As designers, we’ve all been trained on how to design a space or build a bathroom, but if you own your business, it is likely that you were not taught how to sell your work. We need to understand from client’s perspective—they don’t like to be sold to, but they like to buy. In most cases, the client comes to you because they are frustrated and the number one reason clients don’t buy is because they are confused. Some additional reasons include:

  • They think it is too much money.
  • They wonder if they should explore other options.
  • They fear they didn’t cover all the possibilities.

As designers, we need to be empathetic to what clients are going through. The biggest kicker is to sell the problem you solve, not the products you have. In this post I outline the seven steps of a successful sales approach in interior design.

McGill family room

1. Build rapport and establish trust

Did you know that 70 percent of consumers base their buying power on the way they are treated? I learned a big lesson here—all decision makers need to be at the introductory design appointment. Often, one partner in the household is involved at the beginning of the design process and the other half leaves it to them. The downfall is that you are not able to create a connection with both up front. I start the connection exercise at the first meeting. If casual elegance is your vibe, create an experience that shows your secret sauce, your thoughtfulness, and your kindness.

Next, we designers need to connect with our clients’ why. I often find myself saying “tell me more” and I save the flowery conversation for later. When making a purchase, what is more powerful—emotions or logic? Logic justifies the purchase, but emotions gets the deal done.

And while designers love the story of a piece, most of our clients are less about the content of a hand-woven rug from India and more about how it feels under their feet.

When connecting with our client, it’s great to have a sense of humor—it starts to disarm them. And, when communicating with clients, I use the “feel, felt, find” approach. It goes like this. “I understand how you feel, Susie felt that way too, but I found….” This forces designers to find common ground with clients and mirror their posture and speech pattern.

80 percent of sales are lost because the salesperson failed to establish an element of trust and credibility—and trust and credibility is based on what we say. It is paramount to create an emotional connection with your client right away and present your solution. We are selling the lifestyle that our solution will provide. That is the end goal.

For example, recently our team had a client call inquiring about assistance in a new high-rise residence she just purchased. During my conversation with her I learned that her husband just passed away, there were tears on the phone and I reassured her that with our processes, we could take this daunting task off her plate. Yes, we won the job!

2. Qualifying and Asking Questions

I use the BANT Method: Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline.

B: Is your budget appropriate for this project? If not, when do you expect to have the appropriate budget?

A:    What are your decision-making and sign-off processes?

N:   How are you presently handling this challenge? What do you expect differently from our design firm?

T:    What does your timeline look like? When do you need this solution implemented?

These BANT Method questions qualify your new client for next steps and determine if they are okay with your process. It ensures they understand the timelines and methods on how your firm collects money.

Ask potential clients what do you want us to solve? I don’t think we ask this enough. Go ahead and ask it then you can refer to solutions as the meeting goes on.

3. Build Value

They may just want you to solve a problem and not be in the weeds of the process. Let’s figure out what type of client they are. Designers need to focus on the result—what is most important to the potential client in this process? How are you different from your competitors? Don’t be shy and use examples! Show your abilities by creating a pitch deck to showcase your services and your work.

4. Create Desire

Your goal is to make clients want what you can provide. Explain the benefits of how your design team selects custom art, curates bespoke items specifically for them, and how you follow a seamless process. This is where we dip into emotional selling.

Quite often, they don’t want a new kitchen, they want the emotional aspect of what it feels like to be cooking in that brand new kitchen. What emotion will surface as they drink their glass of wine while trying a new recipe? These emotions drive purchasing decisions.

For example, I recently visited Stay Bungalow in Austin, Texas. The location creates a desire the minute you walk in and it was the way it made me feel that created my desire.

5. Overcoming Objections

I always recommend that designers never address questions one at a time. Write down all of your clients’ questions, ask if there’s anything else, and circle the one this is the biggest problem in your eyes. Then here comes the hard part and you have to ask, “If I can answer all of your questions, are you ready to buy?” Let there be awkward silence—be quiet. All decisions are made in pain versus pleasure—more decisions are made to avoid pain than gain pleasure.

They will have objections like “we want to go home and think about…” and you wonder what do they want to think about? Your goal is to get whatever their issues are on the table to talk about. Saying, “You seem a little hesitant and you might have some concerns” opens up discussion. You can also start by saying, “There is something you are not comfortable with” and approach each roadblock by addressing their concerns.

A common pricing concern that designers hear from clients is, “I didn’t think it would cost this much!” I believe that it is the same reaction to shopping for cars, does the cost prevent you from buying your dream car? You can take things out, but never lower the price.

How do you know that your pricing is competitive? I’ve taken the guesswork out of this by using Studio Designer to run my business. The task of creating detailed profitability reports on the platform allows me to see how much margins I am making in each sales category. Data drives my decision making, so I can tweak pricing based on these outcomes.

Here is my recommended response to clients with pricing concerns and you should write it out like a script, “You know, many of my clients say that because this does cost a bit more than most would expect.” Acknowledge, but know that this is a buying signal—if they want to talk about price that means they want to buy and they want to buy on their terms. Then get back to working the sale and continue to be enthusiastic!

6. Closing the Sale

Be confident! Don’t be afraid to ask for the sale as only 14 percent of consumers consider low price to be the primary purchase decision. Mercedes, Starbucks, and Neiman Marcus would not be in business if that was the only factor. What can we do differently as designers to assert our value?

Be confident and twist the language to—are you ready for us to send the proposal? What happens when a client sits on a proposal and you hear crickets? There is too much time is between the offer and the sale. By using Studio Designer’s Client Portal, the client receives real time access to your proposal to make changes and decisions, pays through the portal, and you are ready to order all in the same day. By shortening this time frame, the firm is more profitable by shortening the buying process and in turn, they can turn projects faster!

Remember, you are solving a problem by creating a solution. Our job is to determine what product will work best for our client.

Here are some ways to kill a sale: being too anxious or pushy, seeming insincere, and not listening. Keep this in mind always.

7. Follow Up After the Sale

Always follow up. I like to send a handwritten thank you note to nurture our relationship. In the future, a phone call is wonderful to restart the sales cycle and have them become a customer again.

For more information, feel free to join The Gloss where I dish out more designer best-kept secrets to boost your business and increase profitability.

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All interior designs by Traci Connell Interiors | Stock image by Shutterstock