As Star Wars Day just passed (May the 4th), it made me think of a comment I have heard from interior designers my entire career. When designers who have worked in a design or architectural firm decide to go into sales, they always hear the following comment from their peers: “Oh no, you are headed to the dark side.”
Here’s my opinion on sales and why, as designers, we should not be afraid of it.
First, many designers — especially those who work in senior design positions or who own their own firms — sell every single day they go to work. If they don’t think they do, they need to re-examine their roles. Selling is what brings in the work. If you aren’t selling, you aren’t working.
Now, I know you’re probably thinking about the pushy salesperson who came into your office to sell you a product that not only didn’t fit what you were doing, but was not even close to your idea of a useful product. But I am talking about getting your ideas out there to be embraced by your clients.
Designers are not typically in the business of selling products — although some of us do offer purchasing as a service — we are in the business of selling ideas. We are often in the position to present an idea to a client that is probably not even on their radar. We see it in our heads and know it to be the best solution to their problem. but they are not getting it or “buying it,” to use a sales term.
So how do you, as a designer, sell your ideas and get your clients to buy? If you are a good salesperson, you already know the answer.
Many designers shy away from learning good sales techniques because they are afraid of coming across as pushy or greedy. The fact is good salespeople are not pushy or greedy, or even sleazy. They are eager to offer you a solution to a problem that you are having, at a price.
Sound familiar? What is the primary purpose of design? To solve a problem. If you find that you are having a tough time getting your head around the similarities, think of it this way: You want your designs to be appreciated and you want to get paid for your ideas. If you are a good salesperson, this will happen.
Here is another example. Have you ever seen a designer who you thought did so-so work, but was making tons of money and had lots of clients? You probably were thinking, “What is he/she doing to deserve that? I would have come up with a better solution that was better designed.”
These designers are selling their ideas to the right people. They might be better salespeople than designers, but they understand that the “product” they are selling is themselves. They know a client will buy into their ideas and pay them well if they give the client what they are asking for. They understand the selling process and how to make it work to their advantage.
There are tons of books, blogs and even videos on the internet that talk about good and bad selling techniques. The trick is finding the right one for you. We are all wired differently, and what may sound fake or pushy to one person may resonate with another.
Don’t let fear get in your way. Find a technique you feel comfortable with, then practice it until you don’t feel like you are reading a script or auditioning for a school play. You need to be able to get rid of the stigma of sales being a terrible thing.
There are lots of coaches out there who can help you do this. Just like public speaking or doing a design presentation in front of a board of directors, you need to be able to face your fear of failure and accept the fact that you will not win every “sale.”
The key is to believe in yourself and your ideas. We are all salespeople, no matter what our jobs are. It’s the act of getting another human being to see your point of view and agree with it enough to exchange something for it.
Being a good salesperson does not mean you are the next Darth Vader, it just means that you have the skill set that allows you a better chance to have your ideas become real. Now go out, sell your best designs and may the force be with you!
About the Author
Susan Mulholland studied interior design at Northern Arizona University and is an NCIDQ certificate holder. She has more than 25 years of interior design experience in commercial and residential design. Her design philosophy includes sustainable design practices for all types of projects. Her experience in the industry includes working in healthcare, senior living, hospitality and corporate design. Her design studio Mulholland Art & Design Commercial Interiors is located in Tucson, Arizona, where she has been helping her clients create purposeful interiors for the past 17 years..