How to Negotiate Design Ideas with Sceptical Clients
Negotiations can be uncomfortable and draining. This is especially so when trying to sell design ideas to a sceptical client.
The bad news is that many creatives aren’t naturally skilled at negotiations.
The good news is, like design skills, negotiation skills can be learned. Here's a list of techniques to get you negotiating design ideas with sceptical clients like a pro.
Prepare in Advance
Sales negotiation keynote speaker Calum Coburn advises:
“Too many designers rush into selling their services. Yet the client doesn’t care what you know until they know that you care. So first create a relationship by investing in getting to understand your client’s challenges. They’re likely talking with you because of a perceived problem or pain point. The ideal is spending as much time face-to-face as you can muster, asking great questions that you’ve written down”.
Know Your Client
When you want to sell design ideas to a prospect, learn about the client in advance.
Research the client's business to get some insight into their possible business goals and obstacles. Work out what problems your design may be aimed at solving.
Determine Your Goals
Apart from the client's business, look at your own business goals.
What would you want to achieve by selling this idea? Would the design grow your skills?
Would the client help your business expand by accepting the design concept you're selling?
Would partnering with this sceptical client open your business to new opportunities?
Assess the Offer
Next, you may need to gather information about your client's offer.
Are there terms in the contract that you would like to refine?
Are there opportunities to make a better counteroffer? Are there ways you can claim more value?
Finally, prepare yourself mentally for the negotiations.
Ensure you’re in the right frame of mind, and write down a plan of action. Be relaxed and unhurried; otherwise, the client might think you're desperate.
While there's no guarantee that advanced preparation will win you the sale, poor preparation often leads to failure.
When you’re prepared, you’re better able to put across your points without fear of leaving out something important.
You may end up not only selling to the sceptical client but also making them enthusiastic about seeing the result.
Confidence in yourself and your skills can go a long way in persuading your client.
Work on projecting a strong belief in the value of your talent.
Avoid communicating your insecurities to the client.
In a survey polling 1,300 professionals in 52 countries, results showed under-confident negotiators have only a one in five success rate in negotiations.
Focus your team’s energy to project more confidence.
To sell your design ideas, you may need strategies to build your confidence without turning into aggression or arrogance. A few steps to build your confidence include:
- Assessing the pros and cons of the design contract.
- Analysing the client's end goals and how your design supports those goals.
- Creating a draft design with the client's business goals in mind.
- Planning your negotiation strategies based on the pros and cons of the deal.
- Asking questions during negotiations to have better clarity on client needs.
- Arming yourself with one or two counterproposals.
Confidence can be one of your greatest assets during negotiations with a sceptical client. A positive vision of yourself can communicate the value of your ideas to your client.
Listen More, Talk Less
While it’s important to exude confidence and express your value, it’s even more important to listen to your client.
Listening shows you're receptive to your client's ideas, goals, and concerns.
When you pay attention to what your client says, you can gain insights into your client's fears and desires.
Talking more than you listen can communicate that you're insensitive to the client's needs. Listening shows respect and support.
If you would like to further your listening skills, try these techniques during sales negotiations:
- Avoid interrupting your prospect.
- Paraphrase and repeat back to your client what you've heard.
- Acknowledge the client's point of view, even when you don't agree.
- Clarify discussion points by asking questions.
- Use body language such as by maintaining eye contact, nodding often, and smiling.
Show when you agree to a point. Affirming your client's perspective creates a positive environment.
Affirmations make it easier to deal with points of disagreement.
By listening more, you may get the opportunity to notice what isn't being said.
For instance, the client may be skirting around the topic of delivery timelines.
Silence on delivery dates can signal possible deadline pressures.
Write Down Agreements and Disagreements
When your client shows they are sceptical of your design ideas, they will probably tell you the reason for their objection.
Maybe the client objects to the colour choice, or the size of images, or the shape of objects, or the choice of text.
Whatever the objection is, take steps to try and understand your client's concerns better.
As sales keynote speakers suggest, start by writing down the objection.
During negotiations, many objections can arise.
It may become difficult keeping track if you don't write down the objections.
Aside from keeping track of discussion points, writing down helps clarify issues.
When negotiations are broken down into a series of meetings, it can be easy to forget where you left off the discussion.
Having a written document summarises the discussion.
The document confirms the relative positions of the designer and client.
Taking notes moves the discussion along and makes for a faster decision-making process.
When negotiations are complete, your written document can act as a term sheet or a memorandum of understanding.
When writing the final contract, the term sheet can be used to define terms and conditions.
Be as specific as possible when noting down discussion points.
Avoid ambiguous writing. Ambiguity may cause uncertainty and mistrust.
A poorly presented term sheet can be cause for further scepticism and may result in a fresh round of negotiations.
Be Ready to Give and Take
As a designer, avoid being too flexible with your fees and rates.
Even so, you can show some willingness to adjust schedules or negotiate support.
Emphasise to the client that your design ideas work to deliver the best results within budget.
On issues that you feel are negotiable, be willing to make some concessions.
Work to claim equal value whenever you give in to a concession.
Concessions should not lead to a loss of value but should improve your combined positions.
If the client asks for concessions on terms you feel are non-negotiable, one response is to tactfully move away from the topic.
For instance, if the client objects on price, you can reply: “We can discuss the price later, but first I'd like to cover a few items we hadn't spoken about”.
Steering the conversation away gives the client time to gauge your value in other ways.
Moving away from the topic can also allow you extra time to offer a plausible explanation of why the term is non-negotiable.
Reduce Client Risks
To grow your design business, you may need to earn the trust of your clients and prospects.
It’s important to make your clients feel safe on the projects you're handling for them.
Ensure your clients have a firm belief that you're working in their best interests and in good faith.
When a client knows you will not take advantage of them, they will likely feel more secure in accepting your design ideas.
Some steps you can take to reduce client risks and allay their fears include:
- Having clear written policies about your design methodologies.
- Providing guarantees.
- Offering extended support for a limited time after selling your design.
- Being accessible to your clients.
- Responding to feedback on time.
- Being transparent in your dealings with clients.
- Addressing design issues as they arise.
- Showing that you know your trade.
- Demonstrating your understanding of the client's objectives.
Create Alternative Design Ideas
A mistake many designers make is approaching the client with only one design idea.
Having no alternative designs limits the potential outcomes of the sales negotiation.
The client may feel they have only two options: saying yes or saying no.
When you present two or three design concepts, you provide an opportunity for brainstorming with your client.
Instead of a yes or a no, the client can pick the option they like best.
Another alternative is for the client to pick aspects they like in one design and incorporate them with aspects from a second and even a third design.
Alternative solutions help to break sales negotiation deadlocks.
Having alternatives works to keep your client at the table.
Viable design alternatives also introduce different aspects of flexibility.
The objections the client may have for the first design idea may not be present in the second idea.
Where the second concept comes with new objections, a mashup of design concepts can create a hybrid solution the client likes.
Negotiating is one aspect of running a business that some designers shy away from.
Working out terms of a deal and negotiating on price can be bothersome.
Even so, these aspects are necessary for meeting client needs and profitably growing your business.
Sales negotiation can increase your work opportunities and boost your income.
Agreeing on deliverables can improve the quality of your services and open your business to new markets.
Use the tips we shared to sell your design ideas to even the most sceptical clients.