I’m sure your place of business is no different than mine, in the fact that it is almost a sport to bust the chops of the sales staff for no other reason than that they are in sales. As an office pastime, this ranks right up there with table tennis, but there is absolutely no question a quality sales team is vital to good design. Quality design doesn’t just happen accidentally. It takes work and input from multiple departments, the largest being sales. One of the first ways sales directly affects a project is by educating a customer about packaging, displays, capabilities, limitations, and the logistics of it all. This foundation will serve as the basis for many of the customer’s future decisions. Equipping the sales staff with tools to aid and standardize the education of the customer is an excellent idea, and if all goes to plan, the customer, sales, and design soon will all be speaking the same language. Projects that start on a foundation of confusion and miscommunication are tricky to get back on track. Extra effort here pays dividends. I don’t think Sherlock Holmes would have made a good salesman. However, his eye for detail and, maybe more importantly, his ability to distill down those details into a coherent story would have made him excellent at writing design briefs. These briefs are the first and sometimes the only way designers learn about the projects they work on. All the pertinent information needs to be there, but the brief should not be overly constraining. Designers are at their best when they have a clearly defined problem to solve and the freedom to explore multiple solutions. It is easy to see how directly these briefs will affect the design and project outcome. After a common language is developed and the design brief is penned, it is time for sales to sell. Above anything else, I want the concept of design to be sold. Some customers will get it or have already discovered the benefits of allowing for and planning around the time it takes to thoughtfully develop packaging and display solutions. Where the challenge lies for sales is to convince the customer who wanted a quote 15 minutes ago that all parties would be best served by allowing the time needed for development. If no time can be secured, the process becomes a scramble, and design takes a back seat to deadlines. Successful or not, at the close of the initial contact with the client, sales should have a clear set of deliverables and a timeline agreed upon with the customer. Any ambiguity here will lead to rushed designs and unhappy customers. Great ideas and designs don’t always sell themselves. Sometimes the value of a design is hard to see on paper, and it takes—well, it takes a sales professional to do what they do best. The qualities of a good design that cannot be captured on a spreadsheet can easily be overlooked by the customer, but often it is in these subtle design decisions where the added value can be found. I, like many designers, do my best to keep my personal feelings out of my designs; we are always taught to never fall in love with our own work. It’s a matter of self-preservation—harsh critiques of things you have created can feel like a gut punch. But the fact is that the best designers I know are extremely competitive and all have a healthy ego. The long and short of it is, I want my design out there, and at the end of the day, that would not be possible without our sales team. So yes, a quality sales staff is key to developing good designs and getting those designs to market. And their role continues long after designers have moved on to the next project. It is on the sales team to gather invaluable feedback from all the stakeholders and to pass that along to the team so the next designs can be even better than the last. Good sales is hard work.
Jeffrey Downs is structural design lead at Bennett Packaging of Kansas City.