Five Ways to Better Sell Your Ideas

Attention designers: Being sales-savvy will boost your confidence, elevate your credibility and inspire people to take notice of you and your ideas. In a previous article on HOW—“Five Reasons Designers Should Love Selling,”—I dive into the details of why designers should embrace selling as a valuable skill. But how do you take your ideas to that next level?


Image courtesy of Shutter Stock.

Indeed, powerful selling and potent creativity march together; it’s impossible to sustain high creativity levels when decision makers are constantly rejecting ideas. So just generating good ideas isn’t enough—we must also be able to sell those ideas to others. Here are five ways to strengthen your selling and presentation skills (tips essentially for how to sell an idea).

1. Understand It’s Not About You.

Decision makers aren’t interested in your pain. They’re interested in their pain. They want to know if your idea will ease their pain, solve their problems and help provide them with worry-free sleep. Or maybe they want to know how the idea will make their lives or the lives of their customers fun and joyful. Produce prosperity. Cause life to be a bit easier.

The last thing they want to hear about are your problems—about the overtime you put into the idea, about hassles along the way, about sleepless night and supreme sacrifices.

In fact, decision makers aren’t really interested in your idea—at least not on its surface. They’re really interested in its underlying value and what it can do for them and the end user. When preparing presentations, visualize your decision maker wearing a T-shirt that says “Why should I care?” Answer that question to sell solutions and values rather than aches and pains.

2. Listen Up.

We all know the advantages of listening to end users, clients and managers as we begin developing ideas—but it also pays to carefully listen to decision makers before and during the idea presentation. “I encourage everyone on our team to be good listeners,” says David Schimmel, creative director of New York City-based And Partners. “We present the work, then sit back and listen to feedback. Our clients know their business and can help make our ideas stronger.” Jeff Long, executive creative director at Digital Kitchen, agrees. “Really listen to what people are saying,” he says. “Understand the room.”

3. Know the Business.

Make your presentations energetic and compelling. Stir the heart. Add touches of drama. But never forget that an idea presentation is also a business proposition. It’s great to dazzle decision makers with jaw-dropping designs and breathtaking visuals. But you won’t get go-aheads without getting down to business. Decision makers don’t expect you to hold an MBA—they have a passel of those types within slapping distance. They do, however, want to know why they should spend money on your ideas. And that means talking their language and knowing their business. Stefan Mumaw (author of Creative Boot Camp, Caffeine for the Creative Team and Caffeine for the Creative Mind), creative director at Callahan Creek, puts it this way: “If we really want to sell an idea, we have to saturate ourselves with the industry, immerse ourselves in the product or service and know what these things mean to the client’s customers.”

4. Sell the Suit, Not the Buttons.

A friend of mine got this advice from his boss after he became bogged down in details during an idea presentation. Wise words, because we need to stay focused on the big picture and core values. “Too many presentations look like they have been put together by lawyers,” says brand expert Al Ries. “The presenter takes all the reasons why a client should buy and lists them one by one, hoping one will ht a home run. It seldom works. The secret of a good presentation is sacrifice. In other words, focus.”

5. Believe in Yourself and Your Ideas.

Ever had a salesperson try to sell you a product they didn’t believe in? Pitiful, huh? If we don’t believe in our creativity and ourselves, we can’t expect decision makers to trust us or embrace our ideas. You’re good at what you do, so believe it—even in the face of steady and strong criticism. “You have to believe in what you’re doing,” says Jakob Trollback, founder and creative director of Trollback + Company. “People are going to take shots, even at great ideas.” Trollback remembers Richard Saul Wurman, founder of the TED Conference, saying, “Don’t bother to criticize anything that doesn’t attempt to be brilliant.” In other words, certain criticism you’re receiving about an idea might be due to its brilliance—so chin up! Believe in yourself and your ideas, and learn from the criticism.

Cover_IdeaSelling.jpgFor even more of Sam Harrison’s expert advice on the business side of creativity, pick up a copy of his book IdeaSelling.

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