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The reason you can’t sell design

With a hand on my heart I can tell you that design is one of the hardest services to sell. We sell dreams, promises and visual representations that in isolation are worth less than the paper they may one day be printed on. And I don’t say this lightly as these are the collective thoughts of those who don’t value design as a service.

To these people design is subjective. Either they like what they see visually or they don’t. That’s usually the limit of their consideration on whether you get the opportunity to work with or continue working with them.

And it’s easy for me to say that many prospective clients don’t understand design, but in reality, some of the time, their points are valid. Anyone with a copy of Photoshop or a Canva subscription calls themselves a designer. I’ve looked at many a design myself and thought it was terrible. 

I don’t necessarily have to like a design, to know objectively that it will or won’t work. But this is because I have experience working with hundreds of designers, and thousands of clients and hundreds of thousands of projects in my career.

Your clients do not have this level of experience. They either like what they see, or they dont.

Now for the purpose of this article I’m going to guess that you come from a creative background and I’ll make the assumption that your creative is good, verging on great. Who am I to argue anyway, I’m not even a designer.

But even with great creative outputs, selling design is hard. Until it isn’t.

Design isn’t subjective. But our clients make it so.

While our clients subjectively decide that they like or dislike a project, the secret to selling design is to understand their commercial objectives and explain how our current or future projects are going to meet and exceed their needs.

When we flips the narrative to our clients needs, and explain how our experience and creative outputs will support these, we force our clients to lose their subjective assumptions and understand that objectively speaking, our creative, while it will always look beautiful, meets their commercial expectations.

When I sell design, I never talk about the creative. Process yes, expected deliverables, of course. But beyond getting a nod or steer on “No goes”, I leave the creative endeavours to our designers.

Instead I talk business. Because my clients where business owners, marketers or part of a board. If I was to wax lyrical about the psychology of colour in the pitch to a room full of board members, I’d be walked out. And please understand that I’m not devalueing the creative process, but I do value it in the utmost regard. 

But in a pitch, I’m demonstrating an understanding of the challenges and opportunities the business faces as well as providing details of experience in achieving a successful outcome through our creative.

And I can tell you now, that 100% of the businesses I’ve ever worked with want to make more profit. Unless I can show examples of relevant businesses who have grown alongside a supporting branding project, our creative has no value (in their eyes).

Other examples of business objectives include:

  • Recruitment & retention
  • New products or services
  • Change of business direction
  • New market penetration
  • Increasingly competitive landscape
  • Change of ownership or board (business succession)

The reason you can’t sell design

The reason you can’t sell design is not because your design isn’t good enough, it’s because you can’t clearly demonstrate how it can support your clients commercial objectives. 

We talk about language and tone of voice in all our creative, yet do you effectively communicate to your clients or prospective clients in a manner that they’ll react to?

When you understand this and begin to talk your clients language you’ll jump from being “just the designer” to a trusted commercial partner with intrinsic value in their business. It no longer becomes a question of valuing design, but rather how much budget do we allocate.

And when it comes to new business acquisition, being commercially focused in your conversation will differentiate you and your agency for the better. My win-rate on new business was high, because I talked like a business owner. Try it yourself and let me know the results you get. You can always connect with me on the Move at Pace Instagram page.

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