Open Sesame! Selling UX Services

March 20, 2006

For some UX professionals, selling consulting services is as difficult as opening a magic door without a secret password. There is no simple password that can magically open prospective customers’ minds so they can see what you can do for them. However, there are a few strategies you can use when opening a dialogue with new customers that will lead to your sales success.

Open Customers’ Ears by Opening Their Minds

How many times have you called a prospect and introduced yourself by saying something like, “I’m a user experience designer—or interaction designer, user experience strategist, or whatever other job title you use—with XYZ Company”? Do you actually believe most people understand what any of these titles mean or, more importantly, what someone with such a title does? When you call a prospect, you must quickly create rapport. If you introduce yourself using industry jargon, you quickly create confusion instead of rapport.

Joshua Seiden, President of 36 Partners, always tries to avoid talking about his services in the abstract. He told us, “I never tell a customer, ‘I’m an interaction designer,’ or ‘I’m a user experience professional,’ until we’ve had a chance to work together for awhile. Instead, I talk about the project and talk specifically about what I’ll do to solve the problem.”

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An introduction that explains what you can do for your customers is definitely a better strategy. You might say, “I work with companies who create [products of some type] who need [what you can do for them].” An opening like this clearly states how you can help a customer and provides an introduction that makes it easier for a prospect to listen to you.

Dirk Knemeyer, of Involution Studios, introduces himself in a way that helps prospects understand who he is and the range of services his company provides. He says, “Hi, I’m Dirk Knemeyer, a principal with Involution Studios in Silicon Valley. We are a digital product design firm, working with established companies and startups to help them bring their new or redesigned products to market.”

Kim Goodwin, VP Design and General Manager at Cooper, offers an alternative: “Build your brand so people call you rather than you calling them. Attend industry events, write articles, and generally get your name out there. Think of your customers as—what else?—personas who have concerns and goals that might differ from yours, and target your marketing at those.”

Why Should They Buy?

If prospects have not previously worked with UX professionals and are unfamiliar with what you do, you will first have to demonstrate why your services are worth their investment and how they will make a difference to their companies’ bottom line. Kim Goodwin cautions UX professionals, saying “We designers are idealists who think everyone should just want to make better products, but that’s not good enough for the people buying our services.” One way to show the value of your services is to quantify the value of the work you have done for other clients. Dirk Knemeyer has done just that. He told us, “We have built in proprietary methods for evaluating and validating our work, in a business sense, that has greatly increased the confidence and comfort level with business decision makers.”

Describing how he works with clients, Luke Wroblewski, Principal of LukeW Interface Designs, told us, “Designers need to explain how their solutions address business and user needs as well as how they address technical opportunities and limitations.” In his Web application design project proposals, he always includes the following statement when outlining project deliverables: “Accompanying text will be included with each set of screen designs to provide a high-level overview of the design decisions made.” By including this information in his project deliverables, Luke gives his clients an understanding of the research and the rationale behind his designs. It also forces him to rationalize and clearly explain the decisions he’s made.

It’s important to understand a prospective customers’ needs when discussing a potential consulting engagement. Peter Merholz, Director of Practice Development at Adaptive Path, described their approach: “We first spend a while probing their needs and goals. We then respond to those needs and goals with a set of methods whose benefits address those needs and goals.”

Make It Easy to Work With You

Above all, clients should find you easy to do business with. Today, being easy to work with means having quick response times to all client communications, including both voice-mail and email messages. Find out which method of communication your clients prefer. Some clients prefer that you contact them by telephone; others prefer email. Making it easy to purchase your services also includes helping your customers make the buying decision. You can illustrate selling points and increase a customer’s confidence in buying from you by showing examples of your company’s past work. When selling, Dirk Knemeyer also uses letters of reference to build confidence in his company’s work.

Luke Wroblewski makes it easy for his customers to buy by making his proposals easy to understand. His proposals are brief and use a minimum of legalese. Luke accommodates his customers’ needs by being flexible in the services he provides, so customers get to decide what services they need. He also offers flexible payment options. Customers can pay either hourly or on a project basis. He told us, “I don’t push packages on them.”

Another way to make it easy for customers to buy is to offer services that fit within their financial, time, and technical constraints. Josh Seiden said, “If a customer is talking about a little problem, I offer them a little engagement—even if I can see that there might be a big problem in the wings. I figure that we’ll get to the big problem one way or another. I also try to keep my contracts very simple. But the most important thing is to do a great job and finish the project with clients who are delighted with the work. This makes it easy to be rehired and makes it easy for clients to refer work to you.”

To gain customer’s confidence and make it easy to buy, be honest about what you can and cannot do for customers. Whitney Quesenbery, Principal Consultant of Whitney Interactive Design LLC, told us, “I’m always willing to tell them when I may not be the right person or to address any seeming problems up front. Once, this led to my getting a project because they liked the forthrightness.” Making it easy to buy also means adapting to customers’ processes. Whitney added, “I’m willing to adjust how we construct a contract so that it fits into their business better. Examples include setting a fixed price (when I can) or being willing to invoice in a certain way.”

As a consultant providing UX professional services, you can shorten your sales cycles by being clear about what you can do for customers and why they should engage you. Apply your creativity to selling and close more sales. 

President at Best@Selling

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Maura Schreier-FlemingAs President of Best@Selling, a sales training and consulting organization in Dallas, Texas, Maura Schreier-Fleming works with business and sales professionals on real-world skills and strategies, so they can sell more and be more successful in business. Her clients include MBNA, Fannie Mae, and Fujitsu. She is the author of the book Real-World Selling for Out-of-this-World Results and writes the column Selling Strategies for the Insurance Record.  Read More

Product Manager at Tom Sawyer Software

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixDr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research.  Read More

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