Regardless of the seat in the decorated apparel industry your company holds, there’s one thing that is common to all other businesses and that is that you need sales to exist. And by sales, I mean someone wanting to financially compensate you for your effort or product. But how in today’s crowded marketplace do people get to that decision?
How do you make that decision yourself? Think about it for a second.
Most of the time we don’t just randomly pick a company to do business with. When we are in a store and we’re wanting to buy something, we might choose one thing over another for many different reasons.
Just being in that store is a choice to a certain degree. For some it’s the experience, the product, or maybe location; for others it might be solely about price. Have you ever thought about why you personally like a particular store or brand?
Have you used that thinking into creating a better sales experience in your company?
Any buying decision is basically broken down into four elements: Know, Like, Trust & Buy. Understanding how your potential customers behave with the first three to action the fourth can be critical to pushing the sales growth that you need.
Before reading the rest of this article, stop and consider your company for a moment.
- How do you attract customers?
- What are your sales efforts?
- How do you position yourself in your marketplace?
- Do you have a differentiator that makes you stand out?
- How does your staff interact with customers?
- What is it about your company that makes customers come back?
What you want to do is to create a sales funnel, as when people continually interact with your company something along the way switches them from not knowing about your company at all to becoming a repeat customer.
So let’s build the funnel.
A fancier term for Know is called Brand Awareness. I’m sure you’ve heard of that. This is the first step in getting more sales. If nobody knows you exist, how will that phone ever ring? Who is going to visit your website? What will it take for someone to get into their car and drive over and walk through your door?
So, do your potential customers know anything about you?
Who are those people anyway? You absolutely need to invest some time researching as much as you can about this demographic. Without understanding them, how can you ever determine how to reach out to them so they know about you? You may be spending all of your effort and money in the wrong direction.
I speak to so many shop owners and their main business plan is to just lie in wait like a spider in a web. There is very little thought about who they are targeting. When you ask what markets they service, their response is usually “everyone” or “whoever walks in the door”. That thinking is limited and very short sighted. They are completely at the mercy of luck.
Getting to the Know is difficult and requires work. You can try to copy another company’s marketing strategy all you want, but unless you are focusing on targeting the core demographic of who your customers are, don’t expect miraculous results. You have to know your own company’s DNA.
If you think about your best customers where do they live? What do they want from your company? What does their typical order look like? For your repeat customers, why are they continually buying from you? What’s the secret sauce?
This is what you are trying to replicate.
Once you have established your core demographic, your job now is to introduce yourself. Of course you can go about this in a million different ways, but the main idea of know is to get your name out there so it’s recognizable, and everyone understands what you are about.
These days that usually means social media. There are so many channels out there it gets confusing quickly about what to do. If you’ve done your homework right, you should already know where your customers are hanging out. This means that if your core demographic is using LinkedIn or Instagram mostly, you shouldn’t be wasting your effort on Facebook or Twitter. It’s all about them, not you. You hunt where the deer live.
The main point about social media is that it is social. You have to get in there and participate. Don’t just talk about yourself or only announce a sale. Like, share or comment on other people’s posts, especially your customers. Build the conversation. It may feel like you are only interacting with a few people, but hundreds or thousands more are watching from afar. Most of the time only about 5% – 10% of the people online are actively liking, commenting or sharing posts…probably less. That means if you are on top of this, you are already king of the mountain. It’s time well spent.
Definitely track and measure your success. You’ll know if something is working or not, but if all you hear is the deafening sound of silence then you need to try something else. Don’t forget that with social media, you could have the right message, but just be pushing it out at the wrong time, or on the wrong channel. Experiment constantly until you find the right formula. This means you should be failing. A lot. That’s how you learn.
So, should you solely rely on social media only? Of course not. Brand awareness is solidly built on getting out in front of the core audience. This is why sporting goods stores buy that billboard on the outfield wall, or grocery stores give new homeowners that just moved into a neighborhood a free coupon book. This is a “here we are” moment. It’s the figurative initial handshake.
Where do your customers hang out and how can you get in front of them easily? You want eyeballs. This is the core, driving force of the entire advertising industry. From television, to print, to direct mail, there are many options available to you. It’s the promise of positioning what you are offering in front of the audience that matters. Buyer beware though. The bigger the audience delivered, the more someone is going to charge for it. Make sure you are getting the right audience.
So let’s assume you’ve done a good job with your branding. Your customers know who you are and the services you offer. The next step in the sales funnel is getting them to like you. This is exactly how it seems; it’s just common sense.
People like companies for various reasons. Part of your research into who your customers are is to determine what they like in general. What attributes are important? Some of these could include:
- Aesthetics of your brand. Are you modern and up to date? Or does your website look like it was constructed in 1993? Do you have any brand guidelines that you use to differentiate your company from the masses? All top companies use these and operate this way for a reason…because people pay attention. The look and style of your company can influence other’s opinions.
- Reputation. Are you present in the industry? Do newspapers, magazines or other media outlets use your company as a positive example? Do other apparel decorators call you and want to drop by for a tour?
- Cause marketing. A good number of customers are interested in social causes. This ranges from supporting local interests to more well known philanthropies. Getting involved and participating shows that you care, and your interests go beyond just making a buck.
- Sustainability. We are all citizens of the planet. More and more regulations are heading down the pike regarding how companies operate, and taking a stand and developing a sustainability program shows that your company is an excellent corporate citizen. Not to mention it can save you a truckload of money.
- Good service. Your staff knows what they are doing. They are well versed in the industry. Whenever someone interacts with one of your staff members they are treated professionally and with respect. Customer service always resonates.
- Good neighbor. Your business is a thriving part of the economic community, but you also look out for other businesses in the same area. Involvement in the local chamber of commerce or business leadership group really says a lot.
Getting others to like your company is just like making friends. The only way to get more friends is to be one. This means you have to do things for others to like you. Spend some time and illustrate the positive things that happen at your company. Share.
Trust is more difficult to build and very quickly destroyed if we aren’t careful. Do you want to grow your company so that you get those monster sized orders that you see other companies printing? Those just don’t happen. There were hundreds of smaller orders for that client that were produced correctly and were shipped out on time, that created the trust needed for someone to write an order where a semi-truck or two drops off the shirts.
Every interaction that you have with a potential or current customer builds into their sense of trust. Which earns more trust? Someone who immediately sends a quote just moments after getting the request, or someone who eventually sends a quote a few days later after being reminded a few times with a “Did you get this?” e-mail? Small things matter. Pay attention.
Even when things go bad, there is an opportunity to earn more trust. A few years ago we printed a job for a customer for an event. After we shipped it out, the plane that was carrying the order crashed. Scrambling, we found a way to reprint the order and ship it back out to the customer so they would have shirts for the event. Solve a challenge for a customer when others might easily just throw their hands up the air and say “there’s nothing we can do”; and you’ll not only have a customer for life…but one that will sing your praises to others.
In your company, are you earning trust with your customers? Do your orders ship on time? Are they printed or embroidered correctly? Are you the company they turn to when there’s a challenging “This has to be perfect” order? Do you say “No” when you know you can’t meet the deadline or do a particular print technique..or do you accept the job anyway and hope you can pull it off?
The reality of decorated apparel industry is that to a large degree it is secret science and wizardry to most people. How we get someone’s logo or idea created to being transferred onto a shirt is like magic. Nobody really understands the work that we have to do to accomplish everything on our daily production schedule. They shouldn’t have to either. Our main goal is to make it happen. We are the experts. Our clients come to us because of their trust in us.
Everything you do illustrates that trust. You have to show people that your company can handle their job. I remember talking to a customer years ago that they didn’t know we could print metallic gold ink on a shirt. They thought that only one other shop knew how to do it, and because they had never seen us print with metallic gold ink before they always just gave those types of jobs to them. Sound ridiculous? I know, but that’s a true story. That’s why demonstrating to your customer base that you can professionally handle anything and everything will help build that trust. This is as simple as setting up a portfolio page on your website, or showing images of different jobs on Instagram or Pinterest.
How are you building trust today?
The most important part of the sales funnel. How are you asking for the sale? Selling is a skill just like any other. Some people are really good at it, some are hesitant and nervous but still get it done, and others are just really awful at it.
Look at your current sales process. Do you make it easy for your customers to do business with you? Is the process seamless and enjoyable? How do you match up with your competition? Do you have outside sales people, or rely on a website? Which works better?
For a lot of shops, the biggest competition now is that customers have the ability to go online while sitting on their couch in their underwear and complete their shirt order with one of those mega-websites. This is a huge fear, and should be respected. While online shops and interactive design tools are picking up steam, they don’t have the one thing that you can offer them. Personal service. Websites can’t compete with a company that has customers that Know, Like & Trust with their orders.
I don’t know about you, but I solve problems all day long. Design questions, logistics questions, fabric questions, art questions, “can you do it by then” questions, ink questions, “how-to” questions. It’s endless. I love it. The day these questions dry up, is the day we’re out of business. The biggest ace in the hole you have is the fact that you are a professional expert. This is why Know, Like and Trust will always lead to Buy.
Every tiny interaction you have with your potential or current customers matters. From the way you answer the phone, to how you send an invoice…and everything in between. Let’s face it, we constantly evaluate where we are spending our money in our personal lives. For apparel decorating shops it is no different. If you want to be the company that someone chooses, you have to work at it and earn it.
- Brand your company. Look the part that you know what you are doing.
- Customer service. Be ready for business. Don’t fumble the ball when you get the chance.
- Do good work. Know your trade. Practice craftsmanship. Develop your reputation of awesomeness.
- Follow up with existing customers. They matter. Prove it to them.
- Become an expert in at least one area. Scream it from the mountain top. Constantly.
- Participate. In your industry. In your community. Interact with your customers. Don’t just sit there.
- Try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail. Keep growing and learning.
- Use social media. Know where your customers hang out and interact.
- Say Thank You. Be nice.