Car speedometer indicating high speed

Need New Design Clients...FAST?

crossover strategy marketing

In the course of coaching interior designers, I’m often asked: “How can I get more clients. . .fast?”

My answer is always the same: Think of what you offer a customer in terms of a product, not a service.

Sure, you need to constantly put out feelers about upcoming projects, but that process is going to be slow and rambling in most cases. You’ll have to wait for a prospective client to understand everything you do, perhaps drawing on the laundry list of capabilities you list on your website.

You may have even broken that list of services down into phases such as a “Programming” phase, a term that is apparently meaningful to some interior designers but means absolutely nothing to 90% of your prospective clients. Then there’s a “Schematic” phase (ditto) “Design Development,” “Drawings and Specifications,” “Contract Administration,” and countless other insider terms that try to break a nearly endless number of services that you can offer down into manageable chunks. (As much for the purpose of progress billings as anything else.)

Historically, this approach does lead to projects, and it sometimes leads to great projects. But, the operative word here is, “fast,” and this approach is not that.

If you want good customers fast, the first thing you should ask yourself is: “Do I make it easy for the customer to say YES! Or do I make it hard?"

From Service to Product

To make it easier and faster for a prospective client to say “Yes!” you should consider converting some bundle of the services you offer, into discrete, tangible products that someone can immediately evaluate. With a little creativity, you just may be able to bundle your most popular (and most profitable) solutions into a package that will be nothing less than exciting for new and former clients. Having a product allows you to position it to achieve the goal you most want, ranging from a Trojan horse strategy (helping you to get your foot in the door to look for bigger opportunities) to a “loss leader,” or to an actual stand-alone offering.

The psychology of how and how often you can create new offers is somewhat amazing. While you might see few similarities between your high-end professional practice and a giant multi-level marketing company like Avon, let’s think about that. Is there a difference in neuron activity between the woman who craves the latest color of lipstick and the one who craves the latest stone countertops? I don’t think so; I think the same biomechanics of desire are at work.

What Avon has learned is that product offers are typically one-and-done, thus requiring them to come up with a steady stream of new ones. The good news is that this means the very same individual who said “No” to your first three products, may well say “Yes!” to your fourth. The fact you tried something like a “Fall Refresh” three years ago and it didn't work, in no way determines whether your “Spring Refresh” will work this year.

The book that I’m drawing from for this “crossover strategy” case study, is “Avon: Building the World’s Premier Company for Women” by Laura Klepacki. It was written in 2005 so some numbers have no doubt changed, as has the CEO from Andrea Jung to Avon’s first male CEO, Jan Zijderveld. But the numbers are staggering nonetheless, including:

  • Five million sales representatives, more than twice as many as Walmart has employees worldwide
  • In 143 countries

This makes clear that one of the keys to Avon’s good fortune has been its ability to recruit, motivate, and inspire its sales representatives. But the same logic used on its agents is also used on the customers of those agents. The driving philosophy is this: “Deep down in the heart of every person there lingers a spark of hope—a secret longing to be, or to have, something more.”

Another popular saying by former CEO Jung is also worth considering: “We are not in the business of selling lipsticks through a direct-sales channel. We are in the business of changing women’s lives!”

Competitor Mary Kay became even more famous for saying, “We sell hope.”

What do you sell? If Avon can change a woman’s life through lipstick, what can you do by changing their home, surroundings, and self-image? If you can answer that question, you will be on the path to an extremely powerful positioning statement and tagline.

Remember that new stone countertop I mentioned above? That’s not really what your client wants, is it? So, why are you talking to them about color or density or surfaces when what they want is something much, much deeper? Or shallower. . . and by that I mean that a deep desire can appear superficially shallow to others, such as “I want it because Jan down the street has it. . . or because some Kardashian has it.” Sounds superficial, but that is deep for them! It is emotional. It is internal. The stone may be external and tangible, but why your client wants it is internal and intangible. Stone is cut from a quarry; desire is cut from the heart. Heart surgeons earn far more than those who labor in quarries!  It is desire, not product, and certainly not service, that will motivate and inspire your customer.

At the heart of Avon’s strategy is using a beautiful brochure to both motivate sales agents and give them a constant stream of new products to present to prospective clients.

The brochure is Avon’s store and there is nothing remotely accidental about the way it is produced. Every square inch on every page is strategically calculated. Sales by dollars-per-catalog page is a key measure within the company. And there are lots of people seeing those brochures as some 17 million are mailed every two weeks, summing to some 800 million per year! Avon is one of the largest printers and publishers in the world. (What business are they really in?)

Are you confused as to what this might have to do with you? That’s exactly why I occasionally present what I call “crossover strategies.” Students at top business schools learn quickly that it is by studying wildly diverse industries that you have a chance for coming up with a breakthrough idea. So, by all means, please read on…

Because of this whirlwind pace of brochure publishing at Avon, the pace of product development is also insane. A retail store might reset its departments twice a year and relies on its suppliers to provide a sense of what’s trendy and new. Avon has to reset its entire company 26 times a year and has only itself to count on for new ideas. To accomplish this, it invents at least 1,000 new beauty products every year.

Along with the 1,000 new beauty products that Avon invents annually, it introduces an additional 800 new products in categories such as toys, videos, clothing, gifts, jewelry ad home decorations through outside suppliers and licensing deals.

Avon’s business model forces it to come up with one new product idea after another. At least twenty a week. And perhaps the toughest challenge is that in every one of those hundreds of millions of brochures, there needs to be something not only new but newsworthy! It’s not enough to say a new product exists, but rather you must convey why it exists! That it must exist! And that “why” must match up perfectly with those deep desires you know your prospective clients share.

From the head of product development at Avon: “What makes a product a winner is when it looks unique in the brochure.”

A synonym for unique is “different,” and you have never heard me say that anything is more important to your success than being different. What’s ironic is that you most certainly ARE DIFFERENT! No two people and no two designers are the same. So the question becomes, have you done the work, the hard work, to communicate just how you are different?

And, can you create a product that incorporates that difference, a product to which customers can say, “Yes!” And can you then create another one…and another one, remembering the great sales acronym SWSWSW-N? (Some will, some won't, so what...NEXT!)

Or do prospective clients go to your website and see something that looks all too similar to the other design sites they have visited? Something all too complex and s-l-o-w?

In other words, are you unique. . . or just uniquely identical to all the rest?

Online Courses to Empower...