When Social Media Will ‘Be Like Air’

Charlene Li sympathizes with B2B sales and marketing managers who, despite the explosive growth in the last 18 months, remain skeptical and/or skittish when it comes to using social media as a vehicle for sales lead generation.

“I can understand if you don’t want to use LinkedIn or blogs, but nobody’s forcing you,” said Li, founder of the Altimeter Group and author of the recently published, “Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead,” which explains how Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, YouTube, et al. can improve efficiency, communication and decision-making for senior managers and their organizations.

It’s one thing for sales managers who prefer not to actively engage with social media tools. However, it’s another thing to dismiss the phenomenon outright. “If you have a key client who wants to talk to you and wants to hear what you have to say on Twitter, are you going to say, ‘No, that’s not the way I work’ ? I don’t think so. And I can guarantee you that B2B [conversations] are happening on Twitter. I see them every day: ‘Just had a great conversation with my vendor.’”

Li, who was formerly VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research, said many B2B sales reps undervalue social-media tools because they view Facebook and its ilk as a “personal” medium and not a “business” medium. (Facebook currently has more than 400 million active users and 50% of Facebook users log in every day.)

But in a digital age – and particularly in B2B sales, which, ultimately, is about building relationships – business in personal, Li said. “You don’t market to a business, you market to a person and that person has a life, has feelings and gets excited about certain things and not excited about other things. It’s important to be able to tap into that,” she added. “If you have clients, don’t you want to know what they’re saying? In fact, they’re expecting you to be listening to what they’re saying.”

Li said it’s backward to look at social media in terms of: How can I use Twitter? B2B sales managers first have to provide context, from which the social media strategy should flow.  “If you can imagine relationships drastically changing in a way that’s deeper and better, what would it look like? How would you paint that relationship?” Li said. “And then, how do you define those changes along with future goals?” Only att that point, Li added, managers should assess how “open” strategies and social media support those goals.

Li said that social media will eventually “be like air.” “So many of the things we do are social. It’s not about the technologies. It’s about relationships that are being formed.”

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