How To Improve Sales Through Social Media

Distributors’ use of social media to generate new business is quickly on the rise, but remains a challenge for many.

Not long after completing an order for custom hats for an automobile dealership, Amy Ingram had three more customers lined up for the same product – all thanks to a photo she posted on Instagram.

Social media marketing has paid off big for Ingram, an Atlanta-based distributor who launched JMI Promotions LLC (asi/590344) earlier this year. “I have closed about $20,000 in sales that have just come from Facebook,” said Ingram. “And I’ve only been in business for myself since February first. It’s been tremendous.”

Social networking is increasingly helping distributors build their businesses. While referrals are still the dominant source of new business, 27% of distributors said they landed new clients through social media last year, up from 19% in 2014’s State of the Industry survey. That’s almost tied with cold calls and organizational networking. A LinkedIn survey was even more effusive, noting that 71% of overall sales professionals and 90% of top salespeople use social media platforms to increase sales.

Social media is even more effective for small industry distributors, who reported that 33% of new business was generated through Facebook and Twitter posts last year, behind only referrals as a source of growth.

It’s a good tool, especially for small businesses, because it’s free to sign up – although smart users should budget to pay to promote their posts and increase the number of people who see them, says digital marketing expert Patrick Allmond.

“I think for the right business, it’s a good tool,” says Allmond, owner of Focus Digital Marketing Agency and a regular education speaker at the ASI Shows. “There are some businesses where it’s probably not a good tool. Oftentimes, really high-dollar items aren’t good for social media. If you’re selling a $500,000 house, that’s not the best thing for social media. The important thing is to make sure you’re not annoying people so they won’t drown you out. You have to be really careful, making sure you get the right message to the right person at the right time.”

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Companies succeed on social media, Allmond says, when they educate their clients rather than try to sell products to them. “Never actually say, ‘Buy this product, buy this product,’” he says. “More like, ‘This is the right product for this environment, for this event, for this occasion.’ When you spend your time educating people in your business, and if your education is good and interesting, you really don’t have to work that hard on selling the product. The product is going to sell itself.”

Danette Gossett makes social media an important part of her day, posting frequently on Twitter (@MarketngTidbits) and writing new blog posts on a regular basis. “I went on Twitter kicking and screaming, because I didn’t quite get it,” said Gossett, president of FL-based Gossett Marketing (asi/212200). “But we have garnered some good relationships with fellow distributors. I’ve gotten media opportunities. I’ve gotten a few clients. I’ve gotten some good resources.”

Gossett targets her posts to marketing and business tips, and most of the accounts she follows are marketing-related. She only tweets during the week because that’s when she’s in business. Most important, she feels social media helps her build and maintain relationships with clients, and that she has enough content to attract new ones.

“If someone does Google us, they know that this is a technologically savvy company, a company that is staying on top of the trends,” she says. “We need to be that way. My clients are getting younger and younger, and I don’t want them to feel that we will not be in touch with the next big thing.”

A recent study that was met with some controversy found that people are spending less time on social media apps. The study looked at users from a number of countries, including the U.S., and found that Instagram usage wasdown 23.7% this year. Twitter was down 23.4%, Snapchat 15.7% and Facebook 8%. People in the U.S. are still the most avid Facebook and Snapchat users. “It reminds us to engage on all fronts, social media and local,” Erich Campbell of Black Duck Embroidery and Screen Printing in Albuquerque, NM, wrote in a series of tweets. “If anything, we must care and connect more with the few we engage with on social media.”

Even if usage is done, social media platforms continue to build out their business capabilities. In June, Instagram launched a new set of business tools, noting that it had 200,000 current advertisiers, the majority of which are small businesses. Snapchat continues to expand its capabilities thanks to a series of major updates.

For Ingram, social media multiplies her reach as a solo entrepreneur. And she doesn’t see a limit on the business she can gain through social media. “It’s all going to depend on how I use it,” she says. “I don’t see it plateauing like something else, like a mailing or putting fliers out. You never know who’s going to see your message.”