If you don’t want your shop to become a casualty among all the online decorated-apparel sellers, it’s time to throw order-taking out the window.

We’re even talking about transcending cross-selling and upselling, your tried-and-true sales standbys.

Transform yourself (and your sales team) into a true solutions provider powerhouse by using a mix of consultative and suggestive selling techniques. By taking this approach, you’re stepping onto your client’s team as a helpful partner, rather than a printer trying to sell 500 T-shirts.

Ready to be seen as an expert? It’ll happen instantly when you shift away from commodity-based selling to consultative selling. This needs-based selling model is about building relationships and offering solutions. It’s about listening intently. It’s about keeping things conversational and genuine. It’s about asking questions and offering insights. Most importantly, you offer workable solutions based on your customer’s needs, and your own research and expertise.

Unfortunately, 82% of B2B decision-makers think sales reps are unprepared. Don’t be one of them.

Here, we break down the process of consultative selling into four steps. The key is to start by asking the right questions.

#1 Present your business as a talented team of marketing specialists.

Right now, there are 12,531 custom screen-printing businesses in the United States. From the outside, many buyers may view them the same: Order 500 screen-printed T-shirts from any printer on the block and call it a day. However, you’ll stand out when you go beyond asking what kind of T-shirt your client wants, to really uncovering their needs. You should know that nearly half (45.6%) of B2B buyers want to hear new ideas at the beginning of a sales conversation.

Hot tip: Start marketing your shop as a “boutique marketing agency that specializes in decorated apparel and branded merchandise.” Tell prospects and clients that you solve marketing challenges through very unique product solutions and messages. That’s very different than a “shop that prints T-shirts.”

Consider that only 23% of buyers view “sellers” or “salespeople” as a top resource for solving business problems. Plus, only 32% of buyers say sales reps exceed their expectations. Today’s buyers, especially Millennials, want vendors to act as partners, providing helpful information and new ideas.

#2 Ask consultative-focused questions.

As marketing guru Seth Godin has said, it’s a marketer’s job to help B2B clients look great to their bosses—or at least to help them sell their awesome idea to other decision-makers. When you ask the right questions, you create a whole new breed of customer experience.

Consider that 64% of B2B buyers want to work with firms that demonstrate knowledge about their company and provide actionable insights for their problems. In addition, 62% expect salespeople to have experience with and knowledge of what works in their industry.

During your first meeting with a prospect, these are the three key questions to ask beyond, “What color T-shirt do you want?”.

  • What’s the goal of this project or event? Asking this shows you’re actively engaged in the solution: “Is this a company anniversary party? A corporate holiday party? A high school’s big homecoming celebration? A 5k fundraiser for breast cancer awareness?”   
  • What do you want to communicate? By asking this, you’re taking the time to learn the foundation motivation for the project or event—and what your client really cares about.
  • What memories and feelings are you trying to create? Ask what emotions your client wants their employees, customers, or event attendees to experience and remember. You’re creating your own emotional connection or bridge with your client. When you do this, your relationship turns more teamwork than transactional.

#3 Use your client’s first ask as a starting point.

If your customer asks for 500 T-shirts, great. But don’t even consider stopping there: Start thinking of your client’s initial request as just the beginning. If you’ve asked the consultative questions we just covered, you’ll be on your way to helping your client solve their marketing problem.

Now, it’s time to think about presenting complementary products and crafting brand experiences. Here are three key levels of product presentation:

Level 1: Take care of your primary products first.

Let’s say your client asked for T-shirts for a company event. Offer two or three options, in a good-better-best scenario. For example, if your buyer cares about sustainability, show them a T-shirt made from U.S.-grown organic cotton.

Level 2: Hit those secondary products.

If you were organizing your client’s marketing effort or event, what other items would you choose? In the breast cancer awareness 5k example, here are useful (and reusable) items to pair with T-shirts: logoed visors, water bottles, sunglasses, sun protection, and temporary tattoos, all packed in a great tote or backpack. When you invoke the memorable experience your client wants to provide end-users, it’s easier to build a powerful collection of products and artwork ideas.

Hot tip: If your client has a budget of $5,000, make sure it covers their primary products and some secondary ones you’ve brainstormed. You can say, “We can add the visors and water bottles with a portion of your budget, or a little extra.”

Level 3: Add “wish list” or aspirational products.

Include products your client might not have the budget for now but could consider in the future.

More than 60% of consumers like to be empowered by salespeople to make decisions. You’re providing them with information so they’re empowered to say yes or no. Ask: “What grouping of products work best for your needs?”

Hot tip: Present enough products so your client can pick and choose. Say your $5,000-budget customer is looking at the water bottle and sunglasses for an extra $2,000. They decide to forgo the sunglasses for $1,000. Ultimately, they’ll feel that they’ve saved $1,000 and scored a great add-on item their recipients will love.

#4 Hit pitch perfection via a well-thought-out proposal.

Here’s your chance to differentiate your firm through curated product suggestions and ideas. Extra points if you’re already using InkSoft Proposals to create winning pitches. (Our clients love that they can email over a streamlined proposal that allows their customers to approve the artwork and pay upfront, all in one interface.)

Be aware that 70% of buyers “fully define” their needs on their own before reaching out to a sales rep, and 44% “identify specific solutions” before contacting a seller. That’s why you need to include what they’ve asked for— and then up the ante.

Here are three tips to presenting your product collections in the best possible light:

Tip 1: Create proposal packages that are easy for your client to approve.
Of course, include your clients’ specific asks, like polo shirts or hats, with some great alternate ideas. That could include a brand name polo or a shirt with performance properties.

Tip 2. Include products or decorating methods you might not produce in-house.
Yes, that includes embroidered polos (if you only offer screen printing) or promotional products. For example, for an event, you might want to pitch embroidered polos for event sponsors and screen-printed T-shirts for volunteers. Or, returning to our breast cancer awareness 5k example, you want to offer a collection of items, including sunglasses and water bottles.

And don’t worry, if you don’t offer embroidery, you can easily outsource it to another shop and pitch it via InkSoft Proposals. Learn how here.

PLUS! Big news: InkSoft recently partnered with leading promo products supplier Polyconcept (PCNA) so that you can offer decorated promo products via InkSoft Stores and InkSoft Proposals. Learn more here.

Tip 3: Use storytelling to enhance your product selection.In InkSoft Proposals, you can take advantage of the “Notes” section under each product. For example:

  • “Who doesn’t love a super-soft T-shirt to wear at the conference networking event? Attendees will take the stylish T-shirt home and wear it again and again.”
  • “We can pack your race participants’ T-shirt, sunglasses, visor and sun protection in this durable backpack, and deliver them to you, ready to give out on 5k day.”

You can even add a special “Staff Picks” section. For example, show a water bottle and add the note: “This is our favorite hydration product. Our customers love it for all kinds of fitness, sports, and outdoor events.”

Tip 4: Tout your authentic expertise.
As we talked about earlier, it’s great if you have 20 years of screen-printing experience. However, reframe that expertise in the context of solving your customer’s marketing problem. For example: “Let’s try printing on this alternate fabrication; it’ll show off your artwork better for these three reasons …”

The InkSoft Difference

Are you ready to expand into consultative selling?

Check out this video to watch a special consultative sales masterclass. You’ll learn what it takes to move from simply responding to customer inquiries to becoming a trusted advisor and authentic industry expert, including:

  • What types of questions should you ask prospects, and why?
  • How do you structure options in your client proposals to lead clients to make the best decision for their project?
  • How do you use InkSoft to effectively communicate your expertise to your prospects and build long-term relationships for repeat business?