Common assumptions designers make when selling their work

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The latest in his series on assumptions, business adviser John Scarrott considers potential pitfalls and how designers can sell their services more successfully.

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Mark Twain said “It’s not what I don’t know that gets me into trouble. It’s what I know for sure that just ain’t so”. This speaks to the power of our assumptions. Often, a useful short-hand, they can equally stop us from growing and getting what we want.

In my work with design professionals on their approach to selling, eight assumptions come up frequently that get between them and their future success. Take a look, do you recognise them?

“The work will sell the work.” It’s what you’re great at. But it can’t speak. It’s silent without you. You’re showing something that has come at the end of a process, as a result of a unique set of circumstances, that you know intimately. You’re inviting someone to judge you on your work, who won’t see any of this. They might like or dislike it for all the wrong or right reasons. Step out in front of your work. Find a way to use it to start a conversation, then you’re on to something.

“They want to meet us. It’s in the bag.” This gets your energy going. When you feel this, put the brakes on. Ask ‘What do I really know?’ What does the evidence tell you? If you want to know what the meeting really means, just ask. Discuss an agenda beforehand. Combine hope and hard facts.

“They’ll call me if they’re interested. If they don’t get in touch they’re not interested.” This protects you from rejection. But replaces it with doubt and mystery. What use is either? They may call, if they have time. And they may not. How would you know? There’s only one way to find out, follow it up. Imagine it as a relationship, rather than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ outcome. If you haven’t heard from a friend for a while, what do you do?

“I hate selling.” You don’t want to be ‘salesy’ using the ‘traditional tactics of selling.’ But not exploring alternatives keeps you out of the game altogether. Some decide to outsource selling, but this can distance them from the customer and result in pointless meetings. Find your own way to sell. Explore your values. How do you want to build relationships? Create the experience you’d like your clients to have, that would be of value to them. It will be this experience that draws them to you.

“New business means new clients.” Variety is the spice of life. We don’t want to be labelled or pigeon holed. And your people may get bored and leave. So, you go after new clients. What are the other routes to new experiences? What if you thought about your existing clients in new ways?

“Referrals are better business.” The enquiry that comes to you. What could be better? But what do you know about how they came to you? And are they a good fit for your business? And if not, how do you manage the conversation so that everyone leaves feeling happy, you, your referee and your referral? And what if this is stopping you from starting conversations proactively?

“It’s all about us.” A healthy ego is a good thing. But if it takes over, you’re sunk. What if it was about your client, their clients and what is happening for them? If you could inhabit their world more, they will believe you can help them. As a result of the strength of this belief you may well find you need shorter proposals and you can ask for your true value.

“I must stay on their radar.” This is a proactive thought. The key is how you go about it. Reminding them that you are available is not great. Asking them if there’s a job or project that you can quote for, is also not good. They both position you as a supplier of design. How can you reach out as a consultant? What can you offer your client that is about them, their customers or something that might affect them? What’s in it for them?

John Scarrott is a Trainer and Coach working with design professionals on their approach to influential communication. Find him on Twitter @JohnDScarrott or check out his website where you can find other useful articles on this subject: http://johnscarrott.com/blog/

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