Marketers are a strange lot. They actively ignore the lessons of history rather than learn from them. And then repeat the same mistakes, over and over. So-called digital marketers are exemplary performers of this behaviour.

Around 35 years ago, as a result of marketers flooding residential letterboxes with too much irrelevant mail, the “Do Not Mail” register was created. It allowed consumers to opt-out of mailing lists so they wouldn’t be sent unwanted marketing messages.

Then around 30 years ago, as a result of marketers abusing the privilege of calling people on their home landlines, the “Do Not Call” register was created. It allowed consumers to opt-out of telephone lists so they wouldn’t get unwanted calls from telemarketers.

At the turn of the century, and in record time from the commencement of a new marketing channel, the “Spam Act” was legislated to stop marketers sending unsolicited emails. It only took marketers a few years to fully abuse email, forcing laws to be introduced globally to stop them.

So now it is illegal to send unsolicited commercial marketing messages to consumers and workers via their email address, unless they opt-in to a list or database. Though some dodgy operators are still scraping email addresses from websites and trying their luck.

But we never learn do we?

Because, rather than do the right thing, marketers are now getting around the Spam Act.

It’s hidden behind the fancy buzzwords of “Social Selling” and here’s how it works. Ironically it’s completely anti-social selling, but who cares about the details?

Step 1 – Somehow get convinced by an alleged social selling expert to ignore what has always worked, as the future of B2B marketing is social selling on LinkedIn.

Step 2 – Use LinkedIn’s automation tools to solicit massive numbers of (often irrelevant) connections.

Step 3 – Once an executive accepts a connection, go to town spamming them with unsolicited automated messages – most of which you’d never email or mail to said executive. The assumption being that because of the ‘connection’, the social seller has carte blanche to send as much spam as they like without repercussions.

Step 4 – Increase your illegal spam. Some social sellers also double-up and replicate their unsolicited LinkedIn messages via unsolicited email, in case the new connection missed their messages on LinkedIn. This is entirely illegal and in breach of the Spam Act. They’ve simply scraped your email address from your LinkedIn profile, wrongly assuming they have permission to do so.

Maybe LinkedIn should create a “STOP SOCIAL SELLING” digital badge to put on your profile? Though I doubt it – they’d lose too much money.

I’m unsure what qualifies as the worst part of social selling spam:

  • Firstly, there’s the one-size-fits-all automated solicitations.
  • Then there is the one-size-fits-all follow-up message to get an appointment, despite knowing nothing about the prospect. For example, I have a brand called The Content Brewery – I regularly get proposals from salespeople selling beer and coffee equipment, because the stupid social selling algorithm is using keywords to target prospects. After all, why should a salesperson use their brain to think, when they can use an algorithm instead?
  • Then there are the “definitive guides” – that are only definitive for the product or service the salesperson is flogging.
  • And of course, the fake thought-leadership articles, most likely created by outsourcing to Fivver.com.

There are legitimate consultants in the social selling space

They practice what good B2B salespeople have done since the 1950’s when Account Based Marketing (ABM) was invented – there’s nothing new in B2B marketing. They manage a database of prospects and a database of customers, using appropriate contact strategies for each. (more here) They communicate with relevance and respect. LinkedIn is just another way to add contacts to your database and do what has always been done in lead and sales generation. To think otherwise is simply naive.

But I often get the feeling that many of the alleged social selling experts have never sold anything in their life except: How to get rich by selling the secrets of how to get rich with social selling.

It’s why so much social selling has become the new spam

Driven by marketing automation, and devoid of any copywriting skills, salespeople blindly pump out vacuous messages in a numbers game, while ticking off their KPIs for ‘total contacts made‘.

If you’re in B2B marketing, you need to tread carefully using digital-first tactics. Direct mail with QR codes linked to landing pages is still the most powerful lead generation channel, apart from face-to-face. And as social selling zealots have ignored direct mail, the opportunities using mail are enormous.

It’s easy to test the success (or otherwise) of social selling spam

Simply reply to one of the automated solicitations and say you’re not a prospect. One of two things will happen. Either nothing, because the reply isn’t monitored, or you’ll get a thank-you response from a shocked salesperson. They are stunned that a human replied.

Apparently very few executives respond to social selling spam – I wonder why?

If you have similar experiences, please share them with me.

But I have to go now, I just got a LinkedIn invitation: “I’m glad we have a platform where we can connect with like-minded business people. Would love the opportunity to connect and share insights with you if you’re open to it?