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Latest Issue: Sept/Oct 17

Tapping into millennial B2B buying trends can deliver rich opportunities

Many of us in the commerce business spend time discussing the importance of trying to understand and tap into the desires and expectations of modern buyers. We talk about the need for seamless, pleasurable and value-driven buying and selling experiences, but what we may not have delved into sufficiently is who those buyers actually are.

In recent years many businesses have experienced a generational shift in the workplace due to the millennial generation. Millennials are the fastest growing cohort in most countries around the world, and, arguably, they are the most diverse, with their degree level education and access to a 24-hour view of the world. Millennials, by definition, are now anywhere between 20 and 37 years old, and as they have entered the workforce they have brought with them a new perception of what business and office life should be like.

Gradually, millennials are taking over decision-making positions, or at the very least now carry more influence as key stakeholders within B2B companies.

This is affecting organisations of all sizes and in all sectors, even those that are experiencing changes at a slower pace. Figures from different sources suggest that this transition will see Millennials accounting for between 40 per cent and 50 per cent of the workforce by 2025. And it presents some challenges for organisations selling in the B2B market as they map to a new kind of customer; one who sees the world (and B2B transactions) differently from their predecessors.

The influence of millennials on B2B commerce engagements

A recent report from Forrester Research entitled ‘Millennial B2B Buyers Come of Age’ explores an emerging buyer demographic. In this report, Forrester points to some key factors that anyone selling B2B products and solutions should bear in mind as they attempt to devise strategies suited to Millennial decision makers.

Millennials view commercial transactions in an entirely new way to generations past. They are influenced heavily by the digital age and have grown up online. So, they expect to be approached by buyers through digital methods, websites, text, email and social media. A phone call or meeting in person are low on their list of preferences. According to Forrester, some characteristics of a Millennial buyer include:

  • A wish to negotiate engagements informally
  • A desire to gather consensus across teams and stakeholders
  • Recognition that there is value in corporate and social responsibility
  • An appreciation for efficiency
  • A placement of value on transparency throughout the engagement
  • A good response to authenticity 

As great as it is to understand that B2B buyer profiles are skewing to Millennials, it doesn’t really help unless you have a plan to deliver on what these buyers expect.

What steps can my business take to connect with modern B2B Buyers?

B2B buyers are accustomed to the type of user experience they receive in the B2C space, which can be a challenge for B2B businesses. Successfully attracting and retaining customers is linked to implementing technologies and enablement strategies that make it personalised, consistent, easy and enjoyable to buy and sell products and services — whether that means engaging with sales people, buying from vendors or channel partners, or engaging directly via eCommerce platforms.

Following are three tips to help businesses work with the millennial target audience and yield game-changing returns for their businesses:

1. Allow the sales team to leverage millennial values.

These values include efficiency, transparency, consensus gathering and authenticity. The key is to build a sales strategy that encompasses all of these core values, and ensure that the customer experience consistently delivers to expectations. Technology projects that connect the front and back office and create a central location for all the business and customer data, will allow organisations to power more efficient, accurate and personalised transactions from end to end that will appeal to millennial buyers.

2. Create a more impactful digital footprint.

By now, most B2B enterprises understand that they need an eCommerce presence to reach today’s buyers. Millennial B2B buyers do their research online, and they are looking to complete their transactions via personalised and familiar-feeling eCommerce platforms, but B2B sales are usually much more complex, so the underlying technology must be fit for purpose. Instead of seeing this as an insurmountable problem, it is actually a massive opportunity to attract new customers and better service existing clients.

With the right Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ) or B2B experience management solution, enterprises can effectively take their entire operation online while managing complexity quickly and simply. If Millennial buyers are making decisions based on the quality of a company’s eCommerce presence, it’s vital to ensure it has the power and agility to deliver the goods.

3. Getting personal with customers and prospects.

Any good eCommerce platform has to be driven by its data. Product and pricing catalogues, customer data, business logic and rules, all of it is essential to creating what could be termed a “Master Commercial Definition” of a business.

With this resource, businesses can extend the power of their customer facing solutions and other tech investments by offering guided buying and selling, a more powerful eCommerce solution, upsell and cross-sell, automated approvals, workflow and renewals, and numerous other features that allow more personalised experiences to be created for millennial buyers.

Another characteristic about millennial B2B buyers that we should mention is that their preferences are always changing. Accustomed to the rapid evolution of technology, they expect the companies they buy from to keep up and keep advancing. We have seen this time and again in recent years, and it is new platforms and technologies that will allow companies to shift their B2B sales in a way that allows them to drive the core of their direct, indirect and eCommerce strategies.

By Stephen Hardy, Managing Director, FPX Ltd

This article appears in the July/August 2017 issue of Direct Commerce Magazine.