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Aug 26

How to Sell Strategy Without Design or Visuals

How do you talk strategy on the first call? How do you get paid for thinking? How do you close the lead?

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In this episode, Chris gives Melinda advice on how to explain strategy to potential clients and how to close the lead without using visuals to explain what you do. You can demonstrate the value of thinking by talking and listening.

Melinda Livsey
Marks and Maker

— [Transcription] —


[Chris Do]: So now, we’re going to set some new benchmarks, and I’m going to give her some new tools. Sharpen those “P-shing!” Alright. Let’s do it! Let’s get into it. Alright. Fire away.

[Melinda Livsey]: You had mentioned in the last episode that I could have that whole conversation without visuals and I would like to hear how.


[C]: Okay. So here’s the cool part: once you get into the thinking stage where you can charge for it, well thinking doesn’t have to have the traditional forms that making does. So making requires mock-ups, beautiful photography, great presentations. But thinking, you can demonstrate the value of thinking just by talking and listening. That you can do. So, we’re gonna do this where I’m gonna show you how to have this whole conversation without any visuals and feel fully confident without a website, without anything, you can do this. All you have to do is tell better stories. And, make analogies. Find metaphors. So this is where I may or may not have told you to do this already, but you kinda have to read some case studies so that you’re ready to talk about a lot of different things. Wherever the conversation goes, so this is where Bruce Lee says, “Be like water.” You wanna be like water. So I’m just controlling and directing energy so that when they push, I pull, and when they pull, I push, and so I’m always there when I’m not there–that kind of thing. This is getting into the whole zen of it. The first call typically is like, “Are they even qualified to be talking to me?” And that’s the right attitude to have. Are they qualified in the sense of, “Can they afford me? Do I align with their goals? Am I vibing with them? Is what they want realistic?” Because you can do it all, but if you need it done in two days, I’m not the right person for you. And that’s totally okay. And we’re doing it without judgement. Okay? So this is kind of like, we’re going to enter into this stage where, give me this set-up, and you and I will play. How can we do this so that you feel like this is close to your experience.


[M]: Well, being that this conversation is not close to my experience, it would be just someone calling me–are we talking about, is this the qualifying call? What call is this?

[C]: Any call you want. Any call where you’re going to have to explain to them what you do without visuals. Almost all of the business that I do is without visuals.

[M]: Okay.

[C]: Alright.

[M]: Um, let’s just say it is someone who wants…it’s a start-up (because I do have a lot of start-ups contacting me) that wants to come out with an app.

[C]: Okay. Anything else?


[M]: And, they want a website, and they want branding. And let’s just say they have the framework of their app done by a developer. So now they realize, “Oh! It doesn’t look good.”

[C]: Right. They’ve done the UX part, but they haven’t done the UI part. Okay. Alright, so, do we begin the conversation at the beginning? Is this our second call–you let me know.

[M]: Uhhh, I would, in my–in the way I do it, it would be the second call after I have qualified them with, let’s say, the timeline and price, and goals. Like, the overarching goal. Do we vibe? So this would be the one, let’s say the “sales” one, like, to close the lead.

[C]: Oh. That’s very interesting. Usually I do all the closing at the first call.

[M]: Okay, then let’s make it that call!

[C]: Can we do it?

[M]: Yeah! ‘Cause I’m learning here.

[C]: So, this’ll be call “one and a half.”


[C]: Basically you’re gonna take the second call and you’re going to smash it into their first call. So what we’re looking for are kinds of micro-engagements, like microtransactions to gain trust and to build trust. So when we’re talking to them, I’m very deliberate and intentional in terms of the words that I choose and how I describe what it is that we do. Because that’s your best opportunity to establish who you are and what you’re gonna do for your client. So go ahead: Set it up! We’re gonna talk. The phone rings. You call me or I call you? You call me.

[M]: I call you because…

[C]: Right. That’s how it works. Right.

[M]: You’re gonna teach me this, right? [Laughter.]

[C]: Right.


[M]: Hey, Chris. I saw your work. I have an app and I already have the framework done and I got the UX done, but I need a website. It looks horrible, so I need branding, and…I’d love to work with you.

[C]: Great! Fantastic! First of all, thank you for calling. Before I dive into all the deliverables and things of that nature, I’m curious what you saw or why you decided to reach out to me in the first place.

[M]: Um, I reached out to you because our mutual friend referred me to you.

[C]: Oh. Kelly?

[M]: Yeah! Kelly.

[C]: Love Kelly! I’m gonna have to send her a little thank you note.

[M]: Alright, that’s great! Yeah!

[C]: Okay. Mutual friend.

[M]: She told me that I should talk to you because I was telling her about where we’re at and that I was looking for someone, and then your name came up.


[C]: Okay. Perfect. So I just want to let you know (And we’re having this just as a verbal conversation, alright? So I’m not even gonna look at Melinda. It’s just, it’s a telephone conversation.) I just wanna let you know that a lot of clients come to me and ask me to do things and I’m thrilled to do them. The thing is, I’m successful at doing these things because I have a framework that I use and if you’re open to this, [then] I would like to describe it a little bit to you, to see if it’s something that you would like to have done as well.

[M]: Sure.

[C]: Okay. Great.


[C]: So essentially what we do is we do discovery, and in the discovery we try to learn about not so much you and your company brand, but more importantly, who your customers and users are. We want to understand their pain points, their challenges…um, the jobs that they’re trying to do. What a win looks like, what a fail costs them, we want to understand not just the demographics, but the psychographics. This is what we can learn. When we figure out what they want, and we give the users what they want. We typically help our clients grow and succeed. Whether that’s an adoption of an app, or the usability of a website, and that’s really what’s driving all the aesthetic decisions that we make. Now for that, we typically charge anywhere between five to ten thousand dollars to do the strategy work itself. I say this upfront because it may not be a good fit for you. And that is exclusive of any deliverables. And then through the discovery phase, we learn about what you’re trying to accomplish, how you want to do it, whether or not you need a social media marketing campaign, all these other kind of things, and then we kind of budget together with you, and you can hire whoever you want. I get paid mostly to do the thinking part, and then whether or not you want to hire our firm to do the rest of the deliverables, it’s entirely up to you. How does that sound?


[M]: That sounds good. Do you have any idea of what the rest of the deliverables might cost?


[C]: Yes, I have a range, and, please don’t quote me on this, but if we’re talking about a website, to design and develop a website for you, based on the little that I know about you already, it’s going to be between 20 to 30 thousand dollars, including development. It will be a WordPress site, where you will be able to manage the content itself. It will be a custom theme that we build for you. Um, in terms of the identity, we can design the logo for 10K, and to design 3 pieces of collateral, usually a business card, an email signature, some–whatever else you think you need, that’s probably an additional 10,000 dollars, but I want to warn you, usually the website is the one that has the most range because of features and functions that you want to add to it.


[M]: Okay. Well, I’m interested in moving forward. What would be the next steps?


[C]: Okay. So, what I can do is I can send you a deck that will outline our process so that you have something more concrete (I don’t know if this is something that you need to share with your team. I want to make sure that everyone feels good about doing this, because once we get into the discover phase, we’ll need to align all of the stakeholders.). So I’ll send you a deck and if that feels good, it will have an outline of a budget and timeline. That would be the next step. And then we can arrange a call to go over the proposal that I send you.

[M]: Okay. Sounds good.

[C]: Is that cool?

[M]: Yeah.

[C]: Okay. You’re like being too easy on me.

[M]: No, I’m not. I’m learning. Because I’m taking…

[C]: You’re taking notes?


[M]: Yeah, I’m taking notes because I want to say that we’re essentially not doing exactly the same thing, but you’re right how you took the two meetings and you’re putting them into one. When I said “case studies,” I did mean “process.” As in, I’m showing (what I’m saying is a “case study”) is it’s the strategy roadmap that I walk them through, so I’m essentially doing everything that you’re doing, minus the proposal, because at that second meeting, they say, “Yes, let’s move forward.” Then we move straight to [the] contract and invoice. So, we’re kinda doing a similar thing except you’re condensing it even shorter, except then, there is work in the backend to do. But you use a template, I know.


[C]: We use a template and you usually shuffle around a few projects to make sure they feel like, “Yeah. These are in alignment with what I want to do.”

[M]: Right.


[C]: Now most of the time, it never goes that smoothly where I just say that and they’re like, “Great! Here’s all the money in the world!” There’s usually a little push-back here and there, and we didn’t get to explore that. But I just want to move the conversation tighter, so the next time it’s proposals, we’ll review it, and then after that it’s contracts. Right?

[M]: Yeah.

[C]: And that’s it.

[M]: Yeah, I still don’t see the–

[C]: There are no visuals.

[M]: The big advantage of…What’s the biggest advantage of moving from what I’m doing currently to what you’re saying?


[C]: Well, to be honest, if you had said that everything sounds great, I’d just send you no proposal–I mean, no work, I would just send you the budget and timeline, because you already bought in.

[M]: But that doesn’t usually happen, right?


[C]: It never happens. I’m sorry. Let me restate: It almost never happens. It has happened to use before. Where I’m literally driving in from home to work, and I’m closing a hundred-thousand dollar job in my car because I wasn’t even thinking it was a real job: “And yes, this sounds great. We’ll start the schedule Fri–I’ll coordinate with the executive team to come out to Los Angeles to come and work with you.” And I said, “Okay, great. I’ll send you a budget.” So I went in, talked to my executive producer at that time, and I said, “Hey! We need to send an invoice for an estimate, and I want nothing else except for the price.” You describe it exactly the way I say it and you put a price because, at this point, what you don’t want to do is go past the sale. Once the client says, “I agree. A hundred thousand bucks. Let’s do it.” I don’t send anything else because they might see something that confuses them.

[M]: Right.

[C]: So we would be able to skip that step. So in this roleplay, I volunteered to send you a deck that I shouldn’t have, so that was my bad. Because you didn’t even ask for it.

[M]: Right. I would normally ask for it. Yeah.

[C]: Yeah, you would normally ask for it. Yeah. I was prepared for you to ask for it, so, it was kinda in the typical scenario to…

[M]: My brain was full, so I was…

[C]: That’s okay. So that’s why I’m like, “Yeah, boom. There it is.”

[M]: Right. So I’m doing the…essentially when you’re showing them something visually, and you’re saying it to them, and possibly having a follow-up call, I’m condensing that into a meeting whereby the end of it they’re saying, “Yes. Let’s go.” And then I skip the sending of the proposal and go straight to the contract.

[C]: Alright. We might be nerding out a little bit too much here for people to understand exactly what the heck we’re doing. The point is, you should be–honestly, I could stand in a room with you, all day long, with no visuals, and still close the deal.

[M]: But you’re still having to send the proposal, with the work.


[C]: Well, if necessary, I would send no proposal. If you want me to roleplay that, I could do that, but I’m just saying: All these things are, uh, in a way, crutches. Really, your mind is what they’re paying for, so you should be able to describe what you do and how you do it. Without any visual, without any deck. The deck is just to back-up what you said.

[M]: Okay.

[C]: Alright?

[M]: I will be working on that.

[C]: Yeah, well, you already have it.

[M]: Yeah. It’s just reshuffling what, how I approach it.


[C]: Yeah. And I think, if anything, what you wanna do is describe the process in simpler, like more bite-sized pieces because the brain can only hold so much, right?

[M]: Right.

[C]: And so, only give them more information as they need it. So like, try to like, look at it like this is a block of marble, and then we make some kind of broad chips away at it, and then it kinda looks like a human, and they’re like, “Yeah, yeah. That’s what we really want. But what does the head look like?” And then you chisel away so that it starts to look like it’s a man and not a woman, or it’s a soldier, or a general, it’s old or young, whatever. So I only dive into it as I feel like it’s needed.

[M]: Right.

[C]: So the ability to expand and contract is very dynamic, so if you want more information, then I will expand it. If you don’t, [then] I close it. And it’s just being able to move and manage energy.

[M]: Got it.

[C]: Okay, now, what else do we need to talk about?

[M]: The quoting of “I’m so focused on strategy,” which is good because it set me on the right track.

[C]: Yes.

[M]: Now the pricing of the deliverables, or everything that comes after that, I’m stumbling because I don’t, I didn’t even think about that part.

[C]: Okay. That’s okay. So you’ve seen as a member of the pro-group, you’ve seen our price sheet. It’s in there somewhere. Have you seen that?

[M]: I have to look.

[C]: Yeah, it’s in there. Yeah, it’s in there. We put together an old price sheet of like, the deliverables and some of them have really big ranges like the website. Some of them are much more contained because we know what it’s going to take for us to produce a logo.


[M]: Now I’m getting all this work and a lot of leads, and now it is developing a structure to my business and systems and the process and like a very solid framework so that I can even see how much I can take on and when I need to hire people and when there’s a bottleneck, I’m in that growing pains place where I have a lot of work, but I need to know how, how can I not grow so fast that I can’t support all that work and hit the timelines and take on multiple things?

[C]: Do you feel stressed out?

[M]: I don’t feel stressed out. I feel, I feel like I’m being stretched. That hurts sometimes, but I wouldn’t say it’s stress.

[C]: Are you working into the wee hours of the night?

[M]: Yeah.


[C]: Okay, time to get help. I told you before: Do not hire anybody, but I think it’s time to hire somebody. Now, I don’t mean to hire somebody like full-time and all that kind of stuff. I think you need a roster of a couple of people that you can call that are semi-available, and you just move through those people, and they understand your process and how do what you do. Ideally right now, in the next phase of your growth for 2018, what I want you to do is to focus on doing strategy, continue to refine it, on-board clients at a higher rate, so just start to move that rate higher and higher, so now that you’ve been able to close a few of these strategic engagements at 5 thousand bucks, I would say it’s the time to move to 10. I want you to move to 10, and you’ll get a little pushback, and then you’ll just get to 10, okay? And then as you settle into 10, the next thing will be from 10 to 20. You just keep doing that, keep doubling it. When you are able to charge that much for strategy, then you can afford to hire lots of different kinds of people and you know that the deliverables are kind of relative to this strategic part. Meaning that a client that’s going to nickel and dime you at 2 thousand dollars for design work is never going to agree to pay you 5 for discovery alone. Because they don’t value thinking. So this is a great filter. This is a great qualifier. If they’re not on–if they’re not gonna come on board to do strategy with you, it means that they don’t value that kind of thinking. And a lot of you that are watching this right now, are going to say, “Yeah, I do brand strategy,” just like Melinda used to say to me. But when you really know how to do it (and I told you during that show: “One day you’ll see and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.” That day has come obviously and you see, and it’s a game changer), it changes the entire way that you think and how you work, and it almost is like you can’t do that dumb thing anymore. You can’t just move images around. You can’t just make shapes anymore. Because it seems frivolous at this point. So you’ve crossed over this threshold that you can’t go back on, which is wonderful and I’m glad to see you do this, right? So this is what (if you guys are watching), you do need to learn actually how to do this. You can’t just say the words. And the words that you use might actually be very different from the experience that she’s having. So why don’t we take a minute here to try to explain to people a little bit more finely “strategy before” and “strategy after,” according to Melinda.

[M]: Oh, yeah. It’s a big difference.

[C]: Can you do this?


[M]: Yeah. “Strategy before” was me gathering all of the questions, um, in a questionnaire, that I needed…that I personally needed to design a logo, so that was asking a lot of similar questions to what I do now, but in a completely different way. One, it was homework for my client, so it was not a face-to-face meeting, there was no trust being built during that time. I’ve definitely realized that being face-to-face with my client in the workshop meetings changes everything. They actually trust you.

[C]: And who told you that wise piece of advice? [Laughter.] Yes, I did. I did. You set yourself up, but, okay.

[M]: It’s true, it’s true.


[C]: And why does–what’s the difference when you’re doing face-to-face. A lot of people will think: “If it’s the same question, what is the value of face-to-face?”

[M]: It’s soooo different.

[C]: Tell us.


[M]: In the questionnaire, it was “the question.” And I might follow-up with their answer, depending on what their answer was if I didn’t understand…um, in the workshop, I can dig deeper into things (I’m trying to find golden nuggets). I’m trying to find golden nuggets that are, um, unique to them, unique to their ideal client, and then start making connections and so that my questionnaire before reached like, surface-level, like enough to get an “okay” logo out of it, and now we’re digging so deep that…to the things that will actually make the difference and truly connecting to the ideal client, whereas the other, it was just enough to get a good logo out of it. But it didn’t mean that it was connecting with our ideal client, so I’m able to ask deep questions, I’m able to make connections, and then I’m also able to help facilitate my own clients’ thinking, so then I see them light up because they say, “Oh my gosh! I just realized something about my business!” Or, “I just realized that I need to change my services!” One client actually changed her services, and she pivoted her whole business based off of our conversation during strategy–which that would not happen during a questionnaire.


[C]: Okay. I’m gonna show you guys an example. Melinda! We’re gonna order lunch today from Tender Greens. What would you like to eat?

[M]: Salad.

[C]: What kind of salad?

[M]: The Caesar salad.

[C]: Caesar salad. Uhh, you want bread with that?

[M]: Sure.

[C]: Okay. And do you want soup?

[M]: Yes.

[C]: Soup. And, vegetable soup is okay?

[M]: Yeah.

[C]: Okay. Now what was I doing? I was literally an “order-taker.” And that’s what the questionnaire does. It sets you up to be the person to receive direction from your client, and there was no dialogue. Okay. Let’s try this again.


[C]: Melinda, are you hungry?

[M]: Very.

[C]: Mmm. Would you like to get something to eat?

[M]: Yes, I would.

[C]: Do you have any kind of dietary restrictions? Are you in the mood for something?

[M]: Uhh, anything that has cheese.

[C]: You love cheese?

[M]: I love cheese, yes.

[C]: Any kind of specific cheese?


[M]: Umm, mozzarella.

[C]: Mozzarella. Any other things I need to know about any dietary preferences? Are you like, allergic to gluten? Are you like on a fish diet?

[M]: I don’t really like fish too much, so I like to avoid that,

[C]: Okay, no fish. So you like mozzarella cheese.

[M]: Yeah.

[C]: Anything else?

[M]: Umm…

[C]: Are you trying to achieve any kind of fitness or health goals?

[M]: Just satisfy my hunger at the moment.

[C]: So, what is important to you then is that it gives good portions.

[M]: I want really good food.

[C]: Good food?

[M]: I want really good food. Like I wanna leave there just so happy that I ate at that restaurant.


[C]: Oh. Have you ever had an experience like this somewhere else?

[M]: I have, yes.

[C]: Where?

[M] “Club 33,” Disneyland.

[C]: “Club 33?”

[M]: I remember leaving there just so happy.

[C]: What did you order?

[M]: I ordered a filet mignon. I ordered probably something with cheese. I ordered (Gosh, there was like seven courses. I don’t remember.). I just remember leaving happy. That’s what I want. I want to leave happy.


[C]: I’m curious. Was being inside Disneyland a part of the experience, or was it just–were we just talking about the food?


[M]: Uh, it was part of the experience, but the food was just overarching. But yes, it made the experience really good.


[C]: And, can we try to break it up between how much of it was being in Disneyland and how much of it was the food, like on a scale of like 1 to 10, how much of that 10 would you give out to the experience versus the quality of the food?


[M]: I think it was 40% experience, 60% food.


[C]: Oh, okay. This is very important. Because initially I thought maybe I can just send somebody out to pick it up and bring it here, but then you would be only getting 60, and 60% in my book is like a “D.” For grading, right?

[M]: Yeah, sure.

[C]: 60% is a “D.” It’s like one letter away from an “F.” Why don’t we just do this? Let’s go there. Let me call an Über, let’s get you some tickets, and let’s get inside Disneyland, and let’s just have that meal.


[M]: I would love that.

[C]: Let’s do it! Okay, and so that–I wanna stop.

[M]: Now I’m hungry!

[C]: Are you?

[M]: Yes!

[C]: It does nothing for me because I have no idea what “Club 33” is.

[M]: It’s so good.


[C]: Okay! So in one way, I’m just listening and just writing down what she wants. In another way, I’m really trying to surface what she really wants. And I’m trying to understand something. Now, I want Melinda to do this without any bias, like, trying to help me achieve a certain goal or not. In the first instance, maybe you felt like, attended to. You felt important.

[M]: Yeah.

[C]: Because I was like, “I’m gonna take your order!” And you were like, “Yeah! Cool! But, tell me how you felt about the second approach and what that was doing to you on a psychological, emotional level.


[M]: I was literally imagining myself sitting there and eating the food.

[C]: Uh-hm.

[M]: And so I was feeling already the feelings I would have when I’m sitting there.

[C]: Uh-hm.

[M]: That’s part of it–that’s a big part of it actually. I didn’t feel anything. I felt important when you asked me those questions as far as the order taking, but, I was…I was enjoying the thought of the meal.


[C]: Here’s the difference, really: First, I could’ve just gotten you something with mozzarella and you would be fine. And you just wanted to be full, so I could’ve gotten you lots of different meals, but then I got us to the perfect meal. The one that matters the most to you. And it takes time to figure that out.

[M]: Uh-hm.


[C]: And, I could have also made a lot of assumptions when you said “Club 33.” I could have stopped there and just went out and got it. And not even help you to realize that it’s actually–40% of the experience is just being there, where you smelled the cotton candy or the vanilla, and it’s Mainstream USA and it kinda helps you to relive a childhood experience, so there’s a lot of connection to memory and celebration and ceremony that we won’t get just by giving you the plate of food.

[M]: Uh-hm.


[C]: So, in the world of design, [let’s] bring it back to design for a second. There’s lots of logos that I could’ve given her, ones that she could’ve ordered and she could’ve said, “I want modern, sophisticated!” and that’s what the questionnaire would do for you. But once I enter into dialogue, I found that there is a preference when, when she can choose anything, she chooses to have mozzarella and I could’ve gotten that from lots of different places.


[C]: And then when we got a little bit close, she’s describing this certain kind of design, or something that she wants and not even realizing it, that there’s more to that than just that thing that we’re gonna make. So I’m able to surface something much deeper inside of her that gets really close to what she wants. And generally speaking, when you do that with people, they get the feels. Like, “Wow! Somebody has taken the time to kinda understand me. To really take the time to understand me.” And it takes more time. And that’s why people give you a hug.


[M]: Uh-hm.

[C]: That’s why people change their whole business models, because you helped them to realize something.

[M]: Uh-hm.

[C]: And that is valuable.

[M]: Yes.

[C]: Now, I will send you a bill for 10,000 dollars [laughter] to help you realize what that meal means to you. Is that cool? That’s the most expensive filet mignon you’ve ever had in your life. You’re like: “I’m not paying you for that.”


[C]: Now, unfortunately–or, fortunately, actually, think about this: When Melinda speaks to her next prospective vendor, she’s going to be comparing the feelings that she got versus how they made her feel. THis is why, when you do this correctly, you should have almost no competition. Because she’s going to walk away like, “Oh, yeah. I have to call these 2 more vendors to make sure. And vendor number one won’t give her a questionnaire. It’s like, “Okay, we can do it. Here’s the price.” And then, vendor number 2 might ask some questions via a questionnaire, but they’re not going to go as deep as we just did. And I think that’s one of the key things.


[M]: Right. I would also add…

[C]: Uh-hm.

[M]: That there are some clients who desire the questionnaire, and desire to dictate everything, and I know that there is a way to pivot (I have learned that)…

[C]: Uh-hm.

[M]: But, it’s not as easy as someone that does wanna be–like, that is more open to be understood. Obviously, there’s–it’s an easier entry point, but there are some clients that wanna go in and just dictate–like, the ones that just want the deliverable.

[C]: Yeah.


[M]: Like the logo, and they won’t budge from that, and those are the ones that want the questionnaire, and they want the old Melinda, and they’re not gonna get the old Melinda.

[C]: They can’t have it.

[M]: They can’t have it.

[C]: She’s gone.

[M]: She’s gone.

[C]: You make me proud.

[M]: Thank you for watching and listening to me talk about food and cheese and, uh, Chris getting mad at me for giving one line in my…my uh (What is it?) “role play.” Which I hate. Hate.

[C]: Alright you guys. Hopefully, hopefully you enjoyed this episode. Smash that “like” button and subscribe, and I wanna see more of Melinda and kinda track her progress as she continues to move up in the world. And I think probably, just (this is a pretty safe prediction) her next challenges will be to hire, to manage and build her team because she will not be able to keep up with the work. And that’s all I have for you guys, see you guys next time.

Chris Do

Chris Do is an Emmy award winning director, designer, strategist and educator. He’s the Chief Strategist and CEO of Blind, executive producer of The Skool, and the Founder and CEO of The Futur— an online education platform that teaches the business of design to creative thinkers.