Beyond the Drawing Board: The Art of Selling for Future Designers


Today, I'm choosing a touchy topic. Some may not agree with me but I'm putting myself out there.  If I were to go back to architecture and design school, if there was one thing I wish was part of our curriculum, it would be : to learn how to sell.  Yes, sales.  Why?

I've met lots of really talented interior designers and architects. What set them apart from the front liners was a lack in the ability to confidently present their work in front of people. It's heartbreaking though because sometimes the ones who are at the back office are even more talented and creative than the ones presenting or creating the concept.  I know, we'd mostly think, "Well, we all have our own strengths."  

Yet, I still believe each one should be given a chance to learn the basics of salesmanship. The art of communication and craft of presenting our own unique brand goes beyond climbing the design ladder.  The main goal is not confined to having "Design Manager" or "Design Director" in our business cards.  It is to offer a chance to tap our hidden potentials and cultivate our strengths in a domain we as designers often find either "boring" or "challenging".  

I'm sure most design students may wonder, "What does Sales have to do with design?" 

Believe it or not, 50% of our time in the office, if not more are spent writing emails, corresponding with other consultants and clients, as well as dealing with suppliers.  Sales is not just selling projects. It is after all, customer service. It is also what we project to our colleagues, to our business associates, clients and bosses. It is selling our own expertise.

The politics in a design environment is quite tricky. How we are able to present our design to our boss so that he may approve it with less revisions as possible is an example of an everyday scenario. This will make our professional lives easier and much simpler in the process when we master the art of communication.

I have noticed that International Design Schools have Salesmanship, Marketing, Negotiating skills, Client and Trade relationships in the Business Practice of Design included in their subjects. This gave their students an edge when they were thrown into the reality pool after graduation.  I'm not sure if things have changed now but architectural and design courses during my time in the Philippines didn't have it.


For tips regarding throwing a  good conference presentation here's an interesting article:
Don’t Just Stand Up, Stand Out: Conference Presentations that Captivate the Room 

Fake It till you Make It
I am a naturally introverted person, though having been thrown to perform on stage at a young age made me lose stage fright.  Though I still feel the adrenalin rush before each stage presentation, but when my first cue starts, I start enjoying it. Public speaking feels like skydiving. It seems scary at first but it can be such a rush! I wasn't born a sales person but my job experiences and everyday encounters taught me a lot and that's how I got the grasp of things. I also had to read a lot of sales and self improvement books in my free time to understand and create a persona that would be suitable for the job. I practiced in front of the mirror, a lot.  What I'm trying to point out is, it can be learned and mastered, not only for students but for those who are already in the industry, interested to develop their sales side.

The Art of Customer Service
I had a personal encounter with a design professional who I never contacted again.  We were looking for an architect and I saw a really meticulously designed house of an acquaintance with impressive finishing. I got the details of the architect of this project and scheduled a meeting at his preferred time and place.  He said he was busy that week. Despite having a limited time in the Philippines,  we agreed to wait for another week when he was free, so we could meet him.  

The day before the meeting, I called him to re-confirm. He didn't answer my phone calls.  I sent him many sms without any reply. The next day was the same, until he was a no-show.  I was gutted because the least someone could do is cancel the meeting, right? We had an international trip (yes flight tickets) wasted without an architect. I never heard from him until two weeks later when we were already back in Dubai, and he was asking for another meeting schedule. Apparently, he mentioned having a medical emergency.  

I see it as an example of bad salesmanship. The basics of confirming and cancelling meetings was missed. 

Hmm..I would have understood should I have received information sooner. Nowadays, there's social media.. it's easier to get information passed around. Perhaps I could have heard from him via his assistant or family member after a few days. 

Speaking of an extreme customer service, it reminded me of a time when I was crawling on the pavement with broken fingers and blood on my arm during my car accident in 2006  and while waiting for the ambulance,  I called each of my clients up to inform them of my accident, that I needed to cancel their meetings and submissions, and that I would be turning my phone off on that day as soon as I reach the hospital.  I'm just crazy that way.  I know I didn't have to, in such a life and death moment but I knew the clients have project deadlines and since I was still able to use my other hand to type the numbers and could still talk, then why not?  The clients appreciated the heads up and it is that type of relationship where they can trust and rely on you, that goes an extra mile.

If there's one thing I wish we can share with the next generation of designers would be the art of client servicing as it is very very important in establishing a good design practice. 

Happy Wednesday everyone!
Love & light,

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  1. An interesting post. Speaking in public is a skill in itself and I know that in many schools here students are encouraged from an early age to present confidently which will help them in their future careers. Excellent customer service is so important in any business too.

  2. I completely agree. It's the same thing for musicians. You have to stand out. I've read that marketing and business skills are now being taught in conservatories. The same should be true for designers.

  3. We all need it in our lives! I'm more of an artsy, imaginative type of person and always need someone who is more enterprenuerish :)