A few years ago, Jennifer Bourn looked back on 10 years of creating websites and realized she had sold more than $1 million in extra web design projects. This was beyond her bread and butter work of website development. But more than a great headline about a million dollars, it’s a great lesson in how to sell web design.
Most people don’t like to sell. It can feel gross, and freelancers especially like to avoid that necessary evil. But if you understand how to sell web design, you can have a conversation instead of making a pitch.
So we’re going to cover three things you need to know about selling web design and then apply it to the sales process. For more on these insights, you can watch the “Selling a Million Dollars in Design” webinar with Jennifer Bourn.
Three Things You Need to Know About How to Sell Web Design
1. Web Design is Different Than Web Development
The first thing you need to understand is that design is different than development.
Design is subjective and emotional.
Development is straightforward and logical.
There’s certainly an art to coding, and some code is better than others. Some developers do a better job of writing clean code. But to a client, the website either works or it doesn’t.
But when it comes to design, there’s a whole range of subjective responses that aren’t a simple right or wrong. There are a thousand ways to design something, and they can all be right. How a client responds to a design is going to depend on a thousand factors, from their experiences to their preferences.
Everybody approaches design differently, and you have to navigate those waters.
2. Understand What Clients Want
Secondly, you need to understand what clients want. We’re talking much deeper than a new website or a pretty design:
- Clients want to look better than their peers and competitors.
- Clients want to look bigger, more expensive, and command higher fees.
- Clients want to make more sales and close sales faster.
- Clients want to create new opportunities without doing much more work.
- Clients want to be listened to, valued, guided, and supported.
To understand how to sell web design, you need to understand these deep desires. It’s not so much about what the design looks like, but it’s about what the design can accomplish. The more you can focus on these intangible hopes and dreams, the less you’ll be struggling over trivial matters like drop shadows and font size.
3. Know How Decisions Are Made
To sell web design, you must understand decision making. If design is so subjective and emotional, how do people make decisions?
Decisions are made with hearts and then justified with brains. We make initial decisions with our guts. Something feels right. It’s based on emotion. We usually come to that decision through a conversation, something clicks, we make a connection with the person, and we want to buy.
Then our heads kick in and try to justify that emotional decision with logic. We rally facts to match our feelings and convince ourselves it’s a smart decision, not just a decision that feels right.
So when you’re selling design, you need to lead with benefits that connect to their emotional needs and desires (what the client wants). You help them make that decision with their heart. Then you back up the benefits with features, offering logic and certainty about what they’re going to get. The brain is trying to justify the decision, so you offer the right rationale at the right time. Make them feel like they made a smart decision.
Apply It to a Sales Process
OK, so how does all of that apply to an actual sales process. Here are some tips to help you refocus your sales process and sell more design.
Talk Less, Listen More
First, stop talking so much. The biggest mistake people make in a sales conversation is talking about themselves.
No, stop talking. You need to ask questions and listen. The whole goal is to hear where the client is coming from and begin to understand their specific hopes and dreams, their specific challenges, their specific fears—so you can offer solutions that solve those issues.
If you’re doing all the talking, you can’t learn all those things. Clients also value being listened to, so this is your opportunity to listen. Be an active listener, asking helpful questions that drill down to what’s important.
A word about silence: It’s OK. Silence makes people uncomfortable, which is often why we talk so much during sales calls. But you have to learn to be OK with silence. Let the uncomfortable silence linger and eventually, the client will step in to fill that silence.
Skip the Trivial Details
A sales call is not the time to be talking about fonts and colors. That’s part of the design process, not the sales process. Don’t worry about it until you’re getting paid to worry about it.You’re not just selling web design, you’re selling expertise, experience, a process, and the results.
You want to focus on turning their vision into reality, so you need to hear about hopes, dreams, challenges, obstacles, expectations, etc. A favorite color or a preferred font choice are not any of those things, so skip them.
Prompts & Questions
To get clients talking and focused on the important details, you need to ask the right questions.
First, get the client talking about their dreams and needs:
- Tell me about your business…
- Why do you need this project done?
- How is not having this affecting your business?
- What will change if this is completed?
The answers to these questions should help you formulate your pitch. There’s pain and lost opportunity in not getting this project done, so when you deliver you’re helping them overcome those issues.
While you don’t need trivial details, there are some important details you do need to get to provide an estimate:
- Are there constraints? Budget? Timeline?
- Is content complete? Have a sample to reference?
- Who are stakeholders?
- What are the requirements, expectations?
Confirm Good News
Finally, you want to confirm to the client that you can help them:
- Yes, we’re a good fit.
- We are excited about the project.
- Here is what we can do/what we recommend.
- This is the investment (what it will cost).
Then you need to be quiet. Wait for them to respond.
Remember that silence is uncomfortable. But that’s OK. The client is either going to say yes or they’re going to express their concerns. Wait patiently for them to offer one or the other.
Be One Step Ahead
If the client has concerns, you need to be prepared to be one step ahead of them.
- If the client is worried about not liking the final product, share your process and explain how they’ll have opportunities to give input.
- If the client wants more revisions, let them know how you handle additional work or out of scope work.
- If the client is worried about how much work they’ll have to do, review the divisions of labor and make it clear what’s expected of them and offer options to get help (bringing in a copywriter, etc.).
- If the client is concerned that it’s too expensive, remind them about the harm of the status quo (you already asked about how not having this is affecting the business and what will change once it’s done). Tie this to income/profit if you can—explain how your work will pay for itself.
Finally, when you both agree, it’s time to send the client an agreement. Not a contract—an agreement that puts in writing everything you just talked about and agreed to.
At this point, it’s helpful to shift your attitude. You need to start thinking of your clients as partners. So start this new relationship with an agreement, not a legally binding contract that’s meant to cover your butt. (The contract will come, but don’t make it the first step.)
It’s easier to sell to existing or past clients, and easier to get referrals, so you want to build a relationship with the client. Make this project a partnership.
How to Sell Web Design
Ultimately, web design is about problem-solving. Selling design is simply identifying the problem.
By changing how you approach the sales process, you can be more effective and more profitable. Don’t treat web design like another commodity. Recognize how it’s different, and make more money.
Watch the Webinar: Selling a Million Dollars in Web Design
Remember to check out the full “Selling a Million Dollars in Design” webinar with Jennifer Bourn for more details and insights.