How to Sell Your Vision, from a Sales Expert

How to Sell Your Vision, from a Sales Expert

By Michelle Ko

A designer’s job doesn’t only entail designing a beautiful space, they must also be able to captivate their own client’s attention and win them over with their vision. Initially joining the A+D community as a designer herself, Erika Gaies offers her expertise in relationship building and storytelling as Carnegie’s Executive Vice President of Sales Enablement + Marketing Communications. 

MK: Every product developed at Carnegie starts with a “why,” and culminates in a solution to a specific problem or market need. You have always had this ability to put yourself in the designer’s shoes, and suggest ways we could improve our products and services to improve our clients’ experience. Where did this approach come from?

EG: Even though it’s been over 13 years since I joined Carnegie, I always relate back to my experience working at a commercial interiors firm, and the pressure that came with being a young designer trying to deliver successful outcomes within a tight deadline. Especially if you are new to this industry, the specification process can be daunting with the overwhelming amount of products you need to study and understand. That’s why I think in terms of providing solutions. A solution shouldn’t just be a single product—a solution should be an ecosystem where innovative design, education, and support interconnect all for one purpose. 

MK:  Who would have thought that you would end up joining Carnegie in sales after specifying it back in the day! Sounds like an unconventional path to take, can you share your Carnegie origin story? 

EG: My exposure to Carnegie actually started when I was interning for HOK Chicago’s Resource Library. I had this amazing opportunity to put together a piece for Interior Design Magazine to cite the most innovative sustainable products at the time. I stumbled across Carnegie’s new vinyl alternative wallcoverings, and thought these would be perfect for the article. Seems like a lifetime ago but I still remember how excited I was to discover this forward-thinking company who created materials that were both sustainable and beautiful, sparking that initial interest. 

Several years into my role as a Designer (with some help from the 2008 economic crash), I started to consider where I might find a more fulfilling place within the A+D community and the stars aligned to put me in the right place at the right time for a Junior Sales Rep role with Carnegie in the Chicago and Wisconsin territory. Thirteen years later, my role has evolved into a leading position where I’m fueled to find novel ways to connect with, and serve the community I first started in. 

Erika in 2012

MK: That must be why you connect with designers so effortlessly! When you were a designer, where or who did you get the most support from? And how has that influenced you in the present day?  

EG: Looking back, I relied a lot on my community of mentors and peers. One of my first big projects, I had to find materials for a high-traffic space that could withstand abuse and tearing. There’s always that fear of making a poor material choice or wasting precious hours scrolling through endless products. Instead of working on this project alone, I went to my Project Manager for input and she was adamant about using a wallcovering from a manufacturer she had already built trust with, which in that case happened to be Carnegie Xorel® wallcovering! I felt reassured by her confidence in selecting this particular product given the performance requirements of the space. It is so important to ask questions or ask for feedback from those around you because you never know what expertise they will bring to the table, or what prior experience they had that could bring a unique POV you’ve never thought of. It doesn’t matter what role or level you are at, everyone can find value in collaboration. 

A clip from one of Erika's 10-minute product presentations

MK: What a full circle moment to have started out as a designer, and ending up supporting designers. Is there a specific opportunity or challenge you experienced in this field that could be relatable for designers? There may be people who see “sales” and question how it can relate to them.

EG: This is common for sales but also applies to design: finding compelling ways to storytell, captivate an audience, and build a connection can be extremely beneficial for any position or field you are in. Let’s say you are a designer—you still need to convey information quickly and in ways that are convenient to the client. You may not be trying to sell a product, but you are trying to sell a vision. In our recent Trend Report, we discuss ways people are countering feelings of isolation by prioritizing comfort and togetherness. A good sales rep values their relationships, and understands how to connect with their clients in a genuine way. They actually care about them and find purpose in being a supportive partner in a designer’s journey.  

Carnegie 2024 Trend Report, Quiet Nostalgia Trend 

MK: Relationships definitely play a significant role in our career path, have you had any mentors or supporters in your own personal career who’ve helped you along the way?

EG: Carnegie’s former President Cliff Goldman (son of original founder Bob Goldman) was hugely instrumental in providing me opportunities for growth when he saw how I could contribute to the brand in different ways. He was always so good at recognizing people’s strengths and building them up to feel confident in their abilities. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Cliff taking a chance by offering someone who had no sales experience…a sales position! I also count myself so lucky to have worked with Heather Bush (Chief Creative Officer) and Mary Holt (Chief Design Strategist) throughout my career at Carnegie who are so inspiring both as designers and for their business savvy. I’m constantly asking myself how they would handle something! 


Heather Bush and Mary Holt giving a studio tour.

MK: It’s crazy to think how that one opportunity evolved into a long-lasting career. There may be newcomers who just joined the industry lacking confidence in where their career is heading, but I think this is a great reminder to not dismiss anything even if it feels like it’s just the beginning. What is one thing you would say to designers now?

EG: You have so much power! Clients are coming to you for your expertise so don’t be afraid to advocate for the products you believe in and to educate your clients about why you believe in them. 

MK: Thanks for having this conversation with me. It was great to hear how you started in your career, and the threads of influence that have carried you through till now. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you started your career, what would it be?

EG: Always question how things can be done just a little bit differently! 

About the Author

Michelle Ko is the Marketing Manager at Carnegie. Innately curious with an appreciation for beautiful design, Michelle enjoys writing stories about creativity and the people behind it.