5 ways to sell design and innovation

Aligning design buyers with sellers

The moment of sales is critical for the success of any design project. This is also key for the client making decisions on future-boosting investments. Selling right, however, is not a walk in the park.

The moment of sales is critical for the success of any design project. This is also key for the client making decisions on future-boosting investments. Selling right, however, is not a walk in the park.

If your stakeholders are already ambassadors for design driven innovation, then there’s no need to kick in open doors. But if you share my mission of incentivising design purchasers to become better design purchasers, allow me to reveal five approaches that have increased my success rate.

1. Rational sales – the German method

A German representative of Innovation Norway once gave me some advice: “You can be as sexy as you want, but no German will ever buy anything from you unless you can prove the value. Show me the money!”

Many business leaders are like the Germans. Build a business case, and they will desire you. Explain how they will see the return on their investment, and that’s all the common language you need.
Paal Holter

Fortunately, there is an increasing number of sources that can help you demonstrate the value of design competence. Take Leah Buley’s brilliant research from Forrester for example. She statistically proves that organisations that are working holistically and strategically with UX are performing better.

Or even better – make an effort to look through your potential client’s annual report and business goals, and angle your arguments thereafter. It is a typical designer pitfall to talk about people-centricity and perhaps brag about tech insights – but forget about business. Bring in some commercial wins, and you are certain to score with rational business people and Germans.

2. Make heroes – the American method

Who doesn’t like a good success story – especially if you can picture yourself being the hero? Use the American method to appeal to the emotional drives within people.

Tell a story about someone who did an amazing job working with designers in a way that led to innovation, big impact and pride within their organization. Preferably, this should be a story about one of your clients, and one that is comparable with your prospective client. The key take-away is:

Don’t take credit for the success yourself, but give it to the genius design buyer. Potential clients will enjoy boosts of inspiration by imagining what a difference they can make in their organization.
Paal Holter

This might sound like a simple trick, but it’s not really. Making change happen within organizations often requires individual, strong ambassadors – and this is what we are encouraging. It doesn’t even have to be the leader or decision maker. As soon as you have someone convinced, you are on the sweet path of influence.

Every company is like a land of opportunity - every employee a potential hero.

3. Fear-driven innovation – the Russian method

It’s very expensive, but I guess we can’t afford not to do it.
A client that has been subjected to the Russian method.

This is a satisfactory outcome of a sales meeting where you applied the Russian method. Demonstrate a scenario where no innovation happens, where competition and disruptive players will bypass the organization and not even leave behind the crumbs.

This is particularly effective for conservative organizations with traditional offerings, such as banking, transportation, retailers etc. Typically, these organizations have stayed with their original business ideas for a long time, but are now facing competition from untraditional players.

To accelerate the awareness of being strangled by doing nothing, you can bring in some future perspectives or scenarios. I recently attended a brilliant course held by Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies, where we learned about macro trends. These are trends that we cannot hide from – they will happen whether you like it or not.

And then comes the rhetorical question - is your organization ready to face these changes? No? Innovate or die, comrade!

Image: Macro trends – useful and effective

4. Over-perform a small sell – the Norwegian method

Be humble. Don’t jump too high. Lower the threshold... Clients who have not spent money on design or innovation before are more likely to accept small projects.

When you have your foot inside the door, the real sales job begins. You can for example squeeze in a workshop with the client, where you bring people’s ideas to the surface. Later, you can visualize how amazing their potential is. Be enthusiastic. Don’t be their consultant – be their dedicated long-term partner.

However, make sure you deliver excellently on the quick-fix or whatever project you were originally able to sell. And while you nail the delivery, also spend some time promoting your other findings and opportunities. What could be next steps? What would be the holistic approach? Think big. Feed the ambitions. Dare to be world class!

Be careful not to spoil the client though. If you spend more hours than budgeted, make sure they see it. Tell them you invested your personal time, because you really believe in the potential. Or they might be puzzled when they don’t see equal bang for the bucks next time.

5. Develop existing relations – the Family method

If you let your sales instincts run free, you will most likely go hunting for new big fish. Am I right? However, it is of course easier to up-sell existing clients rather than build new relations. Have you thought about the potential among the people that already trust you?

If you already know their organization, you have a good position to share your reflections on how to work more strategically and holistic together. Behave like their design department. Have initiatives. Do relevant research. Consciously act like you are a member of their family. The family sits on the same side of the table, the world of opportunities is on the other.

You should also consider the importance of playing your cards while you’re still positively active in on-going projects. You are in their minds and on their agenda already. They will listen. It is a completely different situation when you are history and their current activities have nothing to do with you. Your initiatives might then just seem like a burden to them. Annoying barks from an abandoned dog. Timing is everything.

Images: The timing perspective of selling projects to existing relations (Model developed by Ulla Sommerfelt)

Selling well is our responsibility

Most designers and innovation consultants agree on the value of design thinking and related methods. But there is still a surprisingly big gap between design sellers and design buyers. Many industry leaders misunderstand or underestimate designers, and have little or no experience on how to define projects or buy our competence. Hence, we have a responsibility as design sellers to advise our clients how to buy.

In the spirit of good advice, design sellers should not be narrow specialists, prompted to push whatever they can deliver. Neither should they be slick talkers with sales-triggered bonuses. Instead a good design seller should be a tech-savvy designer or design-savvy techie, with wide experience and flair for strategic and holistic thinking. And needless to say, they must operate with the integrity of the clients’ best interest.

Just picking a strategy is not an effective way to sell though. But being aware of these methods might increase your repertoire.
Paal Holter

Did any of my five tips resonate with you? Perhaps you have some experience too, or other opinions on our common goal of aligning design buyers and sellers? If so, don’t hold back – please share!

Join me in the conversation on Linkedin.

Sounds interesting?

Paal Holter

Get in touch with Chief Experience Officer
Paal Holter
+47 901 05 666

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