While Generation X and baby boomers still prefer to refer to millennials as “young people”, many of those born between 1981 and 1996 are now seasoned professionals and hold positions of power and influence in their organizations.
The Drum recently hosted two B2B4Breakfast panel sessions in collaboration with Merkle B2B, which highlighted the importance of millennials in modern B2B conversations and explored key differences in the thought processes of millennial executives.
In the first panel session, Millennials & B2B: The Statistics, Facts, and Insights You Need to Know Now, Jillian Ryan, Senior eMarketer Analyst at Insider Intelligence, hosted a discussion with Matthew Powell, Vice President and Executive Director, and Taylor Wray. Research Manager, both from B2B International, a Merkle company.
To start the discussion, Ryan acknowledged the increasing influence of millennials in today’s B2B marketplace, noting, “In 2021, millennials will be 25 to 40 years old. You make and influence B2B purchase decisions. Some of them are C-Level and VP-Levels in the organizations you are addressing. Time for B2B brands to take this cohort seriously if you haven’t already. “
It gets emotional
Last year Merkle B2B and B2B International published an important study on the global B2B marketplace “Architecting the Ultimate B2B Customer Experience” in which they conducted 3,500 interviews in four major industries: financial services, manufacturing, professional services and technology. B2B customers were asked to relive and evaluate their journey to purchase, find out what worked and what didn’t, and identify the weak spots along the way.
“The study showed that even if a millennial is not the primary decision maker, companies are very likely to seek input from millennials as users before making any major B2B purchase decision,” said Powell. “As marketers, we need to make sure that millennials are getting the right information in the format they prefer. As expected, millennial decision-makers prefer online touchpoints and communication channels throughout the decision-making process, but especially during the research phase.
The latest study by B2B International on the generation gap in decision-making found that millennials spend more time on this front-end research phase than their older peers; On average, Millennials spend about 13 weeks doing the initial research phase of a B2B purchase decision, compared to 12 weeks for Gen X and eight weeks for Boomers. “Interestingly, millennials are also more likely to take brands out of the running before actually talking to them,” added Powell.
By and large, Powell said, the research showed that B2B companies marketed their goods fairly well to other companies – that is, communicating how their products and services benefit those organizations – but not as well at marketing to the individual influencers within this target group is customer organizations.
“That means building a more emotional, personal connection with millennials, which B2B marketers haven’t done much in the past,” said Powell. “The reality is that we are all human. We all want to impress our colleagues, be respected and do a great job. B2B purchase decisions are associated with many positive emotions. The downside is of course the fear of making the wrong decision and the “risk averse” purchase decisions that fear can lead to. Our research suggests that, as marketers, we need to better understand and address the role emotions play in making these decisions. “
Trust and pride
When examining B2B buying decisions, the survey found some interesting results in terms of the types of content millennials are turning to.
“We found that millennials were more likely to seek opinions from industry analysts and experts, more likely to read social posts on category-specific forums, and generally had a more diverse or well-rounded information diet during the research phase,” Wray said. “The other main difference worth mentioning is that millennials tend to reject or distrust peer reviews or recommendations.”
The study also revealed the importance of millennials to partner with B2B brands they are proud to work with. Companies that have a clear vision and meet their obligations to society – slightly different from their older demographic counterparts.
“Gen X is more about working with partners who are innovative and thought leaders, and boomers want to partner with companies they see as inspiration for the wider business world,” Wray said.
But the key takeaway from the study, Wray said, is this: “If B2B companies don’t tick all of these boxes, if they don’t deliver the omnichannel experience across a range of channels, they are unwittingly telling millennials like, ‘You are not our target group ‘. “
To see the full session – including a reveal of the four ‘Superpowers’ B2B brands that should grow to be a success, click here.