Millennials: the catalyst for a B2B marketing revolution

With millennials now making up a large portion of the workforce, marketers need to adapt to changing purchasing patterns triggered, in part, by the increased professional influence of these digital natives.

The cohort of people born roughly between the early-1980s and mid-1990s are increasingly senior leaders and executives of companies, and their buying habits are changing the face of B2B sales.

How this millennial generation buys and how it influences the buying patterns of other demographics is an issue that all marketers are seeking to better understand.

“As they grew up online, it makes sense that millennials may prefer to do business online as well,” says Lucy Moran, vice president of marketing, digital and brand at the global commercial data analysis company Dun & Bradstreet. “Face-to-face conversations are less common in the millennial generation, as texting and social media have come of age, so it may not be uncommon for a millennial to want the entire buying process to take place online.”

Blurred lines between business and consumer marketing

A key way in which millennial influence is changing buying habits is by blurring the lines between B2B and B2C marketing. Research published by Adobe in May found traditional distinctions between B2B and B2C marketing are dissolving, and purchasing behaviours once prevalent among consumers are now echoed by enterprise buyers.

The report found that the biggest purchasing drivers for business buyers now include brand transparency – a consideration for four fifths of B2B buyers – while more than two thirds factor brand purpose into the buying decision and half expect a personalised customer experience.

The research shows how behaviours typically associated with digital natives are now associated with all age groups. Even buyers in their 60s can be “millennials” now.

Ines Van Gennip, head of UK marketing for Amazon Business, the B2B arm of the global online retailer, says it is a myth that only millennials want a digital, easy purchasing experience.

“Some of our biggest advocates in large organisations are really not millennials; they’re what we would consider a traditional buyer,” she says. “They’re used to buying for themselves in the digital world, so they are expecting the same experience when they come into the office.”

This comes as no surprise to VaynerMedia, the digital marketing agency founded by serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, which is at the cutting edge of millennial buying trends. The company has worked on advertising and marketing campaigns for the likes of Budweiser, Diageo and PepsiCo.

VaynerMedia’s head of strategy for the company’s London office, DuBose Cole, says: “Cultural shifts brought about by millennials and the forces that impact them directly shape the operations of the organisations they are beginning to lead.”

Mr Cole explains that as the wider B2C market adapts to forces brought about by millennial consumer demands, a greater understanding of purpose, transparency and clarity in how you market and approach them should become more important for an organisation. “The way we are sold to as consumers implicitly shapes our expectations of how we are sold to as employees and business owners,” he adds.

Millennials’ impact on the buyer’s journey

But there is a lot more going on than a switch from phone to messaging. Ms Moran explains the importance of B2B marketers evolving their go-to-market approach to be relevant in a world where potential customers are starting their research online and who, ultimately, would prefer to complete as much of the purchase process as possible online.

“This means investing in digital content that enables prospects to get a sense of what a company’s product has to offer,” she says. Where possible, companies need to enable ecommerce, even for what might be considered somewhat complex solutions, she adds.

Marketers in Raconteur roundtables attested that buyers of all ages are now presenting themselves later in the buying process. Extensive online browsing and research meant by the time their potential purchasers identify themselves they may have already made key decisions that would shape an eventual choice of vendor and which can be difficult for a salesperson to challenge.

Sarah Rutherford, director of solution marketing in the UK for software and analytics company FICO, says creating content for these early-stage potential buyers is vital. Even longstanding customers may not know your whole product range and may go to a rival if a quick web search doesn’t show your offering.

However, tracking the effectiveness of this content when customers have not yet identified themselves is a problem. She says: “Marketing can’t stand around not being measured and not having key performance indicators (KPIs). But how do you find the right way to measure marketing effectiveness on things that are a little less tangible, but nevertheless very important?”

Ms Rutherford says this becomes particularly acute as companies shift to account-based marketing, which typically sees an even greater focus on metrics and less effort on brand-building and other difficult-to-measure activities.

How do you find the right way to measure marketing effectiveness on things that are a little less tangible, but nevertheless very important?
Sarah Rutherford, FICO

Connecting with this trend, Google recently changed how it talks about search advertising, moving away from a product-first mindset to a solution one. Instead of describing the search products, Google now talks about business challenges and articulates how its search solutions can enable marketers to overcome them.

“Call it millennial influence or a widening competitive set in the B2B space, but there is a need for marketers to change how they talk about products to potential buyers,” says Alessandra Alari, head of search and digital user experience at Google UK.

“A less ‘straight sales’ approach works for millennials who are looking to achieve specific KPIs like ‘measuring success’ or ‘increasing market share’ and need to understand how Google’s search capabilities can assist them,” she says.

Ms Moran at Dun & Bradstreet is already thinking about the next set of challenges. Marketers also need to start considering Generation Z, the cohort that only knows digital, and have just begun moving into decision-making and buying positions.

“Unlike millennials, Gen Z may not be as willing to give up information online,” Ms Moran warns. “Which means marketers will have to find new ways to get the data they need to personalise campaigns for Gen Z.”

This article was originally published in the Future of B2B Marketing on 8th July 2019. You can download the full report here.

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