It's Time to Transform Transactions

I'm going to tell you a story.  While mine is about purchasing a painting, it really is about a transaction.  

Every organization has transactions waiting to be transformed (joining, registering for a conference, signing up to volunteer), so think about your equivalents to my painting purchase.

Like many cities, Indianapolis art galleries open new shows in a monthly First Fridays series. Braving the snow and winter cold on January 3, friends and I hit a popular Indy gallery that contains many working artist studios and was featuring several openings. 

I found the work showcased in one of the main galleries appealing and immediately decided to buy a painting.  The gallery was crowded and I could not spot anyone with whom to make the purchase.

Lesson One: it should be easy to complete the transaction and the process and the players should be obvious.

Eventually I got connected to one of the volunteers writing up purchases, a role I learned was signified by carrying a clipboard.

If the back of his clipboard was emblazoned with "I Sell the Art" in bold letters he would have
immediately been more visible.  If the artist had worn a name badge instead of blending in with the other patrons, I would have found him easily. We were given a printed sheet listing the different openings in the gallery upon arrival. It could also include a brief instruction on what to do if you want to buy art.

Lesson Two: View the transaction as the potential beginning of a relationship.

While the volunteer ran my credit card, I briefly chatted with the artist whose work I had bought.  I indicated that I buy a lot of local artists and that I thought he had undervalued and underpriced his work.  He thanked me for the advice and my purchase, asked my name (but didn't capture it), and then went on to talk to other onlookers.

I will probably never hear from this artist again ... which is a missed opportunity on his part.  He engaged well enough for the present purchase I made, but he did nothing to cultivate the future purchases I might make.
"Jeffrey, thanks so much for purchasing one of my paintings.  I'm flattered that you are going to add it to your collection of Indy artists.  I would love to invite you over to my studio in the future to see my next body of work. Might I get your phone number or email address so that I can do that?"
Do the key players in your organization feel competent and confident to extend the transaction if appropriate?

Lesson Three: Make your receipts/acknowledgement reflect the investment.

When the volunteer returned from running my credit card, he said I would receive an email receipt from Square (the app for processing the purchases).  I've paid for a lot of cab rides via Square and was hoping that the purchase receipt for art would be different than the purchase of transportation.  It wasn't.

I've written before about how the Indianapolis Museum of Art's website confirmed becoming a member as if I had just bought something from the gift shop.  Some transactions are about more than just the exchange of money and the documentation involved in the process should reflect that.

Lesson Four: Honor the excitement and make it easy to share.

Finally, I asked about the process for claiming the painting, something the volunteers should have explained to me automatically, but didn't.  I was told I would receive a call in about a month when the current shows were taken down for the new openings.  I could pick it up then.

Makes total sense, but again this moment is a missed opportunity. I just bought a painting that I was excited about, and I won't be able to share that excitement in a tangible way for the next 30 days.

What if upon completing my purchase, the volunteer snapped a photo of me and the artist in front of my new painting?  It could have been sent along with my receipt and would be a placeholder for my purchase and an image easily shared via social media channels.

In this blog post on Indy arts site Sky Blue Window, local arts philanthropist and avid collector Jeremy Efroymson aptly notes that "The story of the art is more important than the actual piece."  Think about the transactions your organization processes and identify those whose story could (or should) be about much more than just the exchange of money.

Every transaction has the potential to be transformed. 
Which of yours would most benefit from a refresh?


Amanda Kaiser said...


I see how your art purchase story relates to organizations. Especially "honor the excitement and make it easy to share". I think about how with some associations you join and it takes 24 hours or even a few days to log into the website.

Great post. Thanks!

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Thanks Amanda. I'm glad you saw some connections to association work, and I think you keyed in on one of the easiest principles to apply. People join because the want to do something. Let's help them do it right away.

David M. Patt, CAE said...

Great observations and great suggestions, Jeffrey.

Regarding Lesson Two, though, many artists lack interpersonal skills. It may be that he simply did not know how to cultivate you.

Art schools and organizations may need to spend more time teaching artists the business of art (which many of them really don't like).

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

That's a good point David, but in my mind it (1) becomes a development issue for the gallery to help their artists with in order for them to be more successful, and (2) much of the cultivation I am talking about would not have required a great deal of interpersonal interaction, nor would it had to have been done by the artist as a gallery volunteer could have done duty.