Q&A – When the customer doesn’t buy

By SignCraft.com

Posted on Sunday, September 18th, 2022

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One of the popular features in SignCraft from years past was called “Reader to Reader.” In the days before the Internet, it was a way to send in a question that other readers could answer. Our Q&A posts work much the same way, but the replies appear as the comments below the questions.

If you can share an answer or insight, that’s great—and we thank you in advance. To avoid spam, there is a delay before the comments appear, so be patient when you add a comment.


How do you handle a customer who has you do a quote, revise the layout, then doesn’t place the order?

A reader wants to know how to deal with a customer who is very interested in a sign then bails out. The new manager of a company he had worked for in the past contacted him about a new sign.

“It sounded like he needed the sign in a hurry,” the sign maker said, “so we jumped to assist him. We did a layout for him, made multiple changes and sent about 20 e-mails back and forth.

“Then he said he wanted to send it to headquarters for them to review. Now it’s a month later and we have not received the job. How do others handle this?”

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jeremy Schaller
Jeremy Schaller
4 months ago

I’m assuming you’ve sent a couple emails inquiring where the job stands and if any decisions have been made or if you can offer any additional assistance. If you have and are still not getting a response, a phone call helps nudge things along, at least as far as a reply and perhaps explanation.
Don’t fret. I’ve had similar experiences where they needed it right away and then finally got back to me several months later and were ready to move forward with it but “needed it in a hurry”! Go figure.

William Davis
William Davis
4 months ago

We have been in business for over 40 years and your situation is one of the hardest to decide how to proceed. When we encounter a new manager we lose the relationship we had with the previous one and pretty much have to start all over. With new customers we set the expectation early that design and sending proofs are part of the cost of the sign so we get a deposit up front but with your situation we usually just absorb the cost in the beginning to show the new manager that we value their business. We also educate them of the cost incurred to design and email in the future. I usually say “we just charge for the computer time”. This usually makes sense to the customers since there is no such thing as a free estimate. 🙂 I could get political here about the misuse of the word free but I will refrain.

Fred Witmer
Fred Witmer
4 months ago

I have learned thru my 48 years in this business to avoid dealing with or designing for “committees” or anyone who has to have “corporate” approve anything. They ALWAYS know more about our talents than what we do.

J.Fred Witmer
Sign & Lettering Artist

Brad Getter
Brad Getter
4 months ago

In the sales process of any business, this is a regular thing. That’s what Customer Relations Management (CRM) software is critical to a busy sign shop. An old-school method is a paper “tickler file” that reminds you to follow up on proposals daily. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tickler_file

I’ve found that you can do several things to spur purchase: (in order of time)

  1. Call the client and keep dialogue open WEEKLY. Fridays after lunch are the best time to sell signs, as signs aren’t a mission-critical thing but rather just another item to be ticked off the task list before they go home. Paydays are even better, as employees feel more at ease spending the company’s money after they have been paid.
  2. In the first 3 weeks – ask what the hangup is and how you can help get the job going. Accommodate their response as best you can. It may be a call to the main office is what you need to do. You need to find the MAN. The person with the Money, Authority, and Need. Perhaps your guy isn’t that.
  3. At 4-6 weeks tell the client that materials prices and supplies are volatile and that you can’t guarantee that bid or schedule. This works quite well if they’re just waffling. And it’s true, our supply chain is still messed up.
  4. At 6-8 weeks re-bid the work with a statement that “all prior artwork and designs submitted to you were, and still remain, our exclusive legal property and cant be used by any other party“. Then quote with new prices (plus at least a 5% bump to cover your time to follow up), and new lead times/terms due to market dynamics. In this conversation – be upfront that you were expecting a faster purchase, and give the client an escape path, one last chance at the original price! Yes, this is manipulation- a “call to action” and it’s an approach to force a buy, but it’s used every day in retail and it works)
  5. After 8 weeks – contact them every 3-4 weeks. Ask if they have any other signage needs, ignoring the prior bid for now. Revisit the old bid in 6 months. They may have been told “NO” by the main office and feel ashamed about that, or feel that they wasted everyone’s time. Again- give them an escape path to that feeling, and your willingness to discuss other projects means no hard feelings. At this point, the goal is to get other work that offsets the time/money you spent so far in this lead. Eventually, you might build a tight relationship with this.

As for the art you’ve sent – if your shop policy is to design work for free, shame on you! You are giving away the ONE thing that sign professionals still offer as a unique value. The production side of our craft is essentially commoditized. There is a vast supply of print capacity everywhere and online, so profit centers have shifted to artwork. The professional design we offer is our profit center, and you should never do anything beyond a rough thumbnail without a contract or deposit. Once that art leaves your PC, the horse is out of the barn and in the wild.

If you don’t get the sale and can’t get a straight answer about why they can’t get the deal done pay a visit in person. See if they went to another shop with your art. If so they didn’t respect your time or the law. I had this happen once. I saw my art on a new sign I hadn’t built. A letter from my lawyer to the customer and the sign shop alleging “unjust enrichment” by the use of the logo I designed resulted in a substantial settlement from both. But that’s another story.

In simple terms, folks now have to budget more than in the past decade. A month-long wait to close a sale is regular IMHO. In prior recessions, it took as much as 6 months to close a sale after we bid it. 3 months was the average.

Tom Harris
Tom Harris
4 months ago

Unfortunately, I have found some issues involving corporate level decision making take a very long time. There may be committees involved that only meet monthly. Things definitely don’t move as fast as when dealing with smaller “Mom & Pop” organizations. I do not know your relationship with this individual. Unless he has begun to blow you off, I would say there is still a chance the job will come through.

Adreana McClure
Adreana McClure
3 months ago

We simply start with the quote and very clearly explain to the customer we will not begin any art / layouts until the job deposit is paid up front. Anything under $500.00 is paid in full up front and anything over $500.00 is a 50% non-refundable deposit paid up front before we begin any work.
We used to begin artwork before payment was made but too many times we faced similar situations. I started looking at it from a labor view point: if my designers are doing the work, there has to be payment up front to cover their work. You can’t go into Target and help yourself to goods/items unless you pay for them first so why should any of us be treated any different? Just because we are a small business doesn’t give any companies the right to walk on us or push us around. Sorry just my .02
Good luck!

2 months ago

All of our proofs have a statement that reads “• Any Revisions Of This Design / Layout Without Purchase Of Project In Question Will Incur An Art Charge! •
This Design Is Property Of All About Signs & Service, Inc. • Copyright Rules Apply”
This has helped recoup some of the art time used to create the design(s).
After they pay the art fee, if they want to continue with the sign(s) we adjust the material cost and requote it.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x