Answering the same question over and over again (gracefully) in a face-to-face conversation

After Monday’s post about implementing a policy for answering questions, Julie Thompson commented:

I get the same questions over and over, but this happens much more often when I do a show, not so much in my inbox. I've even considered hanging an FAQ in my booth, but I don't know if such a thing would go over well! Any suggestions for handling this in person? When you answer the same questions for the 50th time in a day, it's difficult to NOT sound rehearsed or like a recording!

Julie’s right. Different factors must be considered when you are confronted with questions in a face-to-face conversation rather than receiving them in an email. It’s a lot harder to duck out of a dialogue in your artist booth or at an opening! And you probably don’t want to.

Julie Thompson painted feathers
Julie Thompson, Puddle Geese. Painting on feather. ©The Artist

The short of it is that you should answer everything you can–even if you have to do it 50 times a day. (I know Julie knows this which is why she's been answering them to this point.) While some questions may seem silly or annoying, it's important to remember that the people that enter your booth are doing so for the first time. You’re the store owner who has to sell the “merchandise.” You smile, take a deep breath, and pretend like it’s the first time you’ve heard the question. Because that’s what store owners do.
If you look exasperated or bored, you’ll lose a potential sale. I know you know this, but it's important to remind yourself that you always have to be “on” when you're the artist AND the salesperson.
Having said all of this, there will be moments when you don’t have time to respond to questions. Someone else wants to talk with you and you can’t afford having your time monopolized. There are two things you can do in these situations. (Note: These are options of last resort. Your goal should always be to engage people in conversation!)
1. Create a handout that answers your most frequently asked questions. You can make copies to pass out or have a few laminated copies that are reused in your both. I imagine you want both. If someone wants to keep a handout that has your name and contact information on it, you want to oblige! (And you must have all of your contact info on there.)
You could hang such an FAQ in your booth, but it’s a little friendlier to hand it out when asked. It’s good customer service and, frankly, people don’t often read things just because they’re posted.
2. Respond politely, “I get that question a lot! And because I’m always busy in my booth, I wonder if it would be okay to email you my thoughts about it?” You could also respond to it on your blog or send them something in regular mail–whatever seems most comfortable. Bottom line, you get their contact information and, voilà!, you have set yourself up for a follow-up contact. This is why option #2 is my personal favorite. It's another chance to put your name in front of someone.
If you’re interested this subject, there’s a whole chapter on following up with potential customers in my book, I’d Rather Be in the Studio! The Artist's No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion.

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10 thoughts on “Answering the same question over and over again (gracefully) in a face-to-face conversation”

  1. Angela Treat Lyon

    I like to keep what I call the Golden Vault – it’s a folder on my desktop that has files of all the Qs people have asked me over the years. If I get more than 3 of the same Q, I answer it and put it in another file called FAQs. Then I have it at hand for emailing whever I get the Q again, and don’t have to rewrite it each time. I update them , too, when appropriate.
    I call it the Golden Vault because every chance to do follow up with a client or pottential client is another opportunity to nurture the relationship. Sales I may not otherwise have made are often the by-product of such communications.
    I like the idea of the handout at a show – I haven’t done an actual show in many years, so I’d forgotten about having print materials ready. I do supply the FAQs to my galleries and reps.

  2. Yes, it gets tiring answering the same 6 questions over and over again. But, it’s an opportunity to open up a conversation with a potential buyer, or connecting deeply with someone who will become a good contact later.
    I wouldn’t be so quick to cut the conversation short by handing them a flyer or sending an e-mail. After you answer that question, it will lead to better questions which will lead to a sale.
    I suppose it depends on who is asking the question, but you never know who you are really talking to. You might think it’s just a curious person when in actuality, it’s a collector.

  3. I agree with Maria. My husband is my greatest asset when we have a vendor booth (I sell my own hand-dyed fabric, Bill’s rust-dyed fabric and other handmade items). Bill is a social animal and because he helps me daily and knows our products he is able to help in answering questions.
    We had a booth this past weekend at a large quilt show and we were totally exhausted each night, but we enjoyed answering those questions. People who are interested in what we make are also interested in buying. There are certain methods that I’ve developed in dyeing that I will not completely explain to folks (trade secrets), but I will give them enough information to satisfy their curiosity…they are usually grateful, and I am flattered that they like my pieces enough to ask. To me it’s the highest form of flattery.
    Also, because I record a lot of my creativity on my blog it is a good place to send folks who want more information on my creative process. For that reason, my business cards (with blog address, website and Etsy shop address) are readily available.

  4. I am currently putting a new web site up and I decided to have a Frequently Asked Questions page. I don’t know if I have seen that on any other artist web site. When I went to write the page, it was surprising to learn how many questions I “answered” in the FAQ page. The site is not complete, but you are welcome to look at that page (and others)

  5. Alyson Stanfield

    Maria and Anita: I agree! The first choice is always to suck it up and have the conversation for the 50th time. The other options are only when you absolutely can’t. They are a last resort. I should have made that clearer in my post and I think I’ll go back and do this.

  6. here is something that has worked for me…I answer the question with a question…I ask the asker something about themselves…Something I am interested to know…Then I let the conversation go off in a more fun for me direction, & fun for them too because people like to talk…Then I have created a nice relationship…They like me a little better because I got interested in them. & I am not a meanie cause I’m not bored out of my skull answering a tired ole question…Then I get maybe a new friend…Later, now that we know each other, I will compel them to buy from me(with my superpowers) …

  7. I haven’t had too much opportunity to go out and sell my paintings( unfortunately ): ). But I currently make my living making spiffy fleece hats that I sell at Japanese animation conventions.
    I answer the same questions hundreds of times over 3 days, but it has to be done. I try to engage every person that comes looking around my booth. Thankfully I usually have 1 or 2 friends helping me that have the answers to the common questions, if they have any specific questions about commissions or wholesale opportunities they send them to me. But I make sure I give a flyer out to every person that stops by, I give them compliments on their costumes or outfits, answer any question they’ve got for me. I want them to leave with a good impression of me and my business. And networking is never a bad thing!
    Yeah, it can be stressful (I’ve seen some of my friends barely able to handle being a helper…), by the time I’m closing up each day I’ve been there for 8-12 hours, but you’ve just gotta learn how to deal with it, how often do you have thousands of people walking around that might just want to buy your work? Or might want to buy it in the future? Shows are the time to shine and connect (and hopefully sell a lot of work!) You don’t get that opportunity everyday.

  8. I put a FAQ on my website a while back. Like other fine art photographers who show, I often get asked what kind of camera I use. My FAQ answers that question and several others. A FAQ page is something website visitors have become used to seeing on the Web.

  9. angela sullivan

    The idea of a brocure sounds great to me. I certainly wouldn’t be offended if someone handed me one to answer my questions.

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