How selling computers helps me selling my illustrations (part 1)

Like many creatives I worked a day job to pay the bills. Since I liked Apple computers and knew a lot about them I got a job at an Apple Premium Reseller. I worked there for about 10 years and in that period I received a lot of sales training. This training taught me some things about human behavior and mindset. A couple of years ago I realized that I was incorporating a lot of these teachings from my past into my daily practice as an illustrator. And because I think that others can benefit from this knowledge I decided to write this blogpost to share these ideas with you.


1) The first contact
When a client entered the store they had to be greeted right away. And within 20 seconds the client had to be approached by one of us in order to start a conversation.
I used to be shy and somewhat timid. Just approaching a stranger and starting a conversation was like a nightmare to me. But in a commercial environment like a store there is no room for social anxiety. The more I approached people the more comfortable I felt in starting conversations.
Lots of creatives are shy (nothing wrong with that!) and don’t feel comfortable when a client approaches them. What could be helpful in a situation like this is realizing that the client comes to you because they have a problem, just like the customer who entered the store because they needed a new computer. The client needs an illustration, a design, a photo or whatever product or service you provide. They believe that your solution (or your opinion, input or view for that matter) is what they desire. The reason why you’re scared is because you think you might not deliver what they want and therefore disappoint both the client and yourself.

The next step will give you tools to tackle this problem.

2) Identifying needs.

After the first contact with a customer in the store it was time to start a conversation. And it was our job as sales agents to use this conversation to identify the needs of the customer.
To find out what the customer needed (not what they wanted) we had to ask questions, lots of questions. Preferably open questions because open questions will give you a ton of information. After a while we would use closed questions to focus on the details. Also, during the conversation we would often recapitulate the customer’s story just to verify if we were on the right track.

As a creative you too need to start with asking questions. The goal is to extract as much information as you can in order to present the right solution for the problem and to make sure that you and the client exactly know what to expect of each other.
For instance, you need to know basic things like the deadline and what the project’s budget is. But you also need to know if the client wants to own the rights of the work and if this is a client who has experience with hiring a creative.
Sometimes a client thinks he knows the solution to the problem and tells you exactly what he desires, but still you need to ask questions to determine if what the client wants is what the client needs. Situations like these call for a professional attitude from your side. Let’s say a client demands all of the rights to the work. You as a professional know that this is a very expensive option and that a license for a limited use is all the client needs, plus he is saving a lot of money in the process. By presenting the client a counter-solution you’re not only showing that you know your business, but you also present yourself as someone who is open to work with the client instead of working for the client.

3) Think in packages, not in products.

In most cases a customer came to the store to buy a computer, iPod, iPhone or iPad. Sure, no problem but we didn’t stop there. We would often talk in terms of selling a ‘package’ or cross-selling.
A package could contain a laptop but also a laptop case, a copy of MS Office, a second charger, AppleCare or even a travel adapter kit. The information gathered in the previous step would be used to build the best package for the customer. We did this for 2 reasons. First of all, products made by other manufacturers were sold with a higher margin. But the second reason was much more important to us: by presenting a broader solution we showed the client that we would think along with them by presenting solutions for problems they themselves did not think about. Just imagine arriving at home with your new laptop and suddenly realizing that a second charger for work is also needed. Now you have to go back to the store for a second time. Fail!
Creative professionals also need to think on a much broader level in regards to your product or service. A client could ask for a logo design and you could fix this for them. But why stop there? How about a new website? Maybe also some stationary or an email-signature? Study the client’s market and try to come up with a wider range of solutions. Clients appreciate designers who will make their life easier by showing initiative. 

In part 2 I will talk about how to convince a client in buying your solution, the role of the mindset and how to deal with clients who have little or no budget to spare.
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