Posted in practice on January 25, 2016 11:06 am EST

3 Ways to Get Better Client Buy-In for Your Ideas

Must-read strategies to help designers make more effective pitches -- and get to the heart of client emotion and motivation.











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TAGS: business, client engagement, collaboration, productivity,


By Cathy Hutchison

Want to know why there are countless television shows and movies about the advertising world? Because we are all fascinated by the art of the pitch. Want to maximize your pitch? Here are three ways to improve client buy-in when presenting an idea:

1. Build your emotional intelligence.

Most design teams have experienced times when a client makes an emotional decision that defies the data. Rather than bemoaning the role of emotion in the process, we can learn to use it. If we improve our “emotional intelligence” (EQ for short), we can get better at structuring the process to allow for the role emotions play in decision making.

[The] ability to engage emotion with regard to decision-making often separates those designers who are skilled at leading clients and those who lose their fee in reactive loops of redesigns....

In his book, "How We Decide," Jonah Lehrer makes the case that motivation is driven by feeling, not data. Lehrer points out, “Emotion and motivation share the same Latin root, movere, which means to move.” The better we understand our clients’ emotions, the better we can present ideas in ways that engage their motivation. As the saying goes, “Logic provokes thought, but emotion produces action."

This ability to engage emotion with regard to decision-making often separates those designers who are skilled at leading clients and those who lose their fee in reactive loops of redesigns; yet, emotional intelligence skills are more likely to be taught to negotiators rather than to project managers. The good news is that we can all improve our emotional intelligence. We can take workshops or courses designed for mediators and facilitators, or read books on the topic such as "Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman or "The Paradox of Choice" by Barry Schwartz. Most of all, once we understand the link between emotion and motivation, we can present our ideas in ways that result in active decisions.

2. Don’t present the solution too early.

Once when working with a branding guru, Mark MacDonald, I was shocked that he sent his initial logo ideas in black and white. After all, wasn’t part of the scope to select a color pallet for our brand? Why were the concepts monochrome?

It wasn’t until I shared the design concepts with the team that I realized the brilliance of the strategy. Colors evoke an emotional response. By separating the form of the logo from its color, the team was able to have a much more cogent discussion about what the shapes communicated. Once the form was chosen, a variety of color options were applied with MacDonald leading the conversation about the emotional impact of the colors and why certain hues were advantageous for communicating our message.

The result? As we worked through the different elements, more and more buy-in was created within the team as we engaged the “why” behind what we were choosing. Did MacDonald have concepts for color already developed? Probably, but if he had handed us a final product immediately, he wouldn’t have built as much ownership as resulted through the discussion.

Professional mediator Ava Abramowitz also highlights the value of not presenting a solution too early in her books and classes on negotiation. Once a complete idea is on the table, the only avenue of discussion is for the client to react. By letting ideas unfold slowly, the client has time to present their own ideas while we ask for clarification. It also makes it easier for the design team to keep the conversation focused on how solutions support the mission rather than defending aesthetic elements apart from it.  continued >>