“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy
Millennials have been the “it” topic of study for consumer purchasing behavior for a while now. As the most educated, tech-savvy, and largest generation since the baby boomers, B2C industries such as retail, food and beverage, and entertainment are scrambling to collect as much data and glean as much insight as possible on this rising consumer generation.
But what about the rising influence of the B2B millennial buyer? Are our purchasing behaviors the same as B2C?
In 2014, IBM set out to find the answer to that question. IBM conducted a study with over 700 influencers of B2B purchasing decisions equaling $10,000 or more for their company. They compared these millennial (born 1980–1993) answers to generation X (born 1965–1979) and baby boomers (born 1954–1964), to discover any key differences between the three, and compare B2C vs. B2B millennial buying behavior.
Below, I’ve highlighted some of the study’s more surprising data points. Take these into consideration the next time you find yourself trying to woo a millennial in the B2B selling cycle.
1) We DO Consider Others’ Opinions in the Purchase Process
“56% of millennials feel they make better decisions at work when a variety of people provide input.”
Don’t get me wrong—us millennials love a good online review forum and the “1-click purchase” feature to get our Vitamix blenders. So it comes as no surprise that B2C companies like Amazon are killing it in the marketplace among millennials.
But in the B2B world, the same rule does NOT apply. We B2B millennials greatly value the input of thought leaders and colleagues that we respect. We will likely pull several other influencers into the dialogue, and enter into a collaborative process before making the final purchase decision for a B2B solution for our company.
At Kapost, we call this a consensus sale—and it is the key differentiating factor between the B2B and B2C buyer’s journey. So when creating your B2B marketing strategy, ensure that you’ve included ALL of the potential purchasing influencers within your target market. While the millennial may be the first engagement and champion of your solution, their baby boomer boss or their gen X colleague may need a different message and set of content, depending on the stage in the buyer’s journey and their specific role in the purchase process.
2) Contrary to Popular Belief, Millennials Actually DO Want to Talk to You on the Phone
It goes without saying that millennials are tech savvy—we like information where we want it, when we want it. This is certainly true for the B2C consumer. If I can’t buy those ski gloves online, then I’ll likely find (and buy from) a vendor that does.
I wouldn’t blame you for assuming that this rule easily applies to the B2B buyer. But you would be dead wrong.
According to the IBM study, millennials prefer direct contact with B2B vendors over methods like online reviews, blogs, and articles.
But we don’t want to hear your sales pitch, we want to have a real conversation with a real person to think through potential solutions to our business’ challenges.
“[Millennials] don’t want to hear your sales pitch, they want to have a real conversation with a real person.”
But take note, we don’t want to speak with a brand before making a purchase because we enjoy talking on the phone (please—we practically speak emoji), but because we want to explore the possibility of your company as a solution to our business challenge.
The IBM report states that millennials “prize a hassle-free, omni-channel client experience personalized to their specific needs. They want data, speed and trusted advisers who are eager to collaborate.”
To put it simply, we are testing the waters to see what it would feel like to work with you and your company. In other words, we have to actually like you.
3) In Fact, We Practically Want to be Besties with You
As a generation, millennials have been labeled as “unrelational,” valuing virtual connections over flesh and blood relationships.
In the case of the B2B millennial buyer, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth—even when compared with their baby boomer and gen X counterparts.
The IBM study shows that millennials prioritize vendors who offer a great client experience—while gen X prioritizes quality of products and services, and boomers want speed to purchase and onboarding.
The takeaway here is that as millennials begin to dominate the B2B purchasing process, B2B companies must invest heavily in top-of-class customer service and support, particularly among SaaS companies. As B2B marketing becomes smarter with technology advancements and tools, it must also become more heavily involved with bottom of funnel engagement as companies focus on upsell and renewal. The future top-of-class B2B marketers will invest heavily to become a full-service marketing operation, no longer focusing on just top of sales activity.
4) But Don’t Call Us—We’ll Call You
In the age of Facebook “stalking” and unending age-related dynamic ads in our news feeds (discount wedding cakes anyone?), us millennials are tired of being “sold” to. While it’s true that millennials like meeting with vendors during their research, once the sales cycle begins, it’s a different story. We want to be in the driver’s seat—so we’ll take it from here, thanks.
According to the study, once millennials have the information they need for a B2B purchase, they prefer to keep vendor interactions quick, easy, and virtual while they make their decision. Millennials are also interested in using social media, live chats, and instant messaging to connect with vendors during this phase.
The take-away? Don’t call us every two days to “check-in” on whether we’ve decided to purchase or not—it won’t end well for you. Follow up with us, but don’t “stalk” us.
5) And If You Burn Us, We’ll Likely Bow Out Quietly
I’m sure you’ve seen the scathing reviews on sites like Amazon. If that food processor sputters out even an ounce of a millennial’s organic green smoothie, you better believe you’ll hear about it on the inter-webs. In fact, 59% of B2C millennial consumers freely share very positive or very negative experiences buying a consumer product or service.
But surprisingly, it’s a different story for B2B millennial buyers.
Gen X and baby boomers are twice as likely as millennials to voice their frustrations with a B2B brand online.
As digital mavens, we millennials understand the ramifications of scathing online reviews. We know about PR nightmares on social media and humiliating viral attacks on brands—and hesitate to assault another B2B company in this way.
We’ll sing your praises to the mountaintop if we love your B2B solution and have a great customer experience, but if you burn us, we’d like to stay discreet. We’ll most likely seethe quietly and discredit your brand via word of mouth rather than embarrass your brand (or our professional image) online.
But don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. IBM reveals that gen X and baby boomers are twice as likely as millennials to voice their frustrations with a B2B brand online.
And there you have it, fellow marketers. You can now start confidently planning your marketing strategy to woo us B2B millennials.
(And for the record, my favorite flowers are lilies…)