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Selling Design Services The Best Way – 5 Steps to Success

Today I want to put the fun back into selling design services!

I’m going to show you a 5-step sales strategy that’s proved to be hugely successful at helping our clients increase their conversion rate and win more work.

I’m also going to show you how to avoid the high-pressure sales technique by positioning yourself as the Guide (not the Hero). 

So, let’s start with the basics – what’s the difference between marketing and selling design services?

The Difference Between Marketing and Selling Design Services:

Marketing: This requires creating interest for your design services through promotion and education (Also known as Lead Generation).

Sales: This requires helping those people who value your design services make a purchasing decision (Also known as Lead Conversion).

The reason many Design Professionals struggle with the sales process is that they fail to adequately address the marketing phase.

Instead of selling to a primed audience, they’re selling to anyone who feigns interest.

While this may work for some Design Professionals it’s not the most efficient way to run a business.

Cold leads typically create a volatile and uninspiring sales environment which over time will play havoc with your emotions (and workload).   

The key to an effortless sales process is to get the marketing right so that you’re only talking to warm leads… people who are familiar with your work and like what you have to offer.

For ideas on how to improve your marketing strategy check out the following post: Marketing For Architects – The Most Important Rule

Once you’ve received a warm lead it’s time to apply your sales strategy.

So, let’s look at how that might work:

Selling Design Services

A Winning 5-Step Sales Strategy:

Step 1 – Listen:

This is the part most of us get wrong. When we first meet a Client most of us believe we should dazzle them with our experience and expertise.

We bring along brochures of our work and talk about our qualifications and experience. We tend to make the conversation all about us – unfortunately this is not the best approach!

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. We should listen twice as much as we talk. We should aim to make the conversation about the Client, not about us.

You see, despite what you may believe, Clients don’t really want to hear about us! 

What they really want is an opportunity to talk about themselves, their project, and their goals and aspirations.  

As suggested in the number one best-selling book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie – the best way to win Clients over is to become genuinely interested in what they have to say, and above all, be a good listener.

Selling Design Services

When you get the listening part right, you’ll be able to achieve two important goals:

  1. By listening intently you’ll be letting the Client know they’re not just another client, they’re special (empathy).
  2. By listening intently you’ll be able to truly understand the Client’s problems, so you can position your design service as a solution, not just another resume (relevancy).


Step 2 – Confirm:

Upon completion of step 1, you’ll want to demonstrate that your Client’s problems have been heard and understood.

I would suggest using a listening strategy developed by former FBI hostage negotiator, Chris Voss called “Tactical Empathy”.

Tactical empathy requires labeling the Clients problem and playing it back.

For example, I’ll usually respond to the Clients concerns by saying something like “… it sounds like you’re apprehensive about design fees…”, or “… so, to recap, you want tighter control over the project schedule…”, or “… if I’m hearing you correctly, your biggest concern is sustainability…”.

Of course, when possible you’ll want to make sure you’re talking to the key decision-maker(s). If you’re not talking with the decision-maker you’re at risk of falling victim to the “Good Cop, Bad Cop” negotiation tactic. 


Step 3 – Visualize:

Many Architects and Design Professionals overlook this simple, yet very important step. 

To make the rest of the sales process effortless you should take the time to feed the Client’s ambitions.

Based on information gathered during the listening phase you should paint a picture of where your services could take the Client, once they’ve hired you.

Remember Clients don’t buy because you’re an award-winning Architect who’s committed to Client services.

They buy because of what your service can help them achieve. 

For example, your service may be able to help them realize a dream, make/save money, save time, enjoy better facilities, create a healthier work environment, and/or avoid a stressful experience.

You’re not selling a design service; you’re selling a vision of what that service may look and feel like.

As stated by Harvard Business School Professor Gerald Zaltman “95% of decisions are made using emotional criteria”.

We buy on emotions and justify with logic! 

Use this step to engage the emotions and the next step to justify with logic.

You’ll know when you’ve hit the right spot because the Client will respond in a positive manner by saying “Yes, that’s right!”, “That’s exactly what we’re looking for”, and  “That would be great”.


Step 4 –  Proposal:

Once you have the emotions on board it’s time to justify with logic. This is where your fee proposal comes into play.

To learn how to write winning fee proposals from the best course in the industry see: The Fee Proposal Workshop.

If you don’t have the resources to take the course, here is a FREE Fee Proposal Mini-Series to get you started. To learn more click on the image below:


Step 5 – Follow Up:

Once they’ve received your fee proposal don’t forget to follow up with them to answer any questions they may have.

If you’ve followed the 5-steps correctly you’ll probably find that most Clients accept your proposal with 24 hours of receipt.

If, however that’s not the case, it’s useful to remember that according to statistics published by The Brevet Group (a leading sales training firm), 80% of sales require 5 follow-up calls after the initial meeting.

So, if you’re proposal hasn’t already been accepted don’t forget to follow up and remember… you’re the Guide not the Hero!

Your job is to listen, ask questions and find amicable solutions. If you’re proposal didn’t hit the mark find out why and learn how you can fix it.  

If after considering all options you’re not a good fit try recommending other firms who may be more suitable. Always leave the Client with a positive experience and they’ll talk highly of you to others.  

Thank you for reading this post… and good luck with your future fee proposals.