Follow The Lead

When social media ‘will be like air’

Li predicts that social media will 'be like air'

Charlene Li sympathizes with b-to-b 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 b-to-b [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 b-to-b 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 b-to-b 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? B-to-b 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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May 25, 2010 - Posted by | Social Media Marketing | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. It’s an interesting article to me. But I have a question: does anyone of b2b marketing has used Twitter or Facebook to connect with your prospect/lead? I thought that’s mainly for sales team before. It would be great if someone could share your case.

    Comment by Jessica | May 26, 2010 | Reply

  2. I agree – company leaders need to understand the way the new economy works. They need to realize an opportunity to do business is strenghtened when you create interactive conversation that makes prospects and customers circle around your service or product. Li has a very strong point when she said “You don’t market to a business, you market to a person and that person has a life” We have plenty of technology in our company,-CRM, SFA, CTI, behavioral analytics, etc. but we never want to take our customer’s interests for granted, it’s what gives them that personal connection. It’s not just about making it easier for our company to sell – – as you have put it “It’s about relationships that are being formed.” Love your perspective!

    Comment by Ayeen | June 1, 2010 | Reply

  3. Hi Ayeen:
    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. We try and keep the focus on the human element of b-to-b sales that (too often) seems to fall through the cracks. Keep on reading!

    Comment by mpschwartz | June 1, 2010 | Reply

  4. […] networks – and prognostications by media observers that social media will eventually become “like air”  – b-to-b managers, in particular, remain skeptical about the wisdom of using social media as […]

    Pingback by Sans buy-in from C-level, forget about building social networks « Follow The Lead | June 3, 2010 | Reply

  5. There is a lot of effort that needs to go into social marketing to do it well and a lot of monitoring. Where your prospects and clients are relatively naive about any sort of online presence and the market is relatively small to begin with there are still other methods which can produce better results if you have a limited amount of hours in the day.

    Comment by James | June 7, 2010 | Reply

  6. Thanks very much James: We always appreciate the cold-water approach to whether deploying a social media strategy makes sense for b-to-b sales reps (depending on market, etc.)and have tried to reflect that in our coverage.
    Best, Matthew

    Comment by mpschwartz | June 7, 2010 | Reply

  7. […] } We haven’t been shy about touting the benefits of social media for b-to-b sales and marketing executives. However, we’re well aware of the […]

    Pingback by Study points to risks (and rewards) of social media « Follow The Lead | June 10, 2010 | Reply

  8. Good! thanks

    Comment by guest | June 22, 2010 | Reply

  9. […] haven’t been shy about touting the benefits of social media for b-to-b sales and marketing executives. However, we’re well aware of the […]

    Pingback by Study points to risks (and rewards) of social media | ZoomInfo Blog | February 26, 2015 | Reply

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