All businesses (profit and non profit) rely on sales and marketing to survive.
After finishing studies at University in Australia and promptly started my first job, I never really understood the value of selling. There was no class dedicated to teaching how to sell or how important it is. But know this – at some point in your life you will be required to sell – sell yourself, sell for someone else and sell what you do.
I have never attended a sales course or read any books on selling. I don’t know why, but I always thought of selling as something cheesy or cheap. It always seemed to me that a sales person, with an obvious approach, was always trying to force you to buy something.
I did complete 4 years of theater training which has helped a little in terms of stage presence and voice projection. But more importantly, I have spent a lot of time (and continue to do so) observing how people across all walks of life present, share and communicate what they do. For example, when I go to a conference, I will listen to the subject presented but also look at how the speaker is engaging the audience. I will look at how much they love their subject. Are they passionate? I will look at whether they are over selling or when they are able to adjust on the fly. The best presenters, consultants, writers, experts, leaders, designers, Doctors, managers, comedians, late night show hosts and business people to name a few, are all people who can sell themselves clearly and effectively to further their ideas.
So what I have seen and learned from watching people? What makes a great sales person? Great sales people:
- Are passionate about what they are selling – they love the subject matter and when they talk about it, you feel embraced by their energy. You want to be around them.
- Are informed and current – they are people who are reading up on the latest and greatest and like to share their knowledge.
- Communicate clearly – they know how to get to the heart or sweet spot of what they are selling so people can understand it. They avoid jargon.
- Are honest – they don’t make stuff up and if they don’t know the answer to a question, they say “I don’t know”. But they do find out and its their honesty that helps them form stronger relationships with the people they meet.
- Are focused – they stick to a few ideas or concepts and find ways to explain these clearly to people they meet.
- Have real goals – these may be sales goals i.e how much stuff they want to sell, but may also be larger goals that pertain to growing a community of interest, bringing people together, getting themselves and people around them motivated to do more.
- Are trustworthy – people trust them and have networks of trust. So when they introduce people to other people in their network, there is an inherent trust and value in those connections.
- Are connected – they know people who can help other people. They value and protect their network. They do not network for the sake of networking, handing out hundreds of business cards. Nor do they grow their network for the sake of growing their network.
- Go beyond and reach out – they go beyond comfort zones, their own communities, reach out and think about things holistically.
- Are open source – they don’t shut down ideas or people. They are open to ideas to help inform their own ideas. They create environments where people feel comfortable to express their needs, concerns, excitement towards something more than themselves.
- Are storytellers – they like to tell stories to help make people understand concepts towards their sales goals. They engage.
- Know when to speak and when to shut up – they know when to present a story and when to listen and learn. Yes, there are times when you don’t have to be the one shouting the loudest in the room.
- Tweak and learn (repeat) – they know how to pilot their story and continually improve it along the way. They know the way you sell now will probably change in the next year. The tools you use to tell a story will probably also change as the business and social landscape changes too.
- Are human – they are able to be themselves and make others feel comfortable too. They are able to make fun of themselves and also know that its OK to make mistakes. That its OK to fail.
Does any of this sound familiar?
If so great! It means you are already selling yourself or your team or your profession.
In 1998 I was working for a usability team in Australia and decided to stop and take time to travel and explore the world. So, like many Australians, I put the backpack on and off I went. My last stop before going back to Australia was Hong Kong.
When I landed in Hong Kong, I started looking for jobs in usability. The problem was there were none. In fact there was no Usability/UX/IXD community or industry to speak of at all. Hong Kong was in the middle of the Internet bubble and people did not seem to care too much about what it meant to improve product and services experiences. It was more about getting rich quick though VC and start ups.
So, one day while standing over a whiteboard together with my partner, Jo Wong, I started drawing a systems lifecycle diagram to talk to Usability and User Centered Design. I wanted to see if we could morph our business (doing small scale web design and development at the time) into something else. I explained Analysis, Design and Testing and a few Usability methods that lived in each stage. Jo understood some and at other times she zoned out. Was I selling? Yes, I was selling. I was pitching a business idea. I was selling the idea of starting our own Usability business. We were at the early stages of putting together our first sales pitch and business plan on what it would take to sell Usability to Hong Kong.
Our first Sales Kit
We had no sales team, no business development manager and no sales plan. I had only really consulted inside a company, done some training and this was usually to project teams who at least had some interest in the Usability team’s offerings or were made to. I was never really required to sell to anyone outside of that? So what did we do? We put together our first diagram to explain what we do and added it to our sales PPT. We LOVED this diagram and used it for many years. The problem with it though (apart from what you might think about the methodology or design) is that its full of jargon. We were confusing some of our prospective clients with our own industry speak and we did not even know it.
We all speak our own jargon! It happens all the time in discussion lists, conferences, books and articles. In fact, we love speaking our own jargon so much that at times it seems we can’t get enough of it. We like it, because it feels safe. I liken it to watching Doctors get together in a safe haven to talk medicine without having to deal with their patients.
Shared Language of success
Our community is frustrating at times using terms like UCD, IXD, IA, UX, CX to name a few. It’s not surprising that at times our buyers don’t know what they are buying. I appreciate the need for definitions and pursuing these conversations (it’s important towards clarifying understanding), but we should also be working on a “common vocabulary” towards helping ourselves sell what we do more effectively and helping our clients reach product success.
We all have our own language – Engineers talk their language, Product Managers talk their language, Designers talk their language; perhaps it’s not about convincing people to use your language but about coming up with a shared understanding of what our shared end point is towards success. What are we all building towards?
What does all this have to do with UX?
I don’t know what % of time is dedicated to sales in business, but there are situations where it is critical if you want to be successful in UX:
- Selling what we do – selling what we do to people outside and inside our field. Do they understand? Are they inspired? Do they get it? What language are you using?
- Planning what we do – developing research plans to help our customers create better stuff. Do they understand what is in the plan? Do they understand the end result?
- Showing what we have done – selling our results and communicating the improvements. What will you use? How will you present? How will you persuade? What do you want to leave people knowing after you present? Note – not everyone will fully understand or appreciate what you have done and depending on who you are speaking to you will need to provide additional background.
- Doing more of what we do – communicating next steps. How will you sell more of what you have done? Have you done enough to demonstrate value?
- Sharing what we have done – communicating with peers about our projects, lessons learned and how to tweak our language so we can reach beyond our own comfortable UX communities.
We all have to sell to and work with different organizational and market cultures who all with different levels of receptiveness to our message. Some organizations are more ripe to the UX message than others. There are “cultural patterns” that indicate healthy interest in UX and show that people are buying into UX:
- Management is using the UX lingo – terms like User Experience or Customer Experience are being used in presentations to stakeholders or shareholders.
- Hired a Director or VP of UX – this does not always promise UX success because it often depends on how savvy that person is in promoting and selling their team services. But it at least shows some organisational commitment to what we do.
- Usability testing of products is a given – some process is in place for critiquing products and services with customers. There is a constant flow of customer feedback being embraced and fed back into Product Development
- Money is flowing to bring in new UX’ers – budget has been allocated to grow UX in the organisation. The UX army is growing.
- Product managers claim that UX is a strategic advantage – some form of UX involvement has helped them improve their products, make more sales and make them look good. They are also selling for you.
Lead with language that works
This is the signature I attach at the end of my emails:
Principal Usability Consultant
Apogee Usability Asia Ltd
Usability in Asia
The Usability Kit – www.theusabilitykit.com
Is Usability the best term? Do we need to revisit the language we use? Probably yes. What term should we be using? I am not sure yet. But the point is, use language that your prospective clients understand. Lead with what works in your market. Lead with what you are comfortable with.
Uncomfortable situations, taking the lead and when its time to stop selling
Sometimes life puts you into uncomfortable situations and force you to adapt and change. If I would have never moved to Hong Kong, I would not have understood what it means to sell UX in another market. What it means to sell outside of an organization. I would never have reached out beyond Hong Kong to UX communities around the world to learn more about their successes and pain points.
Don’t be afraid to take the lead in your own market. But also try to remember that you are also representing and growing the UX field. The more people who know what we do and the value of what we do, the better for everyone.
My wish is that I no longer have to talk about selling UX in 2-3 years time (maybe less). Why? Because everyone will already know our value and people are buying more of it.
What Is Your Goal?
Here’s the good news: We’re seeing trends like innovation, design thinking, mobility, gaming and terms like customer experience that are having a positive impact on what we do and helping sell the UX story. I will leave you with some food for thought.
- What is your goal?
- Where do you want to be in a few years’ time?
- How can your approach to selling UX help you get there?
I look forward to an ongoing discussion with you and to learn from your successes and failures.
Want to hear more?
Daniel Szuc is presenting on “Selling UX” at UX Australia 2009 – a 3-day user experience design conference, with inspiring and practical presentations , covering a range of topics about how to design great experiences for people. It will be held on 26-28 August 2009, in Canberra (Australia).
Photos by Logan Cyrus