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Skills new business design managers need.

At one level getting new business is just about persuading clients to buy from you rather than from someone else. Sounds simple, but persuading people to do what we want is hard. Is it a career for only the bold and the cocky?

Apparently not.

Experimental psychologists have identified methods that help persuade. It’s not about manipulation, nor is it about control, or deception. The methods are more about values

The psychologists focused on using persuasion for leadership but I think the results are just as relevant to new business development.

They identified six principles of persuasion:

Principle 1: Liking.

It’s pretty intuitive clients are more likely to buy from people like themselves, rather than from people who are not.

The example used Tupperware parties where (mainly) women are influenced as much by the hosts as they are by the products.

For designers, I think it translates to taking the time to establish goodwill and trust with potential clients before trying to influence them. It’s about patience and taking the time to build rapport. It may involve asking a (well liked and trusted) intermediary to introduce you, or networking to build a social relationship before trying to build a business relationship.

One design studio Greg works with regularly uses empathy maps to identify opportunities before meeting prospective clients. (It’s part of the Selling design value to clients workshop.)

Principle 2: Reciprocity

It’s human nature that people tend to treat you the way you treat them. Karma, do unto others as you would have them do unto you … you get the drift.

For new business it translates as mutual respect. Respect as in keeping meetings, being punctual and generally doing what you said you were going to do.

It can also mean continually striving for a win:win situation. It’s not about winning the project. It’s about working to make your potential client look good, their job is to make their boss look good, and so on up the chain. When that works, we look good. Win:win.

Principle 3: Social proof

Being a trailblazer sounds great, but in reality, most clients are most comfortable following the lead of others. Not in a negative way, but in a safe, risk-averse, keep-my-job kind of way. They like precedent, and more likely to be influenced and persuaded by successful people and stories.

That’s why case studies and testimonials work brilliantly to bring in new business. It lessens any perceived risk; making a change of supplier seem easier and less problematic. And while meeting face to face is always preferable, case studies and testimonials work brilliantly on a website, so they can be selling while you’re busy wearing a different hat.

Principle 4: Consistency.

Consistency is about follow-through. Persuading people to do what they said the would. The psychologists research found people would more likely to act if there has been a written commitment first.

It’s often demonstrated with telethons. Many people pledge to give money via phone but those making a written commitment are more likely to follow through with their donation.

It’s the same for new business. Often a new client may ask more than one designer for a submission or estimate of costs. This is your chance to shine. Having a brilliantly designed capability document, directly written to answer to that specific brief will separate your studio from the more common job management-system template estimates and the ‘save-as’ template submissions.

Similarly, a client verbally briefing in a project may not have the same commitment as one asked to sign off a debrief. A written commitment often demands more consideration and reflection. The added advantage is that a written brief can reduce the dreaded scope-creep.

(That’s one of the reasons written communication is emphasised in the design studio management program.)

Principle 5: Authority.

Most of us defer to experts (except for climate-deniers like Tony Abbott, but I digress), especially when it means access to specialist information or skills that can help their work. Working with experts gives clients confidence, and that makes it easier for them to sell a new supplier upstream.

So, be the expert. Know more than peers. Own your space.

And once that’s done, be careful not to assume a potential client understands your expertise. Explain your skills using case studies that demonstrate your (brilliant) design solutions to a similar projects, in a similar or aligned industry.

Principle 5: Scarcity.

We all value products that are scarce, and clients are no different. We all covet that gem of information that may put us ahead of the pack. But design studios are a dime a dozen, hardly scarce … how could that possibly work in new business?

By finding and sharing exclusive information that will help your client. It means continual reading to find research relevant to your client, then releasing information to them before it is released to others. Exclusivity is persuasive.


If you meet someone socially at a networking event and get along well, are punctual at meetings and continually strive for a win:win opportunity; your website includes well written case studies and glowing testimonials and your submissions are specifically written for each project; you’re clearly an expert in your industry and are well read and up-to-date with the latest research: the new business oyster is yours for the taking!

Seriously, new business development isn’t easy. Partly because of supply and demand. There is a plethora of studios in the capital cities, all vying for attention. And in the regional areas where there are not a lot of studios, there are not a lot of potential clients. That means every contact – new and existing – is valuable. And that means everyone in the team is potentially a new business development manager. And that means everyone should be trained in the principles of persuasion.


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Carol Mackay

Carol’s design expertise is in making the complex simple. Her skill is in packaging complicated content into bite-sized chunks of information to be easily understood and digested. 2018 is a big year for Carol. Thirty-three years after founding Mackay Branson design, she is moving from client-focused projects to use her skills with the Design Business Council, and The Design Business School.

Currently Carol is co-writing a new program for the The Design Business School. The Design Studio Management Program is aimed at designers, design graduates and existing design studio managers to help them develop skills to fast track their career path. It is due for release late February 2018. Contact Carol for more information.