Title: Comment How to buy and sell a design service
How to buy and sell a deslgn service A recent issue of Harvard Business Review contains some advice on the buying and selling of professional services that is specially relevant to consultant designers and to the business managers who employ them. Contributed by Warren J. Wittreich, who claims experience "on both sides of the desk", the article argues that buying and selling a professional service requires an approach which is completely different from that suited to the buying and selling of tangible goods. Yet all too often, he says, the wrong methods are used with the result that industry fails to get the best out of the professional services available.
In the design field there are certainly plenty of companies whose relationships with their design consultants have been disappointing. The reason may well be due to the failure, on both sides, to appreciate exactly how the two approaches differ.
When buying tangible goods, Mr Wittreich explains, a company usually has a clear idea about what it needs and can base its purchasing decision on direct study of the product. When buying a professional service, however, there is a large measure of uncertainty- uncertainty about the quality of service offered, about whether the company's money is being spent wisely, and about the nature of the problem itself. The major goal, therefore, should be to reduce the area of uncertainty, and Mr Wittreich offers a series of do's and don'ts which should help consultants to achieve this.
The don'ts are characteristic of the methods used for selling goods, and he groups them together under what he calls the 'extrinsic' approach. Don't, he says, use professional salesmen; they seldom have the capacity to listen and are unlikely to create confidence. Don't launch straight out on an explanation of the type of service offered; "business problems should come first and methods of solving them second". Don't place too much emphasis on the reputations of individuals; this is asking the client to base its purchase on faith alone. Don't overplay the use of case histories; they can be useful but are often so over-simplified that they are likely to be misleading.
All these don'ts focus attention on the consultant's service. The do's, on the other hand, are designed to focus attention on the client's interests, and are described as the 'intrinsic' approach. Do ensure that the potential client is seen by a person of true professional competence, who will be actively concerned in the project. Do concentrate on finding out as much as possible about the client's problems - the competence of the service can best be established through intelligent questioning. Do recognise the need to establish firmly the limits of the consultant's knowledge and ability.
No doubt this advice will confirm the views already held by experienced consultant designers. But the fact that it comes at the time of a great debate within the British design profession about whether it is right for design services to be actively sold at all, makes it of special interest today.
Significantly, this question simply does not arise in Mr Wittreich's arguments; he clearly never doubts that there is as much need for skill in selling as there is in buying. But while he does not refer to the specific problem of advertising, which remains the chief bone of contention within the ranks of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers, the principles he has evolved could well provide the key to a new solution. More important, perhaps, is that the principles are equally valuable to companies faced with the problem of deciding which designers will best serve their particular needs. J.E.B.