In the first of a two-part feature, Marshall Atkinson takes a journey down the sales funnel to analyse the buying decision process

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 applied that thinking to create a better sales experience in your company?

Any buying decision is basically broken down into four elements: Know, Like, Trust and 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 do your staff interact with customers?
  • What is it about your company that makes customers come back?

So let’s build the funnel.…


A fancier term for Know is Brand Awareness. 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? And 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.

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 is then 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 recognisable, and everyone understands what you are about.

These days often that can mean 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% to 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.

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? 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 at the local football stadium, or grocery stores give new homeowners that have just moved into a neighbourhood 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 programme shows that your company is an excellent corporate citizen. Not to mention it can save you a truckload of money.

Good service Your staff know 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 neighbour 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.

In the next issue I’ll consider the two remaining elements in the buying decision process including the critical part of the sales funnel – how you ask for the sale.

Marshall Atkinson is the owner of Atkinson Consulting, LLC, a service firm focused on the decorated apparel industry for process improvement and efficiency, sustainability, employee training, social media marketing, and long term strategic planning. He has over 20 years experience in the decorated apparel industry and has championed two companies to become SGP certified sustainable printers. A frequent trade show and webinar speaker, he also publishes his own weekly blog.