You need to be able to sell

Selling.

In my experience selling seems to be a dirty word amongst my fellow UX / Service Design practitioners. It’s viewed as a task done by others and something that has little to no place in what we do.

I disagree. Being able to sell is important.

Now, not exactly selling a product or service for cash (although that too is important) but being able to sell others on your ideas, your approaches, your thinking.

To get on and to make progress in what you believe to be the right way to do something, you need to be able to sell it to others.

Trying and failing

I’ve recently started a new job and early on I found myself time and time again in positions where I needed to sell others on my idea, my approach, my solution to a problem.

And time and time again I was losing the debates. I wasn’t able to effectively persuade the other person to my way of thinking. I wasn’t able to sell it.

After each encounter I reflected on how it went, commonly with others who were present. Looking at how I could’ve presented, positioned or spoke differently to achieve my desired outcome.

I keep finding myself in positions where I need to sell my thinking to others, be it Product, Engineers, Marketing, my boss. I’m picking up methods to help me sell and wanted to document some I’ve observed and am putting into practice.

Data

Come prepared with data that backs your decision.

When trying to convince someone of something you need to have a strong rationale as to why. Qualitative, quantitative, it doesn’t really matter, but come with data that supports what you’re selling.

Data makes the debate objective, not subjective. It takes away guessing, and questioning something because of personal taste or pre-existing beliefs and biases.

‘As we can see in the existing user data…’
‘We observed yesterday that users feel X when trying to complete Y…’
‘During user testing Prototype A was the favourite among all the participants’

These statements, these data points, this proof that what you’re selling is right and should be bought by others, is hard to argue against.

Know your audience

In the past 3 months I have seen my boss speak to others in the company about what we’re building and why in slightly different ways.

He takes care to tailor his story when speaking and selling it to people in different parts of the business, different locations and with different professions.

He knows his audience well enough to call out certain parts that they’ll value and that will capture their interest. He knows when to dial certain things up, and certain things down to ensure they buy what he is selling.

For example, when welcoming some new hires into the UX Team he greatly expressed the importance of good research and design and that the two were integral to the success of what we’re building.

Now the new hires in the UX Team know and believe this, and I’m sure my boss does too. Nonetheless, it was refreshing and welcoming for new people to the organisation to hear such a thing from somebody at his level.

Get them excited

I’ve found success lately if I can get my audience excited by the prospect of what I’m selling.

You need to know the audience well enough to understand what will get them excited, but as Designers, Researchers, Strategists (and everything in between) we are well placed to set a vision of where an organisation, or a product/service or a team can be in the next 3, 6, 12 months.

We can visualise ideas and desired states that communicate far more powerfully and effectively than words in a deck.

Through visual tools such as prototypes, storyboards and journey maps (and a lot more) we can get across what is possible and excite people. Using these tools help others buy into your vision and thinking.

Something else I’ve been experimenting with lately is looking at very well designed experiences and using them as examples for what we can achieve.

This works even better if you know your audience admires a certain brand or service/product, drawing parallels between what they do and what I’m suggesting we do gets people excited.

‘Airbnb solved this problem by…’
‘Spotify has their product teams set up like this…’
‘This approach is inspired by YouTube, as you can see they do X well’

Passion

You should believe in what you’re selling, and if you do so you should deliver it with passion.

If you pitch your idea, solution, approach whatever it may be in a lackadaisical manner your audience won’t buy it. They’ll begin to challenge, question and unpick what you’re proposing.

You can always expect challenges, but an idea presented with passion gets across to the audience that you care about the topic, that you’ve thought it through and that it’s the right way to proceed.

Tell a story

Lastly, communicate your idea using a story.

Stories are easier to follow and to consume compared to information being recited seemingly at random.

When there is a clear narrative, a clear beginning, middle and an end your audience are more likely to stay engaged and follow.

I witnessed my boss use storytelling well during a product demonstration to the wider organisation. He was walking through our Alpha release.

Instead of reeling off feature after feature, he told a story.

He started his story by introducing the main character, ‘Mike’, a typical user of our product. He went on to state some of the challenges that Mike was facing and how our competitors weren’t meeting the needs of Mike adequately.

He described what Mike was feeling and what Mike was thinking during his journey, pre, during and post. He used descriptive and emotive language, he got the audience thinking empathetically towards Mike.

With the scene set he introduced different parts of the Alpha and how it was solving Mikes problems. Each time he made sure to call back to Mike and how the Alpha was solving his problems.

‘Remember Mike was frustrated by X, well…’
‘So Mike is now able to do Y, something he couldn’t achieve on [competitor]…’
‘You‘ll recall Mike wanted peace of mind, X gives him it…’

Here is the user need / goal / problem, and here is our (validated) solution that hits the user need / goal / problem. It’s hard to argue against.


I’m still learning and experimenting with how to sell my ideas and approaches effectively, but I believe it to be an important skill for practitioners to possess.

I’d love to know some of your tips that you use.