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Maggie Harlow

How to Help Customers Understand Sign Quotes

Some clients won’t ask questions because they’re afraid of looking dumb. Here are some things you can do to clear up their confusion.




Melissa Cobb, business development leader for Signarama Downtown Louisville.

Melissa Cobb, business development leader for Signarama Downtown Louisville.

RECENTLY OUR BUSINESS development leader, Melissa Cobb, was doing regular weekly sales training and asked, “Do you remember your first day in the sign business?” The sales team discussed how everyone who is new to the business has to contend with tons of industry terms and jargon, leaving new employees struggling to keep up, confused and unsure.

Why does this matter in the sales process? Let’s ask Melissa!

Q: Melissa, tell us more about that ‘first day confusion.’
A: For many of us, it is a distant memory, but I recall mine vividly! The signage industry was brand new to me. I was excited to learn but wasn’t truly prepared for drinking from a fire hose! I arrived with plenty of time for the requisite morning sales/production meeting. I sidled up to the table introducing myself nervously, hopeful for a warm reception being the newbie. Everyone was still waking up, with their coffees in hand, muttering about this and that. As the meeting began, I noticed each project was reviewed briefly along with status updates. I was hearing materials and abbreviations I wasn’t familiar with: ACP, High Tac, RGB and more … By the end of the meeting I wondered what I’d said yes to! How will I ever learn all of this? How will I sell signs when I don’t even understand half of the vocabulary?!

Q: Right, we all had to go through this! So how does that help us in the sales process, specifically?
A: Many of our customers are like the first-day-version of an employee. Clueless! It can be scary, frankly. Things are scary when we don’t understand them. Sign quotes looked like a foreign language to me, the first few I saw. That could be your client. Are you likely to buy if you are unsure or feeling uncomfortable?

Q: Can’t the customer just ask us?
A: Well, of course they can. Sometimes clients are afraid to look dumb by asking questions. Or they are busy and don’t want to bother. Maybe they are comparing estimates and they hope it makes sense after reviewing more than one estimate. Or maybe they are irritated by your estimate, which is confusing, when your competitor’s estimate is clearly described and completely free of jargon.


Q: What actions can sign companies or sales reps take to ensure estimates are clear for the customers?

  1. Remember that the estimate is for the customer. The jargon is for your team! Try to look at your estimate template with the eyes of an uninformed customer looking for solutions.
  2. If you have an automated quote system, scrub it of jargon that appears automatically, or at the very least, add some clarifying language to products to make it easier. Things like “ACP” or even detailed descriptions like “HP Eco-Solvent Print on Intermediate Vinyl” – huh?
  3. Before you send an estimate, read it completely. Look for opportunities to add wording or descriptions to help your customer make choices and feel educated and informed.
  4. Best in class, in my opinion, is actively reviewing proposals with your clients. I’ve learned to help my customers understand their estimates by following up and reviewing — helping educate them the way my team helped educate me. Once you share your estimate, it’s helpful to send an example of the product for a visual. Your customer then understands what’s been quoted and ultimately helps convert the project to a sale!

For me, Melissa’s take on how an estimate can be like a first day at work was eye-opening! It’s hard, after a lifetime in this industry for some of us, to bring a fresh take to estimate writing, but I think it’s well worth it.

And it also reminds us to provide for our new employees a glossary or jargon-translation tool!

Maggie Harlow is the CEO of Signarama Downtown Louisville (Louisville, KY), one of the largest and most prestigious locations for the global sign franchise. Contact Maggie at



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