The following is a guest blog post contributed by Stewart Dunlop of Foundr Magazine
Effective communication is an important aspect of any relationship, whether we’re talking about personal or business ones. In a professional environment, open and transparent communication can help attract more customers, prevent unwanted conflicts (with both partners and employees), and promotes innovation and creativity.
However, most design companies (especially start-ups) learn early on that communicating thoughts and ideas to customers and trying to understand their needs and goals can be quite tricky. First, designers tend to use highly technical terms that make sense in their world but sound like jibber-jabber to a non-designer. As a result, the customer may get frustrated and this can lead to unwanted frictions.
Moreover, designers also get frustrated when they see customers don’t understand the importance design holds for their business. After all, you’re not just creating the graphics for their site/page/social media account; you’re trying to create a virtual presence for the company, and this requires a lot of thought and careful consideration.
Still, it’s important to keep in mind that customers hire you because they know they lack experience in design. So, you, as a professional designer, should be the one to extend the olive branch and try to find better ways to communicate your thoughts.
For this, we put together a few guidelines and tips that may help improve your communication and get you more customers.
You are the expert & they need you
Customers who consider hiring a designer already know they need an expert.
They may have pre-conceptions and prejudices vis-à-vis designers (or IT guys as some like to put everyone in a broad category), but it’s important to keep in mind that you’re the expert and your advice matters.
According to Foundr, it’s important to walk into a consultative mindset and forget about closing the sale. This way, you take the pressure off your back and allow yourself to relax and gain a new perspective when communicating with a possible lead.
Provide useful advice (as much as it can be offered in a meeting) and give your expert opinion in terms that a non-technical person can understand. From this position, you’ll project confidence, which shows you know what you’re doing. In return, the possible customer will be impressed by your poise and extended knowledge, which can very well lead to a closing.
So, by not going directly for the sale, you increase your chances in winning the project for your company!
Understand their business
In order to translate your customer’s mission, goals, and wishes in design, it’s important to understand the business itself.
But it’s not just about the factors mentioned above; in order to create a top-notch visual impression, you should understand why their business is better than the competition. Find the elements that make them unique on the market and highlight why their possible customers should be interested and tempted.
Use verbal & visual communication
Words are amazing when it comes to communicating your thoughts and wishes. However, when it comes to specificity, the design world doesn’t do that well with just words. Terms like “bold” or “sexy” can have different meanings for different people, which is why you must bring visuals into play.
Ask the customer to talk about designs that inspire them and even provide you with examples that you can use to understand what they have in mind. These designs can be anything from a competitor’s site or flyer to an entire campaign.
Also, make sure to do the same when you’re communicating your thoughts and ideas. Always be prepared with a visual demo or sketch that lets the customer understand your vision. And remember – the first 30 seconds of your presentation are the most important seconds of your presentation.
Customers like to feel in charge of their projects (which is natural), so make sure to provide regular updates and keep them on the loop.
For this, send them weekly or bi-weekly emails with the progress of your work and print screens, asking for their opinion (where it’s needed). This shows the customer that their project is well taken care of and you don’t dismiss it as unimportant.
Keep in mind: a lack of transparency in this department can make a customer feel frustrated and ignored.
Ask & answer questions
Good questions (on the topic of business and design) improve the conversation and show you are interested in doing a good job. However, you should also bring something to the table and provide knowledgeable answers when the customer reciprocates with their own questions.
By asking questions about their business and regular workflow, you have the chance to uncover details that are important from a designer’s point of view but may escape the customer. Also, don’t be afraid to show you don’t know or understand certain aspects.
Accept negative feedback
We know, it’s difficult to have your work torn apart by non-design people.
But it’s important to understand why the customer doesn’t like your work without being condescending towards them. Learn to see your work through the eyes of the customer and it will be easier to keep the communication smooth and positive.
Of course, if the communication becomes toxic, you are within your right to ask for a break or to change the contact person.
However, it’s crucial that you don’t take the situation personally and ask for details on why they didn’t like a certain feature. Once you have the opportunity to understand their reaction, it will be easier to know which path to take.
We know there are customers and customers! Some will be a breeze to work with while others will wake you up in the middle of the night because they’ve changed their mind about the colour of the footer.
Now, the secret in implementing an effective communication strategy with your customers and leads stands in learning how to choose the people you want to work with. This is why you need to learn that communication is not just about Skyping or exchanging emails. It’s also about body language, expressing unconventional ideas, and watching out for various reactions.
At the end of the day, the success of your design business depends on the type of clients and projects it attracts, so make sure you put out positive vibes!