Millennial B2B buyers are coming of age – is your brand adapting?
It’s becoming more likely that the decision-makers targeted by B2B marketers are Millennials. How are you adjusting your approach? By Mary Shea.
This article originally appeared in The Generation Issue, our June/July edition of Marketing magazine.
B2B sellers, particularly those representing high-value products and services, endure long buying cycles and navigate complex, often political networks of influencers and decision-makers on their way to success. But now there’s a new ingredient in this multilayered mix.
Recent research reveals that 73% of Millennials are involved in purchasing decisions for their firms. Millennial buyers (aged 18 to 35) are taking their seat at the table. Unfortunately, most B2B organisations are woefully behind the curve in terms of adapting marketing and selling strategies to better engage with these increasingly influential and present decision-makers.
B2B sellers will likely encounter Millennials throughout the evaluation process and beyond, as they are involved in a range of activities such as sourcing and ranking suppliers, as well as signing contracts and managing post-sale vendor relationships.
Lauren Kane, senior manager and content strategist for Penn Mutual, is often charged with vetting a new solution for her department, while Seth Bray, chief operating officer at Penn-Air, signs off on all contracts from commodity products, to large pieces of equipment, to seven-figure investments in manufacturing facilities.
With the exception of firms that provide solutions directly to Millennial end users, most B2B go-to-market organisations are not fully attuned to Millennials as buyers. A recent Forrester survey of marketing and sales leaders shows that 46% of respondents indicate their sellers encounter Millennials as part of the selling process less than 20% of the time, while another 23% indicate they don’t know if their sellers engage with Millennials at all.
According to a recent study by Kronos, Millennials will form more than 75% of the Australian workforce by 2025. As Millennials flood the workplace, expect to encounter self-sufficient and astute buyers with particular preferences around engagement channels, content consumption and relationship building.
The Millennial mindset is different
Most B2B selling strategies have been designed to appeal to Gen Xers and Boomers, and many of these traditional tactics and methods simply don’t resonate with Millennial buyers. Seth Bray describes this disconnection: “Salespeople are focused on selling their product rather than letting me buy it. Amateur sales professionals spend too much time on things I don’t care about.”
Technological progress, societal changes and other life experiences create a different lens through which Millennials view the world. As you re-envision more effective ways to attract and engage Millennials, keep in mind that:
- Relationships and connections matter: Relationships are important to Millennials, and they’re digitally connected. 85% of Millennials are members of a social networking site, and 23% use social more than three hours a day. Recent studies also reveal their strong preference for and heavy usage of text messaging, sharing photos, and posting audio or video to a social site at least weekly.
- Trust and transparency affect decision-making: Recent research conducted by Deb Calvert, author of DISCOVER Questions Get You Connected, suggests Millennial B2B buyers respond favourably to salespeople who evoke feelings of trust, compatibility and connectedness, which is in contrast with buyers 50 and older, who are more focused on business benefits and deliverables. Seth Bray describes just how crucial trust is for him: “Most salespeople talk too much. If I trust them, I move forward immediately. If I lose trust, I will end the engagement.”
- Peer group and third party validations are integral to the process: According to Eric Quanstrom, chief marketing officer at KiteDesk, the role of peer group and third party validation is more important than ever. Millennials seek out peer reviews and media sources they trust, and read articles from experts and other credible sources. In a recent survey that focused on B2B technology decision-makers, respondents rated peer referrals as one of their top three most trustworthy information sources after free trials and demos.
- Content consumption and channel preferences are different: Millennial B2B decision-makers prefer short bursts of information, often in visual formats. Lauren Kane of Penn Mutual likes “a quick video or short article that lays out, in simple bullets, how challenges can be addressed”. Penn-Air’s Seth Bray avoids the phone: “If it’s a new product, I want an email. I hate talking on the phone because it typically disrupts my day. If it’s someone I’ve done business with, I want them to send me a text or an email to deliver a message, so we both can move on.”
Advice to B2B sellers
Millennial B2B buyers have taken their seat at the table. And as they move from mid-level management to executive positions at their firms, they will play even more powerful roles, not only in choosing products and services, but also in identifying which vendors will evolve into strategic partners. Sellers that alienate Millennial buyers will quickly get shut out. Chris Kingman, sales enablement manager for TransUnion’s specialised risk group, has some advice for B2B sellers: “The battlefield has changed. Whatever you’re doing now isn’t going to work much longer.”
B2B sellers have to re-evaluate their engagement strategies across the buyer’s journey, and do so with a Millennial mindset. There are several things to keep in mind when doing that:
- Deliver an efficient experience: Across the board, Millennial B2B buyers value efficiency in their interactions with salespeople. Fine-tune your approach and ensure that information is delivered in succinct emails, suggest screen-share rather than in-person meetings and offer up relationship-building activities during work hours.
- Pay attention to your digital presence: Many Millennials find in-person meetings a waste of time for both sides. They prefer to go online to search for more information on the company’s website or social media pages. If everything is presented professionally and clearly, it may open the door to opportunities.
- Personalise your interactions: With all the tools capable of serving up rich buyer behavioural data, there is no excuse for salespeople who don’t tailor their outreach. A generic one-size-fits-all approach is not appealing, not creative and makes them feel like the seller is not invested.
- Blend new and old techniques: Don’t be afraid to occasionally go ‘old school’ when it makes sense.
Mary Shea is principal analyst serving B2B marketing professionals at Forrester.
Forrester is a Marketing content partner, a leading organisation with which we collaborate to bring exclusive content to readers.
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