While heart-centered small businesses will naturally gravitate to relationship selling, they are not the only ones using this approach. Internet marketing gurus today also tell their students and followers to build relationships, get prospects to know, like, and trust you. Those three points are the essence of relationship selling. Recently, Dorothy and I had the privilege of seeing the best example of relationship selling I’ve ever seen, the Park West V.I.P. Event at The Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey.
No small business, heart-centered or otherwise, will be able to afford to duplicate this sort of event. Nevertheless, the elements that made it so successful can be adapted in your own way with your small business when you understand what worked and why. The following article covers what made the Park West V.I.P. Event the most incredible relationship selling experience I’ve ever had.
What makes it even more amazing is that initially I had no interest in learning about new artists or collecting more art until my wife told me we would get to experience The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey. Given that incentive, I thought it might also be fascinating to meet and learn about these artists Park West Gallery thought highly enough of to introduce them to their customers at four days of auctions and presentations.
The bigger the sale, the more necessary it is for the prospect to know, like, and trust you. Obviously realizing this, Park West Gallery® developed these V.I.P. events very carefully with the intention of giving the top 5% of its over 2,000,000 collectors “the Park West Experience.” From Dorothy and my participation, I can assure you that they succeeded in giving us an experience that created the relationship necessary for their objective of selling more artwork and expanding our art collection.
It’s important to realize that total dollars purchased is not their main criteria. The proven desire to collect art – and I suspect that is really the willingness to collect art by more than one artist – is essential to becoming invited to one of their V.I.P. events. Rob Ducat, auctioneer for the Park West Gallery V.I.P. Program, even shared with us that it took a while to get this program right. You can’t invite everyone on your list of collectors if you intend to make sales that recover your costs and make a profit. You need people interested in adding to their art collections and willing to spend the money.
Park West Gallery does something I consider very wise and, in fact, have criticized other businesses for not doing. They take better care of their best customers ahead of all others. The first marketer I ever heard mention this was renowned marketing expert Alex Mandossian when he told an audience that his mother saved the best meals for family and close friends.
The way Park West Gallery does this is they reserve their best prices for their V.I.P. guests. Next preference is for their guests at their normal shipboard auctions. If you go to their gallery in Southfield, Michigan, you get retail.
The key sales lesson from this weekend was that your customers needed to develop relationships with more than your business, e.g. the gallery. They have come to know, like, and trust the artists, the auctioneer, and the staff as well as develop a love for the product, which in this case is art, whether paintings, etchings or sculptures. Interactions, i.e. relationships, with other collectors added another stamp of approval.
Your staff is critical to building a bond with your customers. When clients appreciate and have confidence in your staff, they are more comfortable spending time with you. You need staff that are trustworthy, likable, helpful, knowledgeable and friendly. In the case of an art auction, it really helps to learn that they believe in your product enough to buy art themselves.
A hallmark of this weekend was that the staff from Park West Gallery were authentic and transparent in everything they did with us. Rob Ducat, our auctioneer, explained things that most companies keep secret. For instance, he made sure we understood what one must do to get invited back or to get invited to one of the cruises.
I was impressed also when I learned from Rob and from David Gorman, the director of the Southfield gallery, that they personally use Park West’s financing programs to add to their own art collections, which apparently are extensive.
Other guests we visited with who had been to a Park West Gallery V.I.P. Event before commented on how they loved the fact that they never felt pressured. From my experience in sales and marketing, the lack of pressure explains why people are so eager to return.
While humor is not critical to bonding with staff, Rob Ducat’s sense of humor was a delightful contribution to the weekend. He made the whole experience more relaxed and fun. It didn’t hurt that he had “boyish good looks.” (Thomas, I promised your daddy that I would give him this plug just for you.)
One additional nice touch was having the sales team split up and join the guest at meals, so they too became friends. A common mistake of sales people is to cluster together when they could network with prospects and clients.
The sales staff members all projected a service attitude, the essence of the “Help Customers Buy” approach to sales. They were very attentive to the guests. If someone stopped at a piece of art and seemed especially interested in it, a staff member would approach and offer to answer any questions about the piece including the opening bid. If the customer still expressed interest, the sales person would offer to flag their interest so that item would be sure to be offered for bid.
During the bidding, the sales person who flagged your interest in a piece of art would assist you by discussing your bid and rebids. If that person was not available, then one of the other staff members would assist you. What was particularly interesting was that they might encourage you to rebid when someone bid against you, but they never pressured you. The sales staff recognized that only you know what your budget is and how much you can stretch to acquire a piece you desire for your art collection. Wisely, though, Park West made it as easy as possible for you to acquire the art you desired with a variety of financing options.
The smart part about this is that customers were never turned off from accepting the sales staff’s helping them buy. Nor was it ever obvious that there were defections, which eventually happen when people realize they’ve been pressured.
When you won a bid, the sales person with you during the bidding would give you an additional raffle ticket.
While you buy thousands of items every year without meeting the designer, inventor, or creator, don’t underestimate the impact of meeting the artist when it comes to bidding on his work. Park West Gallery thoroughly understands how effectively seeing, hearing, and meeting the artist is.
They used a multi-prong approach to let you know, like, and trust each of the featured artists:
You may have noticed the power of customer star ratings and reviews on Amazon and other product sites. Marketers call this “social proof.” A customer testimonial is even more impressive in person.
Gina Gaudio Graves, my Internet marketing mentor, used to tell us on her weekly calls how other Directions University students brought potential customers to her when she was at a live seminar with some of her students. She didn’t have to prospect herself when her students raved about her to others at the conference.
The same effect took place at this Park West Gallery V.I.P. Event. We got to visit with other collectors over a meal or during breaks. Those who had been before would brag about their art collections and how they loved having the pieces from the artists they met at prior events.
One special treat was hearing from people who won a raffled signed bottle of wine. This couple mounted the autographed bottle of wine next to the artwork they’d purchased from one of the artists who’d signed it.
Let the participants know what you scheduled for them. We appreciated the printed itinerary as it told us when to be where and what to expect.
Your goal in hosting any kind of event, whether a picnic for your customers, or something elaborate like Park West Gallery did this weekend, is to get your clients and customers to remember it. Thus, it must be special and somehow memorable.
The following are ways they did this:
Rob and David used raffle tickets to reward people for sitting in the front row and for actively engaging, like for being first to laugh at jokes, for laughing wholeheartedly, and for asking questions or for answering questions. They also gave you raffle tickets when you bid on a piece of art and won.
The raffle prizes were gift certificates on the first day to get $50 off a spa treatment at the Ritz-Carlton or to win wine bottles signed by all three artists presenting at this Park West Gallery V.I.P. Event.
They provided three dinners, three breakfasts and lunch on the last day with catered buffet-style meals. It works really well to use large tables where your guests are encouraged to mingle and get to know each other. In this case, most of these meals were also surrounded by the art to be auctioned later. Sometimes they had the art covered up for a big reveal during the presentation after dinner.
If you truly want a positive experience, be sure you serve quality, tasty food and plenty of it. The food didn’t have to be steak and lobster or crab to be a winner here.
For those who enjoy alcohol or even soft drinks, Park West provided unlimited drinks. They gave out bar coupons for accounting purposes with The Ritz-Carlton.
To get the most value out of the last day, Rob Ducat arranged a late checkout with the Ritz Carlton so that we could participate in the morning program, have lunch, do our checkout and complete our purchases.
Friday and Saturday, you were on your own for lunch. I personally appreciated the break. It was like Shakespeare’s use of humor within his tragedies. It gives your clients a break from the intensity of the previews and, in particular, the auctions. It was time to get away from the crowd and relax. If any of your customers are introverts, they will really love the down time.
Another of the breaks from the seriousness and intensity of the auctions was the use of humor. Fortunately, our auctioneer was very humorous without cracking jokes like a comedy club. Rob especially used humor and personal stories to engage us at the start of the sessions.
People make better and more committed collectors when they understand more about art and learn to appreciate the unique qualities of different artists and different pieces. To help get them to this enhanced awareness of art, you may need to provide education. Park West Gallery did this throughout their presentations, such as describing how the different artists presented were already going up in value and why.
The videos I listed above and others we saw let us experience to craft of each of these rising stars in the art world. I personally gained a whole different perspective on them and love their work.
Over the years, I’ve heard people refer to artwork as an investment. Rob Ducat and David Gorman impressed me with their advice to add to your art collection because you like it, not because it is a “good investment.” No one can guarantee any piece of art will continue to go up in value because one never knows for sure where the market is going.
On the other hand, they did mention the new franchise of The Louvre, which recently opened in Abu Dhabi. That confirms a trend by oil countries and China in acquiring major and historical pieces of art. Like the expression that a rising tide lifts all boats, this greater interest in art collecting has been increasing the prices of the major artists today as well as of the historically significant pieces.
While the Master Symposium was optional, most of the guests attended because we too wanted to become more knowledgeable collectors. A special treat was having David Gorman, the Park West Gallery Director at their Southfield, Michigan gallery. Rob referred to him as the curator for the company’s art collections.
Because David was present, we had access to Rembrandt etchings as well as Salvador Dalí etchings. He described the age of some of these etching, one of which was pressed around the start of the United States as a nation. David then explained that we could acquire these works with the opening bids priced below where the market is going.
Even with awareness of the current market trends, David and Rob still shied away from referring to art collecting as an investment. However, David did appeal to everyone’s desire to leave a legacy and to make our mark in history.
By acquiring one of these pieces from a famous master, you become part of the provenance of that piece. This is the term used in the art field to describe “the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object.” Thus, purchasing such a recognized etching will ensure your participation in the legacy of that piece, i.e. you will be listed in the line of owners.
If you want your guests to develop a relationship with you and with your products, be sure your products are worthy of being sought after and be sure you have a large enough selection.
These were world famous, up and coming artists that Park West Gallery introduced us to at this event. We got to see several their pieces and bid on them during the auctions.
Patrick Guyton presented more of his art at this event than at any before. We also could select from paintings, etchings, and sculptures by other artists as well as the featured presenter. They created an art gallery right there at The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey. People have different tastes so be sure everyone has an option. For instance, we were able to add a piece by our favorite artist Thomas Kinkade.
It’s well known by successful businesses that the easier you make it for customers to buy, the more likely they will buy when they find something they want. Thus, your financing options will directly impact how many sales you make.
At the Park West Gallery V.I.P. Event, they offered:
As part of Park West Gallery’s transparency, Rob Ducat revealed information that typically the clients suspects but never know. The point of this was for us to know and understand that these Park West Gallery V.I.P. Events are intended to sell artwork and the way to get invited back or to get invited to a more premium experience was to pre-qualify yourself by buying artwork, ideally from more than one artist.
We got invited the first time because of our cumulative purchases over several cruises so that they knew we were serious about collecting.
One doesn’t pull in over 100 people for a four-day selling event without extensive marketing beforehand. Some of the lessons from this Park West Gallery V.I.P. Event are as follow:
Whether by email or by phone call, the sales team made sure you understood this was a purchasing event to allow you to add to your art collections. You get to meet the artists exposing you to new pieces you might want to add to your collection.
The initial contact was to their selected list of customers from around the region including Las Vegas and Arizona, not just Southern California. The email was very clear about this being an opportunity to add to your art collection. They also had a sequence of confirming emails to ensure that if you said you were coming, you did indeed show up as they had hotel rooms and meals they had to prepay with the hotel.
For those who didn’t respond to the emails, they would telephone. Rob read us the script they use to ensure that the client understood this call was for a sales event, not just a free weekend. They learned this the hard way in the past when they invited people just because they were clients from shipboard auctions.
Relationship selling is all about building relationships with prospects and reinforcing existing ones with clients. What the Park West Gallery V.I.P. Event demonstrated was that a strong sense of bonding involves more relationships than the one with you and your prospect. There are the connections between your prospect and your staff, between the prospect and the artists (the manufacturer), and between your prospect and other customers. While a small business can’t afford to pull off something as elaborate as the Park West Experience, there are numerous lessons you can apply in your business, especially the help customers buy approach which serves without pressuring.
The Park West Gallery V.I.P. Event did everything right for creating the ideal relationship selling experience. First, they invited clients who proved both that they were interested in expanding their art collection and that they would spend money with the gallery. They made it enticing. They introduced us to new artists and gave us a personal experience with them. They offered their best pricing, numerous selections, and financing options to make it desirable to indulge. Then they helped customers buy without pressure. I look forward to qualifying for another similar experience as I gained so much from this one.
Open your heart in selling,
John R. Aberle
Do you love taking care of your customers and prospects? If you yearn to build more long-term business connections with your customers, get your copy of the Amazon Kindle eBook:
I have a strong love for small businesses, especially brick and mortar companies. After an 18-year career in sales and marketing, I started my own service company, which I grew in both sales and profits for the first five years. In my sixth year, the bottom dropped out of the printer market such that it made more sense to sell my assets and return to Southern California. There I went to work for an international small business consulting company. I spent over three years on the road with them helping small businesses to become more profitable and better managed. I then started my own company specializing in sales and marketing consulting, coaching and training. My emphasis is on heart-centered, relationship selling that empowers prospects to make their own choices.
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