For more than a decade, consumer brands have wrestled to understand the unique purchasing behaviors of Millennials, the first generation of digital natives who are focused more on authenticity and social consciousness than luxury name brands. As Millennials age (the oldest are in their mid-30s) and begin to occupy professional roles with purchasing power, the largest generation in the U.S. workforce is having an increasing impact on B2B purchasing as well.
To understand how Millennials’ unique consumer purchasing habits translate into their professional ones, IBM Commerce released a study exploring how this group approaches business decisions compared to their Gen X and Baby Boomer coworkers. The results revealed a generation whose decision-making processes and criteria for B2B vendors differs significantly from their colleagues in many key areas. Some of the most notable include:
- High expectations for personalized sales and marketing outreach
- Demand for easy and immediate access to vendor data
- Increased reliance on the perspectives of family and friends
- Unique preferences on how and when they want to interact with vendors during the sales process
- An emphasis on client experience above other vendor features, including product quality
B2B companies, like consumer brands before them, will need to determine how to align their strategies to effectively target the Millennial buyer. Fortunately, the market research tools that companies have traditionally used to gain customer insights can also be applied to Millennials. We’ve pulled out key behaviors of Millennial B2B buyers exposed by the survey and included tips for how companies can better target their research to gain insights that will help them effectively reach this new generation of buyers.
Review and expand buyer personas with the goal of increased personalization.
Take a cue from the lesson consumer brands have learned when targeting Millennials: personalized outreach in the decision-making process is key. Millennials expect sales outreach and marketing materials to be tailored to their unique needs, and will be turned off by a company who fails to deliver. To achieve this, companies will benefit from refreshing and expanding their buyer personas. Whereas a marketing team might have only needed to develop three to five broad personas for Gen X and Baby Boomers, to effectively target Millennials, that team would need to break down their existing personas into subgroups as needed based on role, business type, business challenges, department size, and other key factors. Expect to at least double the number of buyer personas for Millennial audiences and use them to develop 1:1 marketing strategies bolstered by use data (like open rates and content downloads) that treat each customer as a unique individual rather than a segment to be marketed to.
Leverage your customer usage data and share relevant insights with prospects.
When the Millennial buyer is initially researching a company, they want access to lots of data at their fingertips. Audit your internal customer usage data like number of customers served, time to delivery, satisfaction rates, cost savings, efficiency increases, success stats, and others to determine what can be made available publicly and online. Track your shipping and delivery times internally? Develop a customer-facing app so they can track it as well. Whatever data you make public, be sure to factor in user experience to ensure data can be accessed quickly and intuitively.
Think like a B2C company when measuring brand loyalty and advocacy.
Millennials are much more likely than Gen X or Baby Boomers to consult their friends and family when making a business purchase decision. They were also more likely than their colleagues to base their decisions on reviews, word of mouth, or references. Brand advocacy tests traditionally considered the domain of consumer companies will become an increasingly useful tool for B2B companies, too. Companies should make frequent use of regular brand tracking, deploy the Net Promoter Score® or other brand advocacy tests, and engage social listening and sentiment analyses to determine how the Millennial buyer views the company in the context of their broader social circle, not just professional contacts.
Revisit your Path to Purchase Analysis to understand when Millennial buyers want to hear from you.
IBM’s study showed that Millennials have different preferences for interacting with potential vendors during the sales process than their Gen X and Baby Boomer colleagues. Surprisingly, they prefer face-to-face interaction through meetings at trade shows and in-person demos over email in the research phase of their decision making. However, once the research phase is over, they want to be left alone while they make their final decision, preferring contact with succinct messages through email or text. This is the opposite of Baby Boomers or Gen Xers who typically prefer in-person meetings later in the buying process. An analysis of the typical path to purchase that tests for preferences on contact frequency and method can help companies determine when and how their specific customer base would like to be engaged throughout the sales process and adapt their sales approaches accordingly.
Proactively measure customer experience across the customer lifecycle.
For the last decade, consumer brands have been labelling themselves as “customer obsessed” organizations, and there’s a reason for that: Millennial buyers demand an extremely high level of customer service. When price was factored out, client experience was by far the most important attribute to Millennials when making a purchase decision at work, even outranking product quality. Millennials prize hassle free and convenient client experiences and prefer companies that are enjoyable to work with. To achieve the level of insight needed to produce these excellent client experiences, companies need to create detailed customer journey maps and regularly assess each touchpoint along that journey with data analysis, satisfaction surveys, and qualitative customer feedback.
A significant takeaway from IBM’s study is that companies should be proactive in assessing and improving client experiences. Acutely aware of the outsized blowback a negative online review can generate, Millennials are much less likely to give them than their colleagues, but they will make these negative experiences known to families, friends, and coworkers. Companies that wait to hear from customers about problems before addressing them will often find they’re too late. Regular, proactive customer experience analyses across the lifecycle is the best way to ensure you are meeting the expectations of Millennial buyers and ensuring long-term success for your company.