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.
Serve the Client
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.
Encouraged, Never Pressured
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.
Relationship with the Artists
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:
- Presented them as people and allowed us to interact with them after our auctioneer and host chatted with them and got them to discuss aspects of their lives and works that we would find interesting.
- Rob’s interview brought out explanations about what inspired them as well as other personal facts that enables us to feel we knew them like friends.
- Rob showed us the things that made each artist exceptional:
- Thursday night Alfred Gockel painted a canvas live for us. He even had some of the women in the audience paint little parts of the painting that he had outlined in front of us. Next day, Rob Ducat, the Park West Gallery V.I.P. auctioneer, auctioned off this painting.
- Friday morning, Mr. Gockel also demonstrated pressing an etching.
- We viewed a Park West Gallery video about Patrick Guyton showing us his work with precious metals, like gold, silver, and copper.
- We viewed another Park West Gallery video about Matt Beyrer and how he utilized the grains of the plywood in his pieces.
- As mentioned before, offer special opening bid pricing to your best customers. As VIP guests, we also got an exceptional number of pieces to bid on including some brand new ones from each artist after his presentation.
- Have plenty of knowledgeable staff both on the artwork and the pricing and even on the artist.
- “Walk the talk.” It’s amazingly effective when you can testify to your own owning pieces by each artist. Both Rob and David Gorman invest in artwork and use Park West’s layaway plan.
- Photograph the customers with the artist whose work they bought (Park West’s photographer shot us with Alfred Gockel using both their camera and ours on Friday. On Saturday, their person took our picture with Patrick Guyton using our camera only as she didn’t have their camera today. Finally, on Sunday, we got our pictures with Matt Beyrer.
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:
- Salvador Dalí coffee table book, Eduard Fornés’ book, Dalí Illustrator – Illustrator of Lautrémont, Dante, Holy Scripture
- “The Park West Gallery® Experience,” i.e. the whole weekend
- Pictures of you with the artist with the pieces of his art you bought on the auction
- You were encouraged to video certain sections, like the following:
- Alfred Gockel painted a new piece in front of the audience on Thursday evening
- On Friday morning he demonstrated making an etching
- Video of Patrick Guyton creating art on precious metals
- Video of Matt Beyrer creating unique art pieces on plywood
Engaging the Audience with Raffles
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.
- It’s important for people to relax and have fun, to shift gears, so as to not burn out. This weekend was to be a fun event that you will want to return to, not one where you feel like the sponsor always has a hand on your wallet and is only concerned about constantly selling. Thus, to reinforce your sense of relationship and loyalty to the business, on the three evenings of this four-day event, Park West Gallery® provided entertainment in one form or another:
- The featured artist for the next day was introduced the evening before his presentation and the auction featuring his works.
- As mentioned already, on Thursday night, Albert Gockel painted an original work of art before all the V.I.P. guests.
- During the evening programs, Rob would introduce us to the featured artist for the next morning. He would bring out the personal information about the artist drawing out his background and motivations.
- Provide a pleasing musical ambiance for dinners and art preview after dinner
- Solo musician played classical guitar on Thursday during dinner
- Friday during dinner and the casino evening afterwards, he played more rock and country music.
- If you are going to do something like this, be sure the music is background, i.e. not so loud people can’t visit with their neighbors.
- Casino night on Friday followed the evening art program.
- We each received $25,000 play money.
- This was the only thing that fell short as there weren’t enough tables for all the guests to participate in their desired activity.
- As Dorothy and I aren’t serious gamblers, we ended up just watching the craps players. No one ever lost enough to leave and open space for someone else.
- Vocal Trash provided music and entertainment following Saturday evening’s session.
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:
- Park West credit card, which is only good for works of art
- Park West Layaway Plan, 20% down, the balance monthly over two years (only available at a V.I.P. event)
- Your own credit card, cash or check
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.
- International Two Week VIP Cruise, all balcony cabins - $40,000 minimum purchase at one auction
- Domestic Week-long VIP Cruise, all balcony cabins - $25,000 minimum purchase at one auction
- VIP local events, like this Marina del Rey Ritz-Carlton VIP weekend - $7,500 minimum purchase
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:
- Park West Gallery V.I.P. Event at the Ritz-Carlton Provided Delicious Buffet Dinner
- Two Sales Approaches: Salt the Oats vs Provide a Salt Lick
- Passion and Enthusiasm Sell
- The Key to Developing Self-Confidence in Selling
- Describing Your Ideal Customer
- Using Upsells to Better Serve Your Customers
- Carnival Cruise Shows How to Sell More without Hardly Selling