Design doesn’t sell itself. But, having the wrong Sales Process for the wrong type of project doesn’t work either. Unfortunately, very few people in the design world talk about this, and the fact of the matter is that sales – whether externally or internally – is a core design skill. Design that isn’t sold is as bad as design that isn’t done.
All sales process include four overarching processes: Qualification, Rapport, Education, and Closing. The possible project’s size determines what, if any sub processes are needed to get to the close. Generally, the bigger the project, the longer the sales cycle and the more sub processes you need to run in each step.
You can, a priori, decide that you don’t want to take certain projects. That will make your sales process more efficient by choosing to ignore opportunities. Personally, I like a wide variety of projects because I enjoy the challenge of figuring new things out, and I like a variety of different kinds of clients. If all I did were one type of project, I would go insane. So for me, it’s vital that I understand immediately how in-depth the process ought to be for a prospective client.
When in doubt, I err on the side of over qualifying, building too much rapport, educating too much, rather than the opposite. I love longer sales cycles because it allows me to make a stronger case for myself and build an actual relationship with my client, which is vital to the success of a project.
That doesn’t mean short sales cycles are a bad thing, though. On small budgets you simply can’t afford to spend hundreds of hours convincing them to sign. That constraint, however, doesn’t excuse you from going through a process, in order, with out rushing. It simply means that your qualification criteria need to be clear and your understanding of how this project may benefit you need to be checked against profitability.
Maybe the most difficult balancing act in the sales process is to maintain a sense of urgency without annoying a prospective client. Yes, we want the sale, but it’s important to keep the big picture in mind. This is also why we are continually marketing ourselves – so losing a big prospective client is not the end of the world. If we are continually adding new prospects to the pool, we won’t fish ourselves out of work. By having other activities that you need to be doing, you won’t spend as much time obsessing over one particular client.
Investing in your sales process is a direct investment in your success as a designer, and ultimately your client’s projects will be better for it.