DEEP INQUIRY DESIGN by Louis Postel | New England Home Jan/Feb 2012 | Trade Secrets
That’s one of the lessons even the most elite of New England’s design schools tend to skip. Good Design sells itself. Payroll just gets paid. Rent just kind of evaporates. The espresso machine repair guy may want to do a trade for services. Whacking out the credit card is bad, true…but it’s good for miles!
Maybe go somewhere and contemplate next steps…like making some bucks! How about two weeks on in a villa on Lake Maggiore — what else to do with all those miles, after all?
The problem is that even if design schools were to teach How to Make a Buck, or Sales and Marketing 101 for Designers and Architects, there’s nothing to say this course would make the grade in today’s world.
Rob Hartz is sales and leadership consultant for biggies such as Teradyne, Fidelity, and Harvard. “The traditional way to teach sales is to approach it as purely a numbers game,” says Hartz in his Littleton, MA office with its wide view of Spectacle Pond. “Think of sales as pouring thousands of prospects into thousand prospects into a funnel, chances are X % of those leads are going to come out the other end as qualified, and it’s up to the designer to sell five percent of that X %. The focus here is on quantity over quality, with commensurately huge outlays in time and energy.”
Without any coaching at all, or ever having heard of Rob Hartz, a growing number of the most successful designers and architects are abandoning the funnel approach. They’re finding it exhausting, unproductive, and demoralizing, chasing down every commission, attending every industry cocktail, friending every friend of a friend on Facebook. Instead designers are selling in a way Hartz calls Deep Inquiry: —
What is Deep Inquiry? Here’s what it’s not: sorting through thousands of potential clients with the first inquiry being “What’s your budget?”
“Unlike the numbers game, Deep Inquiry has a great deal of integrity built into it,” says Hartz. “It’s about asking a lot of questions to determine whether there’s a fit in the first place. After some Deep Inquiry, a designer may say to a prospective client something to the effect that ‘I’d prefer to sell you my services rather than you choose someone else, but I would feel horrible if this project became something you didn’t want or need. Let’s find out if we really should work together. And if we should, what can we do to create something truly wonderful.’”
Designer Tracy Winthrop of Blue Hill, ME http://www.panacheid.com/ tries to “show more and tell less.” Telling leaves a lot to chance in her ongoing deep inquiries. Big “Wow” presentations are less important than an ongoing exchange. Right now she’s working with a client in Seattle on Skype, listening to her concerns about next steps. If she’s selling, it’s of the Deep Inquiry variety. She knows the spaces from prior visits. “Now all the details about those spaces are in my head. My client has fabric samples there to touch and feel, numbered for where we are proposing them to go in the floor plan. — Now we can take a walk through and really listen to her, while at the same time sparing the expense of me going out there again. One site issue has already come up and been resolved. When I was there it happened there was one cloudless day after another, which is as I came to understand may be typical for New England, but it’s very atypical for Puget Sound. Now we are recommending some added color.”
Eileen Marcuvitz of Newport, RI http://www.pluminteriors.com/ now prefers showing ideas on her IPAD. “The photos and renderings come out in much sharper focus than color copies; they’re almost 3 Dimensional. We’re also using a program called Dropbox which allows us to put all our photos in The Cloud or right on the IPAD. We can pull up all the different pieces of a project instantly. It’s very interactive that way with clients and potential clients. They can see everything, provide feedback, as well as get a better idea of all that we have been doing so far. Conversely, when a client wants to add a clipping or other file to the project it will show up instantly on Dropbox for us to see. Not all clients can afford $1,200 dollars per room for a detailed rendering in REVIT 3-D. But it almost invariably sells the project, especially when clients have trouble visualizing space.”
Chris Drake of Bierly-Drake http://bierly-drake.com/ in Boston emphasizes how important it is to have all the key players at presentations. “The reason for this is that making decisions are tough — tough for all of us. If only one person is there and defers to another who is not present, key decisions get put off. Who wants a situation where at the end the guy’s complaining how the project’s ok — ‘but there isn’t a comfortable chair in the whole house!’ Well, the gal might justifiably reply: ‘but you were never at a meeting.’ It’s so important that everyone feels ownership,” says the New England Home Hall of Famer. “We engender that sense of ownership by making people feel excited; it’s a form of theater. After all, they are coming to our office expecting to be wowed. We don’t show boards, which is now more a function of commercial work. Soft things look fresher and less static on a table or wall; an ironed and immaculate. And with houses so much more lived in than before, those textures have simply become more important. Allow the client to truly understand what a Fortuny fabric feels like on the backside, a large sample of taffeta. Even the fabrics we choose to wear relates to the style of the client coming to our office, and the presentation itself. If a young couple shows up wearing Grateful Dead tee-shirts, we’re not going to be wearing rep ties.”
Like Drake, Designer Judy Schneider of Portland, ME http://interior-resources.me/ is in favor of presenting large fabric samples, as well as paint sample. “In fact,” she says, “I always felt the old fashioned Finish Boards were a little misleading because the samples were so small. I have found that I really need to present my ideas visually and accurately at every stage. If I am just talking, the clients and prospects are very likely to come up with something in their own mind that’s very different. That’s why it’s such an important skill to be able to do a little perspective drawing right on the spot.”
Speaking of little perspective drawings on the spot…be careful when interviewing for a job at Meyer & Meyer’s bustling Boston office. “When prospective employees sit down, I ask them to draw me by hand while we talk,” says John Meyer. http://meyerandmeyerarchitects.com/
“That’s because we look for people capable of going back and forth from high tech to traditional forms of presentation. We have been using ArchiCAD 3-D software for years, but it’s mainly for ourselves. It allows job captains to track 5-7 projects all at once, allowing them always gets the views they need. But raw CAD’s not to sell clients on an idea. Color and detail represent at least ½ of what a space ends up looking like. CAD by itself is just too generic — too ugly — like walking someone through a Ramada Inn.
“We need to add the detail and color by hand. Fine contractors are more interested in the quality of the work than money, but there are always the ones who like CAD because the nature of the program boxes the architect in. It forces us to commit early on to using very specific materials which may not be very creative, but it makes the contractor money. However, even the most meat- headed builder can be amazed by our hand-drawn or water-colored renderings overlaid on CAD. We give them the technical drawings as well, but it’s the renderings that sell them on the project just as much as the client.”
William Hodgins gave Jeanne Finnerty a little drafting quiz when she applied to the famed designer’s Back Bay office for a much sought-after job. It was 1990, the middle of another recession. Hodgins was offering steadier work than her then current employer: the legendary architect Al Columbro. After five years with Hodgins, Finnerty is flourishing as an independent designer based in Charlestown. Nominated to be the next President of the American Society of Interior Designers/New England, she remains the only one on the ballot.
“Back in 1988, Al Columbro was doing all hand drawings like most firms, a lot of sketches for our presentations,” Finnerty recalls “But one day he came to the office with a different idea about presentations. Dressed in black from head to toe. ‘I am just going to intimidate my clients instead!’ he announced. He was quite a wit. For my own client presentations, I usually start with a CAD drawing under tracing paper, hand-sketching over that with a Pilot rolling-ball pen, or colored pencil. Then I scan it. I’m finding the tracing paper looks better scanned than copy paper; there’s a translucent quality to it. Colored pencil goes on a bit easier on trace paper as well. And yellow trace seems to work best of all.”
Deep Inquiry as opposed to Numbers Game selling, of course, has its risks. Finnerty is hardly alone in occasionally seeing a finished project looking uncannily like the design she proposed — executed by someone else! But that has hardly dampened her willingness to ask the important questions: Would it make sense for us to work together? How can we create something truly wonderful?’”
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
Shoe leather worn thin from shopping? Check Boston designer Ken Dietz’s new online boutique for tightly-edited, gorgeous stuff: A pair of mirrored armoires with silver and gold leaf accents, a Donghia commode inspired by Palladio in satin-finished teak, a black turned end table, a clear and red glass Murano horse… “The site brings to life my vision of making elusive treasures accessible to everyone,” says Dietz. www.market27.com.
The duchess-like spindle candelabras on Dunes & Duchess look ready to curtsy 21st Century kings: www.dunesandduchess.com
Or take the limo to the Source at Reconstructure in Providence. Designer Lisa Foster “cabinet of design curiosity,” is opening close by the RISD Art Museum. www.sourceatreconstructure.com
Sporty Mahmud Jafri remains a charismatic figure in his native Dover, MA where his family started out in the rug business years ago. Now thanks to his latest showroom in Natick, Jafri and his thousands of best friends can work, shop and play all a single 30,000 square foot location: Dover Rug and Home and Dover Squash and Fitness can both be found at 721 Worcester Road, Route 9. http://www.doverrug.com/
One of the genius strokes of Howeler Yoon architects new waterfront headquarters of the Boston Society of Architects is that it draws people off the street from a location on the second floor. Details will be published here soon, but, meanwhile, let us know what you think. Were you enraptured? http://www.architects.org