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Warranting Good Service

Warranties should reinforce sales efforts.

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Most reputable companies offer warranty protection for their products, but many aren’t sure how to most effectively market warranties in their daily selling. Questions abound. What, exactly, are warranties? How should they be structured? In what manner should a company’s salesforce promote them as assets?

Anybody who watches car adver¬tisements on TV knows warranties can significantly differentiate a company from its competitors. The key to effective differentiation, however, isn’t the warranty’s mere existence. Rather, the warranty must be perceived as having significant value and mitigating the buyer’s risk.

Warranties in the graphics marketplace are an integral factor, especially for high-profile, long-term graphics, where failure can be visible, costly and very ugly. Warranties can also be misused and oversold, so it’s important to under¬stand a warranty’s limits and how it should be structured.

Points to ponder

First and foremost, warranties are a sales and marketing tool. A product that carries a comprehensive warranty is well received and implies a high level of product confidence. Sales efforts and marketing literature should heavily integrate them in their messages. Professional salespeople should be well versed in warranty details and emphasize that warranties should underscore a company’s faith in its products.

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Warranties ease buyers into a comfort zone. If Jerry’s Sign Shop sells outdoor vinyl graphics, but only vaguely refers to outdoor durability, his work will be consid¬ered less trustworthy than Phil’s Sign Shop, whose representative clearly articulates specific durability guarantees. This greater security level may enable Phil to command a higher price.

Warranties should communicate important information. An effective warranty specifies strict guidelines that dictate how a product should be manufactured, converted and used. A warranty’s collateral documentation should clarify manufacturing and end-use guidelines, and this detailed literature should be easily accessible. Writing a check for a warranty claim caused by insufficient communica¬tion epitomizes pointlessly hindering your bottom line.

Warranties detail product expec¬tations. Warranties should clearly define a product’s expected perfor¬mance characteristics and, through inference or direct reference, what applications aren’t within its capabilities.

Warranty language should define normal wear and tear and recognize depreciation, and this verbiage shouldn’t be vague or overly complicated. A graphic that carries a five-year warranty should be expected to last five years outdoors without fading – beyond what most manufacturers and providers would consider reason¬able. A company that implements a well-defined warranty program should back it by explaining the science behind that predetermined duration.

Warranties determine liability within a formal statement of coverage, as well as a limitation of liability. No warranty should be open-ended; such a policy practically begs a legal entanglement. An effective guarantee allows a salesman to demonstrate what a warranty settle¬ment would entail under a specific set of circumstances – again, in a clear, concise manner.

Selling warranties

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Sales professionals seek tools to help them succeed. Salespeople shouldn’t begin a call by discussing warranty coverage – a discussion that implies the product may fail isn’t a good icebreaker. Rather, bring it up at an appropriate time. Simply present the actual warranty document with your other selling materials to begin the dialogue.

Obviously, identifying needs and stressing your company’s capabilities and quality standards rate as priorities in a sales call. Anyone who understands the manufacturing process understands glitches and errors occur, but catastrophic failures are the rare exception. Assure the buyer your system is backed by your vendors and partners. A warranted system will usually be relied upon to perform successfully – exercise due diligence to ensure products meet your requirements.

Integrated systems

Some media producers have teamed with manufacturers of related components (such as printers, inks and clearcoats) to develop comprehensive product warranties. Guaranteeing products your company doesn’t even sell makes a strong statement and builds potential customers’ confidence. If your shop uses an integrated system of warranted compo¬nents, tout that with the vendor’s warranty documentation. Ask the vendor for direct support with larger or more strategic projects.

If you have a warranty specific to a potential customer’s use, stress that it’s application-specific (for vehicle wraps, floor graphics, wall murals, etc.) and not an umbrella warranty with coverage and verbiage that’s not necessarily relevant to the application.

Warranty costs and values

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Sometimes, it may be feasible to add a warranty charge to your quote, which can either capture a premium or provide a bargaining chip if a few dollars may make or break the deal. Buyers love to see upcharges taken off a quote. On that note, don’t pair the lowest price with the best warranty coverage. Buyers shouldn’t enter a potential agreement expecting to get everything for nothing. Stand firm – let them know that certain factors dictate a premium, and this should be recognized in the check they write.

Some companies put all warranty charges received into escrow for future liabilities, an especially good idea, because a large warranty claim could put your business at risk. Remember, if you build it, they will come. Recognize that warranties can and will be used, and the cost to your business will be real. Insurance coverage is also available for catastrophic product failure, which allows companies to closely manage risk.

Vendors and customers must fulfill their respective ends of the warranty agreement. Vendors must acknowledge their potential liability, and the customer must provide thorough documentation – product samples, lot numbers and a detailed account of how the product failed. Not every claim is an open-and-shut case; vendors and customers usually achieve a reasonable compromise.

“One size fits all” warranties don’t serve today’s vinyl market; coverage addresses specific applications and what’s appro¬priate to remedy an application if a claim occurs.

Branded warranties

If your company has an excellent reputation, consider branding your own warranty coverage. This type of coverage can be specifically tailored to your business and your potential customers’ needs. If you lack strong market presence and want instant credibility (and to present the appearance of deep pockets backing your product), align with your media vendor’s branded warranty.

Just as airlines would prefer not to have hundreds of millions of frequent-flyer miles that won’t generate revenue, most graphics and media vendors would prefer not to deal with extended warran¬ties. Warranty coverage in our market is not only expected, but also highly scrutinized. We must make these guarantees a significant priority that will, ideally, help our selling efforts.

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