How my sales experience made me a better product designer

Illustration from Freepik Stories

Before transitioning into the world of UX design, I worked in sales for nearly 6 years. My longest role was as a sales representative for a yearbook publishing company. Schools were paying for our printing service and design software, but they would decisively buy me as their sales rep for my ability to support their needs. By providing great customer service with my sales, I earned company awards; Top in New Orders and Top in New Volume in 2017 & 2018. Though I enjoyed my time selling products & services, I’m more interested in creating the products that serve user needs.

These are the four concepts that helped drive me as a salesperson and now as a product designer:

  1. Have empathy for people
  2. Analyze their needs
  3. Provide solutions
  4. Love the product

Have empathy for people

In my time as a yearbook rep, I worked with a lot of inner-city Los Angeles schools. Many teachers were forced to be in charge of the yearbook, taught classes with minimal resources, or just weren’t tech-savvy. In these scenarios, they had a tough time making their yearbook program work. As a sales rep, you learn firsthand that every client has unique roadblocks and goals for themselves. Some schools wanted to make a journalistic, award-winning book while others would be happy if they had pictures on a page. I took the time to listen and understand their real-world scenarios and not make assumptions that generalized the problems they went through.

With UX design, showing empathy for users is served by designing with the user in mind. You have to realize that you are not the user and instead do the research on how users coming from different backgrounds could be using your product differently. Allow users to show you what they want by undertaking phases of research and testing. Find out how they classify things with a card sorting test or see whether things work how they expect in a usability test. The main thing is knowing that you don’t know everything on your own. The best way to learn what to do with your product is by understanding from the viewpoint of your users.

Analyze needs

“Would you sell meat to a vegan?”

Some basic human needs seem obvious. A hungry person wants to eat, but what if they’re a vegan? What if they have celiac disease and can’t eat gluten? To hear a problem and assume you know the right solution right away is a quick way to lose someone. It’s important to take time to analyze needs before solving them. As a yearbook rep, the first step to learning about a new school was always the “Needs Analysis.” Find out what needs exist and also find out how they prioritize them.

In the UX world, it’s necessary to compare user needs to business needs and discover any technical constraints. For instance, if a yearbook teacher wanted the ability to pick from 1,000 fonts; the business would have to license 1,000 fonts and developers would have to add it to the system. However, is this need necessary or could the user be satisfied with 200 fonts to make it more plausible for the business and development team?

It’s not enough to listen to the surface-level need, it’s important to delve deeper and see how logical and critical these needs are before we work on solving them.

Provide solutions to their needs

“If I asked them what they wanted, they would have told me faster horses.” — Henry Ford

One of the fun things about sales is that some people don’t know what they want until you put it in front of them. In the yearbook world, teachers could talk all day about how they want a cool, fancy shiny cover, but then change their mind once I show them a sleek, matte book. As a salesperson, you learn to show alternatives and provide options to make the sale. After listening and analyzing what they want, you determine what might “wow” them the most.

As a product designer, it’s important to iterate several designs before settling on the best one. You want to create a viable product, but also find ways to surprise and delight your users. Users can be dissatisfied with change alone, so it’s important that solutions are tested and they serve a greater purpose in improving an experience. Like in sales, users might not know why something is better until they have the chance to see it themselves. It’s up to the designer to show users what is possible.

Love the Product

When selling a product or service, I had to emphasize our solutions while knowing competitors might have the upper hand in certain areas. Still, it was important for me to believe that I was selling was the best option for the client, so they would believe it too. I was able to do that because I loved my past companies and what they offered clients.

Before taking on a product designer job, I need to know that I believe in the product and the company’s vision for how it can improve. No product is perfect and there are always improvements to be made, but it is important to at the very least, love the concept. If I’m in love with a product, this drives my passion to work on it and help improve it for the user.

Designing for people

A lot of product designers come from different backgrounds and use their unique experiences to fuel their ability to design. I feel that being a salesperson has ingrained in me to care about the users, the needs, and the product in a way that emphasizes making carefully-crafted solutions that value people.

UX Designer with a focus in user interface design. Figma and freezer-pop fanatic.

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