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Maggie Harlow

Quote Less to Win More Sign Projects

A download of open-ended questions to save you and the client a lot of time.

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MY SELLING CAREER started in the car business. Selling used cars was my favorite because it was “off the shelf” — either we had the car you wanted or we didn’t. Selling new cars was a little more complex because they could select from a wide array of colors and option packages. I had to know the options and be able to talk buyers through the details. The sign business, however, completely blew me away.

There seem to be a thousand ways to fabricate a sign, so how do you avoid quoting all 1,000 of them for a client?

Probably all sign salespeople have experienced falling into this trap. You meet a client on site at a building. They say, “I need a sign there,” pointing over their entrance. You start talking through options. Dimensional lettering, channel letters, carved panels, illuminated cabinet signs, composite panel signs or even handpainted. You may find yourself stumbling through explanations of materials and details.

Dimensional lettering alone can be dizzying — cast metal, flat-cut metal, flat-cut acrylic, carved foam, cast plastic and more!

I found myself quoting sometimes three or even four options, taking up hours of my time and delaying the client decision for days as I wrestled through permitting, attachment, materials and color options.

I was feeling the need to prove my expertise and aptitude, rather than focusing on the client’s needs. I eventually realized I needed to start consulting with the client, rather than proving I could “do anything” and quoting all of it.

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Open-ended questions, the backbone of good sales consulting, came to my rescue. Below are questions I often work with when on that first project consultation. Not every question is right in every situation.

  • Have you ever purchased a sign before? If they are experienced at buying signs, your job might be easier. If not, you’ll have to educate the client, so be ready to slow down.
  • What’s important to you about this project? Responses may tell you it is time sensitive, budget sensitive, boss sensitive, or that this is the first of 10 locations they are going to handle. Whatever is important to them, write that down and pay attention.
  • Have you established a budget for this project? This one might unlock the actual budget number from the client, which will save you hours of time. Sometimes you’ll find out they have “no idea” what to budget, and this is very important to know as well.
  • Aside from price, what else is important to you? Often clients focus on price because that is all they really know about signs! Be sure to dig deeper below budget to get them to focus on what else may matter.

One of my favorite questions to ask when the client does not have a budget helps me sort through what to suggest to them. You can adjust the ranges based on your business model.

“Do you hope to keep your budget between $5,000 and $10,000, $10,000 and $20,000 or maybe under $30,000?”

Being willing to put numbers out there gives the inexperienced client a clearer sense of what to expect and some comfort that you’re being transparent.

The last thing you want to do is spend a week quoting a complex set of channel letters only to find out the client has a $5,000 budget. You’ll also be more equipped to quote the right product and increase your odds of winning. Quote less; win more.

I have a robust list of open-ended questions that I used to keep laminated in my notebook and would review just before walking into an appointment. You can download the open-ended questions at signsofthetimes.com/122307.

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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 maggie@signaramadowntown.com

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