How Cross Selling Can Grow Your Sign Business

I cannot think of another business with so many cross selling opportunities as sign makers have. If you are unfamiliar with the term cross selling, all it means is selling a current customer, such as a fleet graphics account, other products and services, such as posters, window graphics and window displays, wall graphics, hanging signage, tradeshow graphics, banners and, of course, signs.

You would think that cross selling would be a fairly obvious sales strategy, wouldn’t you? In fact, the embarrassing truth is that many shops ignore selling additional products and services to their current customers. Instead of harvesting the low hanging fruit, many sales people chase after the Holy Grail in hopes of making the big sale.

One executive for a very large fleet graphics printer expressed his frustration complaining that his sales people would drive 50 miles to pitch a prospective truck decal account but wouldn’t walk 50 feet down the hall of an existing fleet graphics customer to sell them graphics for their stores.

Cross selling is more important than just increasing revenues. Though, that’s not a bad reason to do it. It is equally important because it gives you an opportunity to build your value to a customer thereby strengthening the business relationship. A strong bond serves as barrier from competitive threats. What’s more, servicing one account is often more efficient that servicing several businesses.

How Cross Selling Differs from Up Selling

Many people confuse cross selling with up selling. Both are great techniques for increase your revenues, but the sales tactics are decidedly different. With cross selling you are selling additional products and services to an existing account. Up selling is a sales technique in which you sell the prospect a higher end version of they intend to buy.

Butch “Superfrog” Anton is a master of the Up Selling technique. Here’s how this sales tactic works and can pay off for you. Whenever a customer asks Butch to make a simple black and white sign, he shows him alternatives. These other options could involve printing or drop shadows or different materials.  Each option may cost a little more but the value added benefit is greater too.

While the customer may have initially expected to spend only $25 dollars, more often than not he walks out of Butch’s store with either a $50 or $75 sign. What’s more, the customer is happy about it because he walks away with a better looking sign. Butch is happy too, not just because his revenues increase, but because he now has a customer who is likely to be a repeat customer. That’s a true win-win!

Identifying Cross Selling Opportunities

In cross selling, identifying additional opportunities will take a little extra thought and effort.  But it’s not that hard. Here are a few suggestions on how to go about it:

If the account has retail stores, visit a location and conduct an informal survey. Look at the window treatments. What improvements could you suggest? How would these suggestions benefit the customer? Benefits that come to mind are attracting more attention and building more store traffic.

In conducting a store survey, pay attention to the lighting, paint colors in addition to the cleanliness of the store and how products are displayed. Fabric banners and wall graphics are a cost effective way to remodel the appearance of store interiors. An attractive store environment enhances the shopping experience. What’s more, within the first few minutes after entering a store location, shoppers make judgments about the retailer and the quality of the merchandise based on store graphics and lighting. The first impressions that are generated are not only lasting impressions but also determine whether the shopper stays or leaves the store.

If you have customers, who are manufacturers, you should inquire about needs for interior signage and graphics.  On the shop floor, aisle signage helps employees quickly find raw material and finished goods for use in production or for shipping to customers. Factories also have a number of needs for interior signage promoting shop safety programs. When companies attain safety or sales goals, they are also great candidates for banners to announce their achievements to their employees.

Equipment manufacturers usually require a variety of safety labels. I once uncovered an opportunity from down the street from our factory that generated $125,000 annually in low cost of sales business. For more than a year, I had talked to this company about truck graphics before it dawned on me to explore other opportunities.

When I worked for RTape, it amazed me that sign companies that we used for exterior signage, never once asked us about our needs for tradeshow posters and banners. Compared to the lifetime cost of our building sign, the cost of all of the other graphics over the same period was far greater.

Selling Larger Businesses

Cross selling to a small business is relatively easy, because the business owner or manager often controls all of the purchasing decisions. Selling large accounts is more complex and challenging because several buyers are often involved. But it is certainly easier than selling a total stranger.

Here’s a sales strategy for these big accounts. Ask for help. Start by asking your current contact to introduce you to the other buyers. In the parlance of what is known as strategic selling, your current contact is generally referred to as the sponsor. He can point you in the right direction, identifying the key influencers within the account as well as giving you good advice in dealing with the other personalities within their organization.

Once the introductions are made, the real work begins. Whether you are conducting a site survey or conducting a sales discussion, your primary goal should be to identify needs. For most people this can be the most challenging part of selling because it requires that you carry on a substantive business conversation with your prospect.

The Power of Questions

One of the best ways to initiate a sales conversation is to ask questions. I know one very successful salesman that prepared his questions well in advance of his sales meeting. Many might find this approach a bit stilted, but it worked for this person. I believed that it this technique worked because his questioning was comprehensive and it saved time. By the time the salesman was finished, he had a thorough understanding of the customer’s goals and his problems.

Discovering a customer’s needs is vital to making a sale, because if there is no need, there is no opportunity for a sale.  Once you determine the problems, then you can propose a solution.

The needs analysis/problem solving sales approach not only is critical in uncovering opportunities, but it defines you as a valued business consultant versus a peddler.

Building Rapport

In Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, he suggests that one of the quickest ways to start a relationship is to talk about what the other person wants to talk about and let him or her do most of the talking.

By asking questions you can discover areas of common interest, which helps in building a rapport with the prospect. In selling this is critical, because people like doing business with people they like.

By genuinely showing interest in a prospect’s business, he will feel more relaxed in talking to you and sharing his company’s goals and challenges.  Just as a doctor must diagnose a patient’s disease before prescribing a cure, you must clearly understand the customer’s needs before suggesting solutions.

In this regard, remember the admonition of Dr. Stephen Covey to “seek first to understand before being understood”. At any account you have the potential to sell many different types of signage and graphics. What can destroy your rapport with a customer as well as scuttling your opportunities for additional business is being more interested in making a sale than providing solutions. Nobody likes a pushy salesman. But everyone respects a consultant.


The most successful graphics sales people know that the best time to sell additional products is immediately after the initial purchase. That’s because the customer is in a buying mood.

Cross selling can be especially effective when products are complementary. For example, suggesting interior fabric banners, hanging signage, wall graphics or floor graphics can complement the sales of a window graphics program.  I have found that providing prospects with case study examples of businesses that have purchased a number of related products are effective in making add-on sales. Here’s where a pitch book of photographs can provide essential supporting evidence for your claims.

As you become more engaged in cross selling, you will not only experience an increase in your revenues. More importantly, because cross selling is more efficient, you will also improve your bottom line.

If you are not already engaged in cross selling, it’s time for you to start picking the low hanging fruit.


Good Luck Selling!