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Birds do it; bees do it, and even creatives can do it

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    Jennifer Herman

In November, I attended DesignThinkers 2023, a design conference put on by the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD) in Toronto. I was thrilled to discover that Chris Do, an Emmy award-winning designer from the US, was the Keynote Speaker and would talk about selling. I had stumbled upon Chris’s work a year earlier, particularly the session where he was talking about value pricing. I thought he was brilliant in explaining the importance of selling, remarkably, but not limited to designers.

Some questions for you. Have you ever:

  • Convinced your partner to see the movie you wanted to see?
  • Encouraged your team at work to go to that new fusion restaurant instead of the same old one?
  • Motivated a friend to try something new because you’ve heard such good things?

Congratulations! Welcome to the world of sales. Something we all do daily to ourselves, our partners, our colleagues, and our clients. Pitching your logo concept to your art director for consideration? That’s selling. Persuade your CD to try your out-of-left-field idea for that new client’s project. Selling.

I’ve been in sales positions in various companies my entire life, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. My gift of gab, love of numbers (no quadratic equations, please), and the thrill of the chase landed me where I needed to be career-wise.

The idea of having to sell anything is cringeworthy to most people. Depending on your age, reference to a salesperson conjures up images of someone selling used cars in a bad suit with a combover who smells of cigars, or a customer service representative from a telecom company not taking no for an answer when trying to sell you a product or service you don’t need. The stereotypes and bad experiences abound, but in a transactional society, the experience of selling or being sold to is inescapable.One of my favourite books to give to those inclined to read in the category is To Sell is Human by Daniel H. Pink. You would benefit greatly from reading any of his books, but before Chris, Daniel helped me get across to those who feared how to approach selling that there was nothing to fear, only so much to gain.

Always Be Closing?

At its core, selling is a conversation between at least two people. One is positioned as needing something, the other in a position to identify said need, or, if ambitious, can point out things not considered. In the case of design, this can be a client’s pain point, highlighting what separates them from the competition or helping them gain market share. Coming from the standpoint of “how can I help” or “I’ve noticed that…” and filling in the blank suddenly makes the same potential conversation seem much less daunting. 

We’ve all been on the receiving end of the hard sell and know how that feels. The idea that you should always be closing and always pushing for more is antiquated. Resist the impulse at all costs because it isn’t organic or genuine and is very noticeable for being what it is. Regardless of the design you’re selling, it shouldn’t require you to hit your client over the head with a large hammer.

Chris went so far as to break down his technique into an adeptly named acronym S.A.L.E.S (Serve, Ask, Listen, Empathize, Summarize) I’ll touch on the two I rely on heavily:

  • A –  Ask questions. Many of them or as many as you need to start seeing a pattern or a path to identify underlying issues.
  • L – Listen. It is imperative in business for many reasons, but so hard for many. You can’t identify the patterns or path(s) mentioned above if you are thinking about your next question instead of listening to your requested answer. 

Chris and Daniel keep doing great work recruiting for the sales team. I’m forever in your debt and thank you for removing the stigma and fear around the parts of my day that bring me such joy.

“The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is, you’re a salesman, and you don’t even know it.”
-Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (1949)