Skills new business managers need.

Fundamentally, new business managers are trying to get clients to buy from their studio rather than from another …. so does that mean their core skill centres around the art of persuasion?

Apparently not. It’s actually really hard to change behaviour and using just persuasion won’t get results. Nor will manipulation, control, or deception.

Experimental psychologists identified six principles that help to persuade. and not surprisingly, they’re all centred on values.

They identified six principles of persuasion:

Principle 1: Like-minded.

It’s pretty intuitive clients are more likely to buy from like-minded people.

This correlates with our ‘What do clients want from a design-partner‘ question in our recent ‘What clients want‘ survey. Clients want to deal with designers with whom they have established goodwill and trust. 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 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, when you said you would do it, for the budget agreed.

It can also mean continually striving for a win:win situation. It’s not just about winning that project. It’s about an ongoing effort to identify where you can add value to the client’s offer. It’s about being proactive rather than reactive.

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. Infact, when asked, clients cited ‘the generic pitch’ as the thing they least wanted to see.

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.

(As an aside, 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, especially when it means access to specialist information or a skill we don’t have. Collaborating with experts gives clients confidence, and 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 to demonstrate your (brilliant) design solutions. Clients cited case studies as one of the three things they preferred to hear in a pitch, even if the project was for a different industry sector to theirs.

Principle 6: 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?

Two ways. Firstly by finding your ‘onlyness‘ — identifying your special power — what you do that others don’t. Nilofer Merchant has written about it, as has Marty Neumeier. We’ve had great results helping designers use a Personal Journey Map to turn the mirror on themselves. Get in touch if you want more details.

The second way is to actively seek 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.

The takeaway.

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. It 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. And it helps 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
  • your submissions are proactive and 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.


As always, happy to discuss further, just email.

Carol Mackay

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The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

Want more?

There are many references in this article to our What clients want survey:

  1. Do clients look at designer’s websites
  2. Do clients think designers are proactive or reactive?
  3. What clients want to hear in a pitch
  4. How clients find designers
  5. How clients prefer to meet designers

After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, I pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council I use my experience, and research, as a design mentor and coach. I help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.

The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with research, mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

An archive of my previous career is at
My current work can be viewed at and

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