Why creative directors could be the studio’s best salesperson

Written by: John Scarrott
Published on: 13 Aug 2015

Creative Designers article image

Do creative directors have the potential to be the best sales people in a design business? And if so, why?

I recently spoke with two DBA members who believe creative directors are the right people to drive new business for a consultancy.

Here’s why they think that – and also some advice on how to become a creative director who sells.

Why the creative director should be driving new business
1. In a nutshell, they can sell design better than a suit, a deck, or even a design director. The selling (process) does not sell design. The design (process or output) does not sell design. Neither of these vessels is equipped to do the job. They are a battering ram or a magnifying glass respectively when what you really need is a key, and that’s where the creative director comes to the fore.

Having “done the work” they can open the door to “conversation and truth” – the basis of all sales. They can truly speak the truth and can hold the types of conversation that stem from really understanding the problem at hand.

2. Your business can’t rely on word-of-mouth or referral business. Word-of-mouth business is unpredictable and design businesses need a steady cash flow to survive. Relying on word-of-mouth can land you in trouble.

The solution is to supplement your referral work by getting out there. You also get to choose who you connect with. The creative director is best placed to start and continue a conversation because of their perspective, hovering above the work and the business problem and seeing the connections between the two.

3. Selling is another expression of creativity and it can be really fulfilling. It’s the next level of performance up from creative director.

How can creative directors get confident in driving new business?
1. Decide to take a small step in that direction. You won’t wake up one day and be a great sales person. Start by doing the small things.

2. Sales is about the way you think. So think of it like this. Sales is about the truth. It’s personal; like finding your partner for life. It’s about conversation; how you start conversations that lead to meetings where you continue the conversation, and then how that reveals a situation that makes a relationship worthwhile.

3. Understand that if you rise above the work and make connections between your experiences that relate to new clients, you will become intrinsically confident, because it’s not dependent upon having to be a sales person or those mythical skills a salesperson might possess. The sales method that will work for you draws on what you already know.

What can you do to get started?
1. Connect things. Imagine you were gagged by your clients from talking about their specific work. And imagine you were barred from talking about your craft, specifically what you did. What have you got left? That’s what you talk about.

Spend time thinking across all of your work and all of your projects. Generic thinking and good original thinking will emerge out of this. By thinking continuously and strategically across all of your work, you have the basis of all of your conversations. Use talking to move into writing.

2. Be willing to listen. Conversations evolve from what the problem is. To understand this, you must ask a question. Listen to the response. And ask another question about the response.

Leave your work, your deck, your portfolio or powerpoint in the studio. Just you, them and an agenda to steer the discussion. Oh and two cups of coffee. This can happen in person or, alternatively and perhaps more conveniently for your client, over the phone. You’re leaving your work at the studio anyway so an initial call on the phone works well.

3. Use LinkedIn. Look at your connections and who they know. And then connect with the people you want to talk to. But include a message with one question in or an insight. And ask them for time on the phone. You can still have coffee, but nobody needs to go anywhere. And use LinkedIn to publish your generic, original thinking. That way, all the connections you are making will see it.

Question time
So do you know where you are right now in terms of making the step towards being a creative Director who sells? I’ve come up with seven questions that may be useful in clarifiying your current position and what to do next.

Take the quiz and see if you’re ready to launch, questioning what you currently do, or if you’re happier sticking to the creative.

Q1) When the topic moves away from craft and towards business do you:

  1. Switch on and contribute.
  2. Glaze over and excuse yourself.
  3. Become aware of what you need to know.

Q2) When you prepare for a sales call or meeting do you:

  1. Create an agenda focused around your client.
  2. Get your deck together showcasing your work.
  3. Think about what the balance of content you should have between your work and your client.

Q3) When you’re heading to the meeting do you feel you have:

  1. Mastery of your material without feeling you must lead with it.
  2. A firm focus on your craft and key messages.
  3. A nervousness about the blend of craft and client.

Q4) When you think about new business do you think:

  1. I’ll meet and chat- it’s about conversation.
  2. We’ll hire a suit to sell our consultancy.
  3. There’s another way I just don’t know what it is.

Q5) When a client asks you for a creative pitch do you think:

  1. No, but we will meet you on better terms – here they are.
  2. Yes! A chance to show off what we can do.
  3. Acquiesce but wish there was a different way to do it.

Q6) When you think about your work do you:

  1. See it as from above and start to link projects.
  2. Focus on each project and what you did.
  3. Flick between a view from above and a focussed view without always controlling which you see.

Q7) When you go to a client meeting do you feel most comfortable talking to:

  1. The chief executive.
  2. The Head of Operations.
  3. Head of Operations but you want to go for the chief executive.

Your scores:
Mostly 1s:
you’re ready to sell!

Mostly 2s: you’re still focusing on the creative

Mostly 3s: you’re open to change and becoming a creative director who sells.

Thanks to Marksteen Adamson, founding partner, ASHA and David Judge, executive creative director at StartJG for their advice in writing this article

John Scarrott is membership director of the Design Business Association. For more information on DBA membership go to www.dba.org.uk/membership. Follow John on Twitter:@DBAScarrott.