Small and Medium Businesses: How to Sell on Instagram

How to Sell on Instagram for SMBs: 2016 Social Media Series

As promised, we’re back we’re going to explore the wonderful world of selling on Instagram.

Sales in the Land of Instagram

First, let’s define terms. I think words matter. We can all go further, together, when we take a moment to find a common starting point when we’re talking about sales or social selling — or anything for that matter.

It’s not even important that we agree on the definition. What’s important is the commitment to take a breath, take a step back, and take in other perspectives. (Oops, got sociopolitical again, didn’t I?)

Yes, in a capitalist economy, sales eventually equates to money in the bank. Sales means leads and funnels and a commercial transaction. Of course it does.

Sales also means influence, promotion, persuasion.

Like that “persuasive paper” you had to write for high school English class. That was a sales job; don’t kid yourself. (All English papers are sales jobs. That’s what my baccalaureate is in, so you can trust me. And Garrison Keillor.)

A friend and mentor of mine, Jim Keenan, says it best in his book, Not Taught: What It Takes to be Successful in the 21st Century that Nobody’s Teaching You.

[Full disclosure: I had the privilege to be involved in the making of this book as an early copy-editor. #humblebrag]

Not Taught defines sales in the 21st century

Indeed, let’s let him say it again.

Focus on improving their world.
True selling involves bringing positive change to the current environment.

~ Jim Keenan

So Many Ways to Sell on Instagram

I’ve been noodling about this post for weeks now, and even with all of that pre-consideration, I still haven’t quite figured out how to organize it. Should I offer examples in order of “most likely to succeed?” (Ye gods, then we’d have to define “succeed”)

I could order them based on the different types of brands, or by target audience. I tried to get some services providers, some product sellers, some brick-and-mortar businesses.

Some are directly selling from right there in the post. Some are building relationships and mentioning that items are for sale, for those interested.

I want you, dear reader, to be able to see yourself and your small or medium sized business (or nonprofit, or passion project, or what-have-you) in this post and glean some ideas for how to improve your social “selling.”

Also, I want to make SEO headers that please my non-human readers. ~ winks at the Google spider across the room; sends over a cocktail; flashes some leg ~

For now, it’s mostly B2C (Business-to-Consumer)

I worked on a B2B account last year that was beginning to crack this nut, but they wanted social to turn a six-figure ROI within its first six months. No. Seriously.

As you might imagine, they have since orphaned their Instagram account and canned most of their social. That’s why you won’t see them featured here. Not because they’re no longer a client, but because, sadly, they don’t have any current examples to share.

I’m certain that Instagram can be successful for small and medium B2B providers — I just can’t think of many examples from which to cherry pick. The big B2B firms are using Instagram to sell to new hires, college grads, current employees, general public image, and PR stuff, you know? And realistically, they’ve got the money to do it.

Budget like that is not what we contemplate here in bootstrap, DIY-land. (If you know of any successful small and medium B2Bs using Instagram, please ping me and I’ll be sure share a list. Or, if you want to volunteer for a free and public audit of your B2B Instagram account, let me know. That could be fun for the whole family!)

An Admonishment: Start at the Beginning

You’ve got to flesh out your Instagram presence. You can’t just start selling.

If your first post is, “Hi, Buy My Stuff, Yo,” then don’t be astonished when nobody does. And be ready when you get reported for spam.

This is Social Media 101. Build a catalogue of your shared content and re-posted, i.e. curated, content from accounts you admire.

This is sharing — back-and-forth, give-and-take, getting to know you, getting to know all about you. This is not broadcast.

This is not about you.
It’s about us.
We are a community.

And, to Keenan’s point, we are bringing about positive change.

Here Come the Myriad Examples for Instagram Sales

Straight-Up Product Photography

You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve sat here tapping my teeth trying to think of purveyors of goods and services outside my Insta-comfort zone. Thought it might be nice to butch up my blog a bit, yah?

Bass eat baby ducks?! Whoa. Yup, there’s a lure for that. Check the product description. Note that it’s available for pre-order and the reference to “link in profile” for more info.

In Situ Product Pics

You don’t need a fancy camera. Your smartphone will do. You may need to practice with taking pictures that are fetching and well-lit, well-framed, etc. But, you can do it. I know you can. (Look up the Fibonacci sequence as it applies to photo composition. You’re welcome.)

I say in situ because I’m geeky like that. And it’s also to differentiate between “in the field” and a staged view against a white background in a professional light box.

I like that Family Tree Nursery in Kansas City has an Instagram because I’m a gardener myself. I like this post because it’s breathtaking. I know the names of these plants and they’re like old friends.

If I may offer counsel to Family Tree, it’s that you should absolutely tell followers about your in-store sales. AND THEN, create a sale just for them.

Say, “For the next week, we’re offering __% off of all _____, just for you, our Instagram followers. Tell us you saw it on Instagram to get your discount.”

Don’t tell any other channels. Treat this as super secret. Your Instagram followers will tell their friends, of course, and that’s fab. That’s what we want them to do.

But, don’t post signs throughout the store or cross-post to Facebook or Twitter. This is an experiment to see how many of your 786 followers show up during the week. Okay? Keep me posted?

Criminy, folks, we’ve run out of time again. Join us next week for the thrilling conclusion of How to Sell on Instagram!

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Suzanne Hoenig is a strategist and writer helping small businesses, nonprofits, and private practitioners craft their marketing copy, grow their online and offline community, and navigate the changing tides of social media and digital content marketing.
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