Posted on Tuesday, June 20th, 2017
Looking for the magic words that will let you sell a sign to every customer who walks in the door for top prices? It’s not quite that easy, but over 35 years of selling signs has given Brian Schofield and Karin Levin-Cassella of Lines & Letters Designs, Bridgewater, New Jersey, an approach that makes the interaction and sale with the customer go easier and faster.
You’ll find their impressive work in the March/April 2017 issue of SignCraft (and on the cover!). They turn out well-designed carved and sandblasted 3D signs, as well as painted and airbrushed, and digitally-printed vehicle lettering.
After being in business for so many years, they have developed ways to streamline the process and make things go a little easier with the customer. Sales drive your business, so you want that to go smoothly. You also want to get paid for your design time.
To that end, here is a process that will help you get paid for design, minimize objections and collect deposits. Selling signs is a process that you guide the customer through. You won’t use this process on basic informational signs, of course, but for signs that involve design approval, it will help you get paid for both design and production time.
“I need 15 to 30 minutes to show you our products and determine what you want and need.”
More and more, people want to purchase a sign or get a quote on truck lettering, and do it all online. Brian and Karin say face-to-face meetings are important, though. It speeds the process and minimizes misunderstandings.
“Let’s take a look at a few similar projects.”
As they show examples of signs similar to the client’s project, Brian and Karin mention price ranges and use the customer’s response to get an idea of their budget. Next, they explain that the project has two phases: the design and then the sign production.
“To get started on the design, we’ll need a deposit.”
Charging separately for design can be challenging because some customers don’t realize that quality design takes time and has real value. And, your competitors may not be separating design from the execution of the project.
“Many customers come through the door wanting an elaborate lettering job and design,” says Karin. “They will ask us to ‘just draw something up,’ then they may never come back or then want the design to shop it around. Taking the design fee up front locks you and the customer into a financial commitment, and will help ensure the customer will continue to have you do their vehicle. If they don’t return, though, you’ve been compensated for your design time. This has been a long-standing issue in the sign business—failing to separate the design from the production of the sign.”
“It will take me some time to come up with a design that is both attractive and effective—like the other signs I showed you earlier.”
Since some customers think that designing a sign or truck lettering is just a matter of a few clicks on the computer, expect a certain amount of pushback when you ask people to pay for a design. If they seem surprised that they have to pay for the design up front, Brian explains that it’s a part of the process: Design is the first step, then comes the production.
“It’s like building a building,” Brian says. “You start with the architect and get the design, then the builder produces the building from that. Customers seem to understand that comparison.”
“I should have a couple of designs for you to look at by next Thursday.”
Be realistic about how soon you’ll have the design ready. Remember that it’s better to “under-promise and over-deliver”—to be ready a day early rather than to be a day late. Do a couple of designs, then have them come by to see them. Remember, these are sales designs, not finished art. There’s no use investing extra time until one is chosen.
“Avoid doing more than two or three designs for them to choose from,” he says. “Too many choices can confuse and complicate the decision-making process.”
“Once you choose one, I can make a few revisions if necessary.”
When they come in to see the designs, Brian and Karin find most decide on one. Some may want revisions—but those are limited to two. “Trust me,” Brian says, “it took only one job with multiple revisions for me to learn that lesson.”
When possible, Brian and Karin avoid sending designs for approval by email. Although it can be a bit inconvenient for the customer, they prefer the customer comes back so that they can discuss the final design choice.
“If you email the design,” says Brian, “then ‘outsiders’ like friends, coworkers or spouses can confuse your potential customer with sometimes ridiculous input into the design/layout. I know this sounds a bit controlling, but you cannot imagine the confusion and ‘second thoughts’ I have had to undo because of outside influence. As professionals, it is best to keep the customer on track with the process that you have set forth. Believe me, this technique works. It can sound harsh, but it is all about control. Slowing up the process uses up your valuable time!”
“Great. The deposit on the sign is x dollars and we’ll get started on it.”
“We get a 50% deposit up front before beginning designs for sign projects,” says Brian, “and again before starting the actual sign. This way we’re getting paid for our time throughout the process — rather than waiting until the end and hoping that we get paid in a timely fashion. We collect the 50% balance on completion of each phase. As a general rule, we do not offer 30-day payment on the balance. You need to keep cash flow going in your shop.”
Brian says to remember that the object is to make a living by producing effective designs, signs and truck lettering. That concept has to be the focus of the sales process to keep your business successful. It is important to stay in control of that process.
“You have something the customer wants,” he says. “When that something is out of your hands, you no longer have control over the project. Take ‘baby steps’ through the process. Collect monies as you go along—don’t wait until the end of the project to collect the big lump sum. People will release smaller amounts much easier through the process rather than dropping a big bomb on them at the end. All these techniques add a little more time to the process, but in the end you will not be chasing money.
“Karin keeps her eyes on the ball in this regard,” he says. “You need to turn a profit to stay in business and keep it going. It’s one thing to put a smile on a customer’s face — but you also want to put money in the bank. That’s necessary if you want to still be there when they need their next project.”