Why to Change the Conversation from Design to Strategy (if you want the big projects)
If you’ve had your design firm for awhile, you’ve gotten used to selling design. It’s your comfort zone. You love design and understand how powerful it is. You know design can really help your clients.
But you also know that selling design doesn’t differentiate you from all the other designers out there who are also selling design, especially when what you really want are the big branding projects. And you know that your high-level clients are looking for proposals with more depth. To them, design alone sometimes just doesn’t cut it. Like it or not, many clients see design as decoration.
What can you do to stand out from the crowd and show prospects that you really can help them solve their marketing challenges?
You can change the conversation from design to brand strategy
If you are actually offering branding, and you’re digging deep with meaning and messaging instead of just giving them a new logo or delivering the design flavor of the month, then you need to find a way to talk about this with clients and prospects. And you need to do it in their language, so they’ll understand and want to know more.
Clients want to know what you know, and how you can really help them with their business challenges. The clients you want are not looking for order takers when it comes to branding. The best clients really don’t want to tell you what to do—they want to hire experts to tell them how to brand their businesses successfully. You have to take the lead if you want to gain their trust. And you don’t want to go about it like a showy account exec does with smoke and mirrors, either—you want to gain their trust authentically. You do this by talking about brand strategy instead of design, because strategy is more comfortable to them, and it shows the true value of branding. The best clients value and understand strategy.
Clients want you to lead
The clients that you want, want you to lead. They are getting pitches from designers who say, “Tell us what you need and we’ll do it.” Often clients don’t know what they need, and even if they think they do, they sometimes haven’t thought it all the way through. If you back up and ask questions instead of just taking orders like a short-order cook, you’ll often find there’s a bigger challenge, a strategic challenge, a challenge that can be addressed with strategic branding.
You want to be different from the order-taking designers, and you can gain trust by leading, by educating, and showing prospects how you can take the pressure off. You can gain trust by showing how your strategic process will guide them, and how you can help their reputation in the marketplace. As Ed often says, “I’m not going to give you what you want, I’m going to give you what you need.” With a high-level service like branding, it’s very important that prospects see you have a great deal to offer and can lead them.
Changing the conversation “helps people buy”
Nobody likes to be sold to. But most people like to buy. So another way of looking at selling, to take the icky out of it for you, is to change your approach from “selling” to helping people buy. The psychology of selling has a lot to do with the value people put on opinions, and the fact is that they put a lot more value on their own opinion than they do on yours.
We don’t think of offering branding as selling. We think of it as a way for us to help prospective clients make more money and increase the value of their reputations in their own markets. And since it’s something we can do for them, it would be almost a disservice for us to not let them know about it. When you think of it this way, it’s a lot easier to do. You’re not selling them something, you’re helping them.
Selling design vs. strategy: When you sell design, you’re telling your opinion or your past client’s opinion (that the design works)—and often people back away from that—you do it, too. You are suspect of a selling situation when a salesman tells you his opinion. The difference with talking about brand strategy is the education aspect. Getting excited about the strategy, showing the value of the strategy in conversational ways that relate to the client’s company and challenges in their own market, and then letting the client form their own opinions by how they get engaged in the conversation, is much more powerful. Ed and I have had our branding clients sell themselves by getting engaged and forming their own opinions.
Selling the benefits of design is hard. Having conversations about brand strategy is easy
You don’t have to know any fancy sales tricks. You can be really authentic and just show how excited you are about the strategy of branding, and talk prospects through how your branding process works. This really gets conversations going and engages clients.
When clients can see how you think and make connections, they get really excited, and trust you more—because they start to see how branding can really help their business. When clients want to know what you know, it gives you a lot of confidence, too. Instead of just assuming that our clients and prospects “get” design, like we do, or like our designer friends do—because most of the time they really don’t get it—we need to show them our thinking.
Changing the conversation from design to brand strategy is the first step.