7 ways to sell design to your clients

Design business advisor John Scarrott looks at how a softer sell with clients goes a long way and why a nuanced approach can help build better consultancy-client relationships.

Selling design used to be largely about getting in front of someone, asking a few questions, pitching, persisting and then closing the deal. But this is no longer enough. New ways of buying have emerged and designers have had to adapt. The good news is that the skills and behaviours that make a good sales person today, are a good fit for how designers work, because they use them when they have been engaged by a client. The trick is to deploy these skills early and use them to build the relationship that leads to work.

Selling is more than pitching. Your potential clients will spend more time not buying design than they will buying it. They won’t be ready to buy when you want them to be. And your pitch will not cause a client to buy before they understand why they need your expertise. Instead of pitching, focus on building the relationship. Make the way you build a relationship a remarkable experience for your clients. Their experience of you sells your expertise in the future.

When there’s no brief and no pitch, selling is about discovery. You are still showing your client what you are about. But how you do it changes. You do it through speaking with rather than showing to. You ask open, short and powerful questions that enable your client to learn about themselves and send their thinking (and yours) into new places. The kind of thing you do when you are engaged as their consultancy.

Get energised about your client. Get passionate about them, their business, their sector – what is going on in it? These are the things that consume your client. They should consume you too. If you can’t manage passion, get interested. When someone asks you which sector you are in, you should almost be in a position to reply, ‘pharmaceuticals, aerospace, or ambient food’ rather than design.

Understand your thinking and be able to explain it. It’s easier to generate insight and thinking when you are passionate about your subject and you have a feed of information coming in. Ask yourself, what do we think about what is happening in our client’s sector? And what do we think about our response to it?

Take in the view from your client’s perspective. Step into their world. They are so close to it, that they often miss the implication of what’s happening. But you can be their eyes and a fresh pair of eyes at that. You can make the connections and observations they can’t see.

Relationships start with a conversation. Build a collaborative dialogue with your client. You build the conversation together, contribute observations, ask questions. Listen. There’s no pressure, no obligation, no closing, no pitch. You see what develops.

Use the telephone differently. Use it to have real conversations. Use email to suggest an agenda and set up the telephone call. You can use the phone to start your relationship building activity. It’s easier for someone to make 20 minutes to take a call at their desk.

If you want to know more about the above and how you could make it work for you join me at this training workshop on 3 November.

John Scarrott is a trainer and coach working with design businesses on their skills of influential communication, selling, presenting and networking. Find him at www.johnscarrott.com

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