Prospecting like a pro? Kevin Pendergrass, co-owner and sales rep at Shawnee, OK-based Pendergrass Promos, has it down to an art. Pendergrass targets 10 new businesses a week with a gift-focused campaign. “We send a promo item in the mail to introduce ourselves,” he says. “This separates us from our competitors because it cuts through the clutter—and gets our name in front of prospects loud and clear.”

Seventy-one percent of buyers want to hear from sellers when they’re looking for new ideas to drive stronger business results or to solve a problem, according to consultancy SalesPop. Even better, 82% of buyers accept meetings with sellers who reach out to them. That’s why successful decorators and distributors use unique ways to generate leads and find new prospects for decorated apparel—on a regular schedule.

When you prioritize prospecting, you build a strong pipeline of warm and hot leads. Here are seven ways to engage new buyers—and how to follow up until they’re ready to buy.

1. Use live chat

An economical way for decorated-apparel businesses to generate leads, especially if marketing support is limited, is adding live chat onto their websites. “When we do get a hot lead via chat, we ask one of our reps to follow up with a welcome packet,” says Lucas Guariglia, co-founder, and president of Chicago-based Rowboat Creative. Aside from gathering new leads, another big benefit of adding alive chat feature was being able to see the kind of information prospects really wanted to know the most, which helped him create a comprehensive FAQ page for his site. Getting familiar with a buyer’s needs through observing regular search queries or using heatmaps to understand how users are behaving on your site, will help you determine, formulate and optimize your customer’s experience. More importantly, it will also help you to better understand how to quickly get them the information they’ll need to buy from you much faster.

2. Plan sponsorships and giveaways

Sponsoring local community teams or events and providing winning logoed giveaways is a successful way to generate prospects. Wear logoed company apparel to events you sponsor, so you’re easily recognizable. Plus, give away branded prizes and apparel such as tote bags, baseball caps, visors and t-shirts to promote your business.

Lucas Guariglia, president of Rowboat Creative, says when they first opened their doors, the team sponsored local concerts and artist openings, which in-turn, generated interest in the brand. “We wanted prospects to feel our ethos and company vibe. People even switched from other vendors when they meet us because they realized we shared the same aspirations and dreams.”

Another option is working with local brands to create a unique experience that will keep people talking about you long after the event is over. In the video above, you’ll see how Rowboat collaborated with Chicago streetwear legend, Joe Fresh Goods, to setup a live printing experience at AT&T’s 312 event. Teaming up with streetwear brands or local startup companies to sponsor these kinds of events can prove to be a powerful force in helping you acquire new clientele.

3. Try pop-up shops

According to a PopUp Republic poll, people who visit pop-up shops want unique services and products (39%), optimal pricing (34%), convenience (33%) and a fun experience (30%). Instead of a traditional booth, set up a pop-up shop at local community and trade show events, to give people a chance to experience your brand in a unique way. Some decorators bring a mobile screen-printing press or embroidery machine to demonstrate how they imprint a garment—and then gift the garments to visitors.

Tip: Use social media blasts with interactive activities, such as quizzes, to give away exclusive offers and limited-time incentives, in exchange for contact information.

4. Hold special events

Special events give off the impression of exclusivity. Holding a special “open house day” at your shop and giving an exclusive tour of your business encourages prospects to learn more about your business and apparel products. For example, when Rowboat Creative relocated to a new building, the team put time and resources into turning the “traditional screen-printing shop on its head,” Guariglia says.

“We have A-list influencers and musicians in and out (of the shop). We’ve got cool artwork everywhere. When we invite visitors, we want them to say, ‘This is the company that will create our branded merch.’”

Why not use the “National Days Calendar” to take advantage of more quirky times to promote your business, like National School Picture Day? This is the perfect opportunity to promote uniform apparel for schools, plus it’s a fun way to get visitors to try on spirit wear pieces like logoed sportswear, hoodies and t-shirts. Added bonus? If they post their photos online and tag your shop with a special hashtag, they get a free shirt or 10% off their next order.

Tip: Get the word out by sending VIP invitations to the local press, your loyal customers, and even local or industry-related bloggers and influencers.

5. Let your branded apparel do the talking

To always stand out from the crowd, your own company apparel can be the ultimate billboard. Outfit your staff in logoed premium jackets, hoodies, t-shirts and hats to spark conversations when they’re out and about on their own time and when they’re repping your company. Some decorators and distributors even develop a “brand cult” following and sell their logoed apparel as fashion pieces.

Guariglia admits that up until 2018, Rowboat didn’t outfit its staffers in branded apparel. However, this year, in conjunction with their rebranding, he plans to make uniform apparel a must. “We want to give a premium product to our employees, so they’re proud to wear it,” he says. “It’s a walking portfolio.”

6. Use high-quality visual communication

Guariglia focuses on interesting visual content and photos. “We carefully curate what’s educational, and how we execute our products and services,” he says. For decorated apparel, there are simple solutions to help close the deal, such as interactive videos to show a model wearing a garment, how it fits and is styled, as well as close-up shots to capture the texture and quality of the fabric and decoration.

Tip: Create logoed virtual mockups using a potential client’s logo and brand colors to instantly pique their interest.

Rowboat Creative also found that prospects love connecting with what employees are doing, within the company, like their fun adult show-and-tell sessions. “We showcase who we are, and celebrate our creativity internally,” he says.

7. Create a content marketing strategy

Having engaging and informative content, with clear calls-to-action is a way to spark interaction, feedback and genuine queries from prospects. Creating extra content in the form of helpful guides, how-tos, new apparel previews and reviews, can also help you grow a loyal following and potential leads, if your content begins to get shared across social media. Do this via blogs and quickfire social media posts. Guest posting is another way to gain new audiences, provide valuable information and promote your business; plus, strategically placed keywords expose the content to organic traffic with buyer intent.

“If you Google ‘decorated merch,’ you’ll get a long list of companies,” says Guariglia, who recommends tapping into your company’s genuine vibe and ecosystem. “Show your prospects what you’re doing that’s different, like investing in R&D,” he says. “Put that on social, because that’s where prospects vet you.”

The Fortune’s in the Follow-Up

Pendergrass is the master of following up. To overcome challenges that many decorators face when following up on warm and hot leads, he suggests always be enterprising. “As a small business, we’re constantly on the hunt for new prospects and clients,” he says. “The biggest obstacles include making sure we have enough prospects at all times and turning some of them into clients. You can’t just hope the business comes to you—go to it.”

The majority of Pendergrass’ orders closed because of a follow-up touch. “If a prospect shows interest, we put them on a 12-month follow-up plan,” he says. “We touch base with them once a month for a year until they either become a client, tell us no, or the 12 months expire.”

Have a plan on how to handle warm prospects on a rotating monthly basis. The key is to stay in touch: Do this using a drip email campaign, phone calls, handwritten cards, promo gifts or even a personal visit. Pendergrass’ six-month plan looks like this: January (phone call); February (send a promo item); March (email); April (handwritten card); May (phone call); June (send a promo item); and July (email).

Ultimately, Pendergrass says the key is to never stop prospecting. “There are a plethora of prospecting methods that work. Different things work for different people.”

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