How to sell Design Sprints

… instead of selling them to yourself.

Robert Skrobe
Jun 23, 2019 · 5 min read
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“Design Sprints. I make and I sell Design Sprints. The yardstick of efficient process.”

The first rule of selling design sprints is… you don’t talk about design sprints.

In fact, you don’t bring it up unless someone asks you a specific question about the process. Even then, you shouldn’t get too granular about anything.

And you may really want to talk about it.

You‘ve gotten your Masterclass certification, read the Sprint book, attended a workshop or watched enough YouTube videos to be a bit dangerous. You’re totally pumped about getting three months of work done in a single week. There’s so many wonderful things about the methodology that more and more people should know about it. It literally changes how people think.

But the harsh reality is… no one really cares about design sprints.

In fact, your target audience probably doesn’t care much about the ‘how’ in general. That interest further diminishes the farther you go up in the leadership ranks of any given company.

Instead, they want to know if you’re the right person to talk to.

  • Will you be able to recognize and identify the pain they’re going through?
  • Can you empathize and understand what they’re going through? Can you articulate that back to them?
  • Are they wasting their time by trying to explain something that’s out of your depth?

They don’t want to buy a design sprint.
They want to buy into you, your ideas and your potential.


“When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”


The Problem with Solutions-First Thinking

Any why not?

Major marketing agencies, design studios and startups have all incorporated some or all of the methodology into their product development processes. Countless examples of the design sprint process helping Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, kids, universities, the homeless and government agencies are all over the web.

But ask yourself... are those case studies and examples really applicable to what your clients need help with right now?

You need to concentrate on the pains you alleviate for your clients. You want to understand the suffering they’re going through. Until you have a firm grasp on what those pains are, you won’t be able to help them effectively.

Adopt a “problem-first mindset” with your clients before you start introducing ideas and solutions.


How It’s Done

Do Your Research
Conducting proper research on a potential client is absolutely critical to the professional relationships you’ll eventually forge with them. You need to know all about the people you’ll converse with as well as understanding the history of the company (and what others think about it). You’ll have to read up on the initiatives the organization is endeavoring on, and who their competitors are.

Focus on relationships first
Unless you already have an established connection with an organization you’re looking to do business with, the first person you talk to won’t be a decision maker. They may be chosen to scout pricing, do preliminary research on the market, or screen for viable options within their budget.

Whatever the case may be, focus just on establishing a professional relationship where you’re trying to understand what the other party wants from you, and why.

Paint a Picture
One of the most important things you can do when talking to a prospective client is to find out what they think their problems are and why.

Beyond taking notes and listening, you’ll need to guide the conversation with some questions that explore their thinking around those problems. Here are some examples to consider:

  • What kinds of issues have you been dealing with?
  • How has business been doing in the past year?
  • What are some of the top priorities coming up?
  • How do you typically acquire new customers?
  • What have you been seeing that could innovate the industry you’re in?

The ‘Why’ Conversation
If you want to surface a potential clients’ main motivation for a proposed engagement with you and your company, you should ask a series of questions to challenge their assumptions.

It’s something Jonathan Stark has termed the “Why Conversation”. As he puts it, you’re attempting to the talk a client out of hiring you while validating their rationale for seeking you out.

You simply ask variations of the following questions:

  • Why this? (Ex: Why not just leave things the way they are?)
  • Why now? (Ex: Why do you need to tackle this now?)
  • Why me? (Ex: Why not handle this internally?)

When you engage in the “Why” conversation with decision makers (the ones cutting the check), it forces your prospective client to articulate their reasons for doing this project now and with you. You’ll get a good idea of the perceived value of your involvement that you can use to write a proposal.

Write a value based proposal
Once you have their answers to both the ‘Why’ and the ‘What’ of the engagement, you’ll can create a proposal that uses client language and is based on the value they themselves have expressed.

There’s been many articles, videos and masterclasses created about value based pricing, so I won’t elaborate too much here. However, I would recommend structuring your pricing around around three main themes:

  1. A number just above your base cost that keeps you afloat.
  2. A number that serves as your best estimate for getting the work done in a reasonable timeframe. It might involve a design sprint, training, consulting, or whatever service where you can provide the most value to the prospective client.
  3. A number that represents a percentage of total revenue realized through achieving the business goals you’re aligning your work with (anywhere from 10–25%).

An excellent resource to understanding how to properly price your work comes from Michael Janda, a creative leader with more than 20 years of experience in the field. His recent video with Chris Do outlines an entire process for calculating a price for a project.


Give it a week
Once you’ve sent over your proposal, make sure you give it a freshness date. Things can change for both you and your prospect, and you wouldn’t want to keep yourself locked into something you can’t effectively deliver.

I always recommend seven days from when the proposal is sent over for review. You can float reminders before the proposal expires, but never extend the deadline. Without time pressure, your proposal won’t get the attention it rightly deserves.


Hope that helps!

Don’t sell design sprints.
Sell yourself to prospects first.
You’re what they want most.


Join the Kung Fu Writing Challenge

If you’re interested in taking the challenge, check out this article for more information: https://medium.com/dallas-design-sprints/heres-how-to-participate-in-our-month-long-writing-challenge-41ca795a5176

Dallas Design Sprints

I train individuals, teams and companies on how to effectively use the design sprint process. I also enjoy highlighting other professionals and practitioners in the field, and feature their stories here on Medium.

Robert Skrobe

Written by

I run Dallas Design Sprints, The Design Sprint Referral Network and Talent Sprints.

Dallas Design Sprints

I train individuals, teams and companies on how to effectively use the design sprint process. I also enjoy highlighting other professionals and practitioners in the field, and feature their stories here on Medium.

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