pricing is too high, or when your terminology, pictures, or descriptions are not perfectly clear.

Remember, most art buyers do not have the knowledge that you do. Many of them don’t know what a “gallery wrap” is. Most of them have never seen a metal print in their entire life.

Therefore, showing pictures of and having detailed descriptions of these products is key.

Most of these problems are easy to solve.

The only one that can be challenging is solving the pricing problem, and for that we have a tip.

First, make sure you have fixed all the other problems listed above and let them run for 30-60 days. If you still have a problem, run a temporary site wide sale with a significant discount (i.e. 50% off) and see what happens. If the sales start rolling in, you just discovered that you had a pricing problem. If they don’t, one of the other problems is likely to still exist.

Stage 4: Purchase

The Purchase Stage is when the customer is almost 100% committed to buying your product, and they’ve added it to their shopping cart. But we’re not home free yet. Your prospects can still run into some snags.

If you have a Stage 4: Purchase Problem, your Add to Cart Conversion rate should be okay but your Checkout Conversion rate is abnormally low. This usually points to a general checkout problem or a shipping problem.

With a general checkout problem, this literally means your customers are having a problem checking out. Perhaps your merchant account is not set up properly and your customers are being declined. Or there is a bug somewhere.

The best thing you can do here is test your entire checkout process and place a test order to make sure all is well.

With a shipping problem, this means that your shipping options are so overly expensive that they are deterring customers from completing a purchase.

A quick and easy way to test this is to offer a free shipping coupon for 30 days and see if that resolves it.

Summing It All Up

As you can now see, there are deliberate stages in an art sales funnel and several potential bottlenecks that can occur in each. At some point, all of them will need to be addressed if you want to maximize the amount of visitors you generate into actual buyers of your art.

If you are not an Art Storefronts customer, you will need two sorts of experts in order to accomplish this for you.

First, you will need to hire a Google Analytics expert who is capable of working with your existing website in order to set up a proper conversion funnel that tracks all the key conversion points of an art sale.

Second, you will need to hire an e-commerce conversion expert who can help you optimize your website and checkout experience according to the advice provided above. While this can be rather expensive it will be money well spent in the long run.

If you are an Art Storefronts customer, all of this heavy lifting is already taken care of for you, and it is something we continue to refine on the regular.

Just use the Conversion Doctor, follow the above advice, and you should be able to solve your own problems. If you feel you need any coaching, be sure to post your questions in the private members forum.

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