Use the Socratic Method to Close the Sale

A key principle in successful use of the Socratic Method is that your work product is not the thing — the objective. It's the thing that leads to the objective the prospect wants to make happen.


Having a different sort of spirit when talking with prospective clients can prove to be a game changer for your creative brand and business. 

What do I mean by a different sort of spirit, exactly? It’s a different approach to the sales call than most creatives take. It’s a Socratic rather than didactic approach.

Let’s define didactic: intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive. from Greek didaktikos, from didaskein ‘teach’

What is the Socratic way? The Socratic Method is often used by parents and teachers to promote critical thinking. It focuses on asking questions instead of giving information and answers. It encourages inquiry and curiosity. It leads a person to think things through, to research, to discover, to make connections, and to come to a conclusion.


How Can We Use The Socratic Method When Talking With Clients and Prospects?

Here’s a scenario: A prospective client inquires about your services. They need a website, an illustration, a logo… They want to know if you’re the right person to create it for them. Can you do the work for the right price?

You can take the didactic approach which is to tell them what you do, and why they should work with you. You describe your services and how you work. You ask them about color, type, and specific assets. You look at what they currently have and inform them what else they need. You demonstrate you have the answers to all their questions. You point out what’s wrong with what they currently have and how you can make things better. You might throw out a preliminary price or range for the scope of work.

The prospect leaves the call by saying they’ll think about it, or they’re considering a number of creatives and will get back to you.

You leave the call thinking you’ve done a good job convincing them to choose you, especially because the tone of the call was friendly. But don’t hear from them again. And they don’t respond to your follow-ups.

It’s easy to tell someone the answers. But people are resistant to being told. They don’t like being directed. They don’t like being critiqued. They don’t want to feel pushed or demeaned. It’s human nature to back off from what appears to be a threat. In a didactic approach we can often be perceived as a threat. But that’s the approach most of us take when talking with prospects.


The better approach is the Socratic method. 

The Socratic method is actually empowering for both you and your prospective clients, and is more likely to result in a contracted project. You’re no longer selling, you’re closing — winning the project by winning the client.

In the Socratic Method you ask a series of leading questions. How are they leading, and are leading questions okay to ask?

In essence, you know what the client needs. You make an educated guess. What does the client really need? What do they need to accomplish. So you ask questions that lead them to discover the answers for themselves. You guide them to the answers rather than telling them what to do. By asking leading questions you diagnose their problems and bring them into agreement before you prescribe a solution.

When you tell them the answer, you’re selling. When they land on the answer for themselves, you’re closing. If you use this approach effectively you never have to “sell” or convince a prospect to work with you.

A key principle in successful use of the Socratic Method is that your work product (design, illustration, photography, copy) is not the thing — the objective. It’s the thing that leads to the objective the prospect wants to make happen. So you have to get beyond the “I need a website for my online store.” conversation.

Using the Socratic approach takes you into the territory of results. What is the client really wanting to accomplish? Because to achieve their business objectives, they most likely need more than just the thing they first asked you about, or something entirely different altogether.

Your work has to have an outcome — a result. So you have to define success before you begin the work. Both you and your client need to understand what a successful outcome looks like, and align on it.


Consistent Methodology Builds Trust

The Socratic Method carries through into your creative development on the project and in the working relationship with the client. This is important because often new outcomes and ideas will suggest themselves during the project. So there’s flexibility in what assets you create, and in determining the ideal outcomes of your work.

Don’t use the Socratic Method to win the client and then shift to a didactic, teachy, I know best, approach during the project. Switching is disingenuous and dangerous. You might lose the client.

So if you want to learn and apply the Socratic Method, treat it as a skill that you’ll fully incorporate into your prospecting, onboarding, and working relationships.

© Alvalyn Lundgren. All rights reserved.