The day a customer called to ask for a "building impression" instead of just another sign was an important day in the history of my sign business. This particular new client was responding to a campaign that we launched called “More than signs, we are building impressions.” The request confirmed what I believed—that we could provide more than just signs.
For us, this meant that we wanted our customers to hire us for all their printed and fabricated needs related to branding. From signs to additional services and products, our goal was to establish a long-term relationship and become an ongoing source for visual brand solutions. What we learned was that many people who buy signs also want to build impressions. They just need help doing it and need to know where to go to get that help. That's the opportunity, if you take advantage of it. But it takes work.
First of all, there's a process to follow. That process requires a very proactive approach, or at least it did for my company. We could not sit back and wait for customers to call us for a building impression. We had to let them know that we did that sort of work. That takes time. But this sort of proactive approach is what it takes to get yourself involved and interacting with the client and their projects. The sooner you get involved, the less the chance of any competitors sniffing out the fact that there is a project going on.
This process also provides the platform and means to development and enhancement of the business relationship. For us, we went from being a sign provider to becoming a source for design and brand solutions, and it opened up the possibilities and range of projects to work on, thus growing the business.
Today our company still primarily produces signs and printed graphics, but now also provides many other branding related products including custom canopies from a division created to focus on just those items outside of traditional signage.
When put together, the ability to design, print, and fabricate signs and three-dimensional products becomes the formula for helping customers build their impressions and grow your business. It did not happen overnight at our business. We had to be intentional about educating our customers and tailoring our advertising to showcase our range of services and products.
By providing more than just signs, we grew our business, even in the face of a challenging economy during the last decade. Here are some ideas for growing yours that are based on my experience of building impressions with more than just signs.
From Sign-Guy to Designer
One of my customers not only had me produce signs for the front of her frozen yogurt business, but she wanted my design input on how to arrange the space inside the store and my ideas for decor.
She calls me her designer, not her sign-guy. Of course, many of my ideas became items that we could produce that included custom-made menu boards, table tops, and wall decorations. But that's the point. I also charged design consulting fees.
As a designer, customers feel and receive more value, and you tend to get more business besides the typical rushed sign. The relationship shifts more in favor of a win-win for both you and the customer.
With the word "sign" incorporated into the name of our business, it is hard to miss what we do. It's obvious. Too obvious, in fact. I remember challenging our sales people to sell signs without using the word "sign" while working through their sales projects.
Well, it is almost impossible, but the exercise forces you think more about branding and selling brand solutions instead of just a sign. The conversations usually produce additional options or projects to work on.
The way we gained more profitable business was by getting more proactive, expanding our lines of services and products, branding those lines, then letting customers know through targeted campaigns and with each conversation. By offering more, we got more.
One of the best ways to sell is to ask questions. It is also about the only way you can find out more about a person, or a customer. Conversations are the place for strategic questioning and exposing opportunity.
Get to know your customers and their needs better by learning to ask the right kinds of questions that lead to more sign projects and more projects outside of signs but in the realm of branding where you can satisfy the need.
Don't forget to ask your client the three high priority questions at the end of a project: Are you happy? Will you provide a testimonial? Can you recommend me?
True genuine giving often returns a gain back to the giver. So why not give? By giving you open up the doors to receive. Giving can be as simple as offering advice, recommendations, or information.
Suggestions can be easily given and easily received for consideration by your customer. I provide suggestions all the time, but not until understanding the needs then waiting for the right timing to give it. I also put some work into it.
For instance, instead of just describing a suggestion, I often draw it and show it as artwork in order for the concept to be understood. I also do this because if the idea is not ripe for today, it might in the future, and the artwork provides a visual reminder. I also give comprehensive ideas. I don't just focus on one application. By showing many ideas, the seeds are planted for future harvests.
By giving, and being a giver, you show yourself to be the sort of person who does the extra and goes beyond expectation. When it comes to signs, this quality goes a long way with the customer who is shopping around.
Keeping in touch with customers often and through various means of communicating positions you in what we in the marketing world call Top of Mind—the place you want to be when someone wants or needs what you provide.
When was the last time you wrote and mailed a letter? Don't worry. Most people would have a hard time remembering. It's not commonplace any longer. But its a great way to effectively communicate. By the way, emails are not letters.
The same goes for cards. Sending a card to say thanks, congrats, or happy birthday shows you care very deeply about the relationship. The recipient knows the effort it took to send the card. One way I used to thank customers now and then was to send a gift certificate in a card to be used at a special place that they could enjoy anytime they wanted.
Our customers receive a weekly blog, a monthly email, and a quarterly newsletter where we not only showcase our work, but we also feature them and their business. These sorts of communications are great venues to educate your customers and become the expert for building impressions with signs, and more.