Selling what we do

How should we start selling ourselves?

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.

Ripe organisations
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:


Daniel Szuc
Principal Usability Consultant
Apogee Usability Asia Ltd
Usability in Asia

The Usability Kit –


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.

  1. What is your goal?
  2. Where do you want to be in a few years’ time?
  3. 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).

Thank You: Steve Baty, Gerry Gaffney, Paul Sherman, John Rhodes, Josephine Wong, and the UX community in all its forms for helping to promote a worthy field.

Photos by Logan Cyrus

Daniel Szuc

Daniel Szuc is a Principal Consultant at a Apogee Usability Asia Ltd, based in Hong Kong, and previously worked on a usability team for Telstra Australia.

26 comments on this article

  1. Pingback: Daily News About Australia : A few links about Australia - Thursday, 21 May 2009 15:06

  2. Dan,

    What a great article! (But of course!)

    It’s a little strange, and egocentric feeling, to read down your list and say “check, check, …” But oh so reinforcing and encouraging. Thank you, as many of us have, for putting so well things that many of us have floating around inarticulately in our heads.

    So, the one thing that I (along with many others) am trying to figure out somewhat and you circle in your article: how do we further and more pointedly promote the knowledge of the need for UX-ish services? How can we encourage the ripening? How can we steer toward that point at which UX doesn’t need to be sold as a new concept, but rather, like architectural design, a company just has it on the checklist of the right things to do for a new product/presence/service?

    I feel like we as a community haven’t grappled with this enough to feel like we even have specific things to try except 1-2-1 conversions and a few watered-down success stories here and there. Yes, the things you mention are generally moving us in the right direction, but I feel rather insecure about that for some reason. Can’t we do more?

    Thanks again. You are a wonderful person to have along on this journey.

  3. Thanks for the kind words of encouragement Phillip and posting your thoughts.

    We can certainly do more as a community but will wait until we hear some more comments before I post more thoughts.

    In the interim here are some links that fueled some of my thinking:

    * Building the UX Dreamteam –

    * The 3 Steps for Creating an Experience Vision –

    * Does User Experience Need a Department? –

    * 10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design –

    Peter Merholz from Adaptive Path has also recently written some great pieces at Harvard Business Publishing – (I like the way he writes and the language he uses to market perhaps to an audience outside of our community)

  4. Great article Dan, especially informative for newcomers like me. As for learning about the technical details of usability, as long as one has the passion and determination to study the field, there are tons of online resource, groups and conferences readily available.

    But in terms of selling the service and make a living on it, I’m pretty curious how it’s being done, especially in HK/China where the culture is still catching up with the concept of UX. I think that leads to the same issue that Phillip pointed out, that is how can you educate the corporates and let them know that UX can play an important role in their business. More specifically, how can you convince the CEO to pay for UX development. Nonetheless, I remain optimistic in the future of this industry, and I’ll keep preparing myself for future opportunities.

  5. Thanks Calvin.

    ” … how can you educate the corporates and let them know that UX can play an important role in their business.”

    Yes and some factors:

    “Pain points” – If business is not feeling any pain, or face limited or zero competition or they don’t see a need to improve the design of their products and services they won’t. If revenues and profits continue to come in independent of a nice user experience – why change?

    “Priority” – Does “user experience” play a role in the over company and product strategy? Do the Executive team care?

    “Culture” – Who is educating, creating, nurturing, selling in a culture of UX. Who is passionately embedding UX thinking into products and services in the organization?

    “Leadership” – Who is leading UX? Who is talking about it? Who is making it part of the corporate strategy? Who is talking about why its an important part of corporate strategy?

    Some quick thoughts to further the discussion …

    What other factors play a role where UX is working well?

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  9. Jeremy on

    Love it! Thanks for pointing this out to me. It shows me how much I still have to learn. It’s easy to get caught in jargon, or as my old boss used to say “believe your own BS.”

    Well done!

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  13. Thanks Jeremy and I also forget how much jargon we speak in the User Experience, Design and Usability worlds. I am keen to learn more about the language of Product Management as they seem to be a key buyer of UX services. So what makes them tick? What constraints are they under? What ways can we help them improve their portfolio of products? Need to think about this some more 🙂

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  15. Great article! We are definitely in need of learning to promote ourselves and “sell” our skills if that be as in-house teams or as outside consultants. It’s quite a challenge in economic downturns but it also forces you to really think hard about what you do and why you do it. Thanks for sharing your ideas on how to do this. Also another person to check out is Whitney Hess. She is really helpfin UX folks learn how to promote themselves. She did a great preso at IA Summit 09

  16. Thanks Madonnalisa and its interesting to think about our positioning organizationally and how we all impact product thinking and strategy.

    I often wonder why we are not always positioned the way UX should be across an organisation (up front and helping to drive insights towards the making of better things) and be interesting to dig into the community thinking on how the UX profession could improve this and nurture leadership.

    So perhaps we can see more UX folks move into both Management and Product Management roles?

    Or perhaps we need to do a better job of reaching out outside of the UX spheres and increase our marketing efforts?

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