Today let’s talk about Sales and Marketing.  Probably the two most misunderstood and drama filled words in the decorated apparel industry.

All shops want more sales.  Who doesn’t, right?

To get more sales, there’s that marketing step.  That’s usually the biggest challenge.  Because what you want is not just any customer.  You want profitable customers that fit what you do best.

So for this article, let’s break things down into six manageable steps that you can use in your shop to proactively plan to build an effective sales and marketing strategy.

Step One: Why?

Who is your customer?

If you said, “Anyone that walks in the door and places an order”, you may be in trouble sales-wise already.  Instead, I want you to rethink this a little bit.  Start with this question:


As in “Why would anyone do business with your shop?”  Part of an effective sales and marketing plan is defining that why.  That’s where most shop’s get confused.

You don’t want to be an order taker.  Order taker shops are the fast-food version of this industry.  These types of customers are tire-kickers and are only driven to one end of the sales conversation…low-prices.

Your sales and marketing strategy isn’t about appealing to this crowd.  Nope.

Instead, build your sales and marketing strategy on that “why” question that focuses on your purpose.  Stop selling the ink or thread on the shirt.  Start marketing the customer’s experience and problem-solving help your shop can deliver instead.

Your marketing spotlight should be on your customer’s stories of success, not about your shop.  Start by defining who is that customer?  Who benefits from the “why” you are in business?

You don’t want to be busy being busy, instead, you want to be busy being profitable.  Market to the right customer.

For you, who is that customer and what is the “Why”?

Step Two:  How

Once you have truly identified your customer segments, the next step is to understand how they buy.

Is it once a month or once a year?

Do they pay upfront, or with a purchase order?

Can you plot out those buying decisions on a calendar?

This is important, as shops in this industry are known for those feast or famine sales cycles.  Believe it or not, your sales and marketing planning should be focused on leveling that rollercoaster ride out so it is less tumultuous.

We do this by understanding the “buyer’s journey”.

Can you map this out for each of your customers?  Start with the decision that is made immediately before buying from you and work backward.  What tipped that decision from “not buying” to “buying”?  Usually, this has more to do with elevating the education or trust factor with your shop than about price.  People want to know that they are making a correct decision, especially if they have a boss.

Nobody wants to be called on the carpet for making a mistake.  Your job is to give your customers the social proof that any decision they make in your favor is a good one.

Working backward, for each step in your “buyer’s journey”, can you identify their questions, motivations, and objections?  What type of content will you need to create to smash through those obstacles?

Understand “How” your customer makes those decisions.  Do this by talking to them or creating surveys.  Chart out the answers.

Learn how they think.

Step Three: What

As in, “What” makes you different?

This is what you scream from the mountaintop with all your might.

What you are yelling about is your unfair advantage.  Something that nobody else has, that makes you unique.

Trust me, anyone can decorate a shirt.  That’s a common task in this industry.  Yes, I know.  Some are better at it than others.  But that’s not what drives sales.

Your unfair advantage is what is unique to your shop.

Maybe you are a veteran.  You’ll get good buy-in from other veterans and the community market’s that align with them.

Maybe your art staff rocks.  It’s hard to compete against really great art.  How are you showing that off?

Maybe you have decades of expert knowledge.  Your unfair advantage is that everyone comes to you for answers.  Can you sell solutions?  You bet.

If you haven’t already defined your unfair advantage, take out a notepad.  Jot down all the things that make you different.

If you don’t have many, what do you think your next step should be?

Step Four: Authentic Branding

How’s the “look” for your shop?

Modern and up to date?  Do you have branded marketing and sales collateral for your shop?

Do your social media posts reflect the voice of your shop?  Are you even using it?  Do the channels that you post on a regular basis connect with your customers?

It’s a proven fact that for customers to buy, they need to Know, Like and Trust a company first.  Once they get an understanding about who you are and what you do, it is really easy to make a decision to buy from you when the time is right.

Build your brand so that it resonates.  Prove that you not only know what you are doing, but other customers have trusted and used you before.

I read a quote the other day that I really liked about marketing.  “Don’t sell quarter-inch drill bits, sell quarter inch holes instead.”  Meaning, don’t focus on selling the decoration for your shop.  Market the results that your customers are looking for in using a company like yours.

Memories of summer camp.

That achievement finally reached for a safety program.

Screaming fans for a rock band showing off their love for the music.

All the students and fans from the high school showing up to the big game wearing an ocean of the school color to prove “Hey, we got spirit how ’bout you?”

How are you currently marketing your shop?  Does everything scream “on-sale”, or are you aligning with your customers by connecting with what they value?

Step Five: Sales Process

Marketing is all about generating leads for sales to close.

So what happens in your shop when the phone rings or the email comes in?  What if the request is by text message?  Maybe a Facebook messenger post?

Are you ready?  Do you have a process to respond and close the sale regardless of how it was communicated to you?

Hopefully, you have linked sales goals with your marketing.  While that can be another article, let’s say you have a SMART goal written for your sales this quarter.  Does everyone on the sales team have the same method for nurturing and following up on sales leads?  Is your process documented?  Are you keeping daily, weekly, and monthly metrics?

Remember, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Don’t forget to data mine your sales history and have an outreach program to contact former customers.  This should be part of your marketing plan too.  If someone has already done business with your shop, they are easier to close to get their order than a complete stranger.

But don’t “touch base”, which always seems like a lame attempt.  Have a value for them that makes sense.  Make sure it is in alignment with your brand and benefits the customer.

Step Six: Make It Easy

To increase sales, one tried and true method that always works is to reduce friction when buying.  In other words, make it easy.

Any tool that you deploy to take the friction out of the buying process will reap tremendous rewards.

Of course, we’re proud of our online stores for that very reason.

But that’s just the start of it.  If you sell to the local school system, the end customer will be the student in the school or their parents.  They are buying the shirts.

The easy part you have to make it for the school could be in how the shirts are being used for fundraising.  Maybe how the social media posts to market the shirts on the site are created by you, all they need to do is post them.  After the shirts are printed, you ship them directly to the student so they won’t have to be distributed at the school.  You could also have a plan for reordering or adding to the next order already built.

But let’s not forget one of the most important aspects of using this store for sales.  Every time someone orders, you now have their information.  You can use this information to market to the student directly, and free up the school from having to do any work to increase sales.  You can control the marketing.

Can you think of other ways you can make your sales program easier for your customers to use?

I’ll bet you can.


“There is no lotion or potion that will make sales faster and easier for you.  Unless that potion is hard work.” – Jeffery Gitomer

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” – Peter Drucker

“A good ad that is never run never produces sales.” – Leo Burnett


Production Manager Tool

From day one, we’ve been devoted to making InkSoft the most useful tool for printing and customization professionals across the industry. While thousands of users are growing their businesses with InkSoft Stores and the Design Studio, we know we still have a lot of work to do to help print shops run more efficiently.

The next big step is a production management tool. We want to bring InkSoft full circle by providing a powerful way for you to streamline production and communication, ultimately boosting profitability and reducing costly mistakes. Not to mention, solving the challenges outlined in this article.