Sometimes it seems as though there’s at least one hot new buzz word every month.  While a few have enough relevance to create some sticking power – “man cave,” “inbound marketing” and “internet of things” readily pop into mind – more often than not, I find that these new terms are more bark than bite.

Lately, there’s been quite a bit of barking about “social selling.” Do a quick search on Google and you will find many people talking about “social selling” as a new technique using Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with prospects and sell. In all the reading it would seem social selling is a completely new phenomenon created in the last ten years.

My friends over at HootSuite (Full disclosure: I’m a HootSuite Certified Professional) created the definitive guide to social selling. (We know it’s definitive because they conveniently titled it “A Definitive Guide to Social Selling.”) Hootsuite did a great job of downplaying social selling as a completely new strategy, instead emphasizing that, along with inbound marketing, sales 2.0, content marketing, growth hacking, etc.,  the technique is really just an old-fashioned sales process, that technology has rendered dramatically more efficient and scalable.

Let’s Travel Back…

I first saw social selling in action in 1995, when I was a rookie stock broker at Smith Barney. Every day, all of the rookies crammed into the so-called pit (which was really just a dank 8×8 closet that they jammed all six of us into — you know it’s bad when the word “pit” makes it sound nicer than it really is) and smiled and dialed all day long, and often into the night. As I walked to the pit each day, I passed by an old broker’s office. He was always sitting at a huge table, cutting articles out of newspapers, making copies and creating small booklets.  One day, my curiosity finally got the better of me. I stopped in and asked him what he was doing; he put down his scissors, looked up at me and said, “Prospecting.”

Kenny Powers, prospecting

Courtesy: Troll.Me

My response, of course, was something along the lines of, “How is cutting out articles from a newspaper prospecting?”  He invited me to sit down and then explained his process. First, he had identified five publicly traded companies and researched each thoroughly.

He subscribed to newspapers in the cities where they were headquartered (yes, kids, before Google we had to have someone actually send us actual papers from another city), he listened to company investor conference calls, and he shopped at the companies’ local outlets.  At the end of each month, he wrote a letter about his findings and included it in a booklet that contained relevant articles from the papers. Then, he mailed the packets to all of the significant shareholders in the company.

At first, I thought the concept sounded pretty cool… but then I started thinking about all the time and effort he was putting into these packets and thought there must be an easier way. I realized Smith Barney had a whole team of people that put together a monthly investor report on these same companies and asked him why he didn’t just send out the report prepared by our analysts.

He looked up at me and said, “Son, do you know how many brokers send those company reports to the people I am mailing too?”  No, of course I didn’t know, because I hadn’t given it any thought.  He explained that hundreds of brokers were sending out these canned reports each month, and asked me why he would want to send the same information as everyone else.

“Now,” he continued, “do you know how many people take the time to put together a package of all the relevant information they need and include some personal insight? One. Most investors switch brokers every few years, and the next time these folks are ready to find a new broker, where do you think I’ll be on their list? Number one. Plus, many of these investors share the information I send them with other stockholders they know – then I add them to my list, so my prospects are actually helping me find more qualified prospects.”

The Lesson?

This is social selling at its best: Giving potential clients the information they need in a format that both saves them time and establishes you as an expert. When the investors that received these packets decided it was time for a new broker, he was the first one they called.

So you see, social selling doesn’t require social media. The effective use of Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook etc. can allow you to do the same thing on a much larger scale… and that’s a wonderful thing. But one simple fact remains as true today as it did in 1995:  Social selling must start with great content.

Do you have any great stories or insights about social selling? Please tell us about your unique prospecting experiences and brilliant ideas for selling through social.