Millennials: we’re everywhere! We’re even the largest section of the American workforce — 56 million of us as of 2017 (statistics on how many participation trophies that accounts for is unavailable at this time ;-). We’ve already ruined the paper napkin industry, what are we coming for next?
With the oldest millennials turning 38 in 2018, more of us are entering leadership roles in the workplace and involved in making purchasing decisions for our companies. And so the story goes: the entrance of the millennial presents a challenge to the way things were done before.
Defining the Millennial Generation
A pioneer of generational studies, Chuck Underwood, explains how generational differences happen: “Different generations are defined by a common set of core values formed from birth to age 18. Those core values are shaped by the historic events and upbringing they experienced as children.” Underwood defines the millennial generation as those born between 1980 and 1998, and Pew Research sets the limits as those born between 1981 and 1996. The range can stretch even higher depending on who you ask, but as most born between 1996-98 have entered (or are just entering) the workforce, this is a good range.
As children, millennials experienced the collapse of the Berlin Wall (1989), 9-11 (2001), and younger millennials experienced the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president (2008) during our formative years. We were born when phones still had cords and the internet made that horrifying dial-up sound, and some of us graduated high school with smartphones in our back pockets. A lot has changed since we took our first steps, with one of the most notable things being how much of daily life has moved online.
What Millennials Value
Who we are, and who any generation is, is less defined by parameters of age and historical context, and more by the value sets that are the product of those parameters. IBM Institute for Business Value conducted a study in 2014 that surveyed 704 people in a multitude of workplaces across several countries that ultimately compared the business purchasing practices of the three largest generations in the workforce: millennials, Gen X (born 1965-1979), and Baby Boomers (born 1954-1964). Outlined here are what the study found millennial decision-makers consider when making business purchases.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the study was that, when concerning B2B purchases, millennials want to talk with the vendors they’re considering. They want an idea of what it would be like working with a particular vendor, and they prefer vendors who are willing to collaborate with them and show an understanding of their company’s needs. We know perhaps better than previous generations how difficult it is to convey tone through text, and when we’re getting to know someone we might work with, it’s best to remove that guesswork.
When it comes to communication with a vendor once a decision has been made, millennials do prefer to stay behind their devices. That doesn’t mean they want the personal connection to go away—younger millennials prefer social media and other forms of instant messaging. At first glance, this might seem like less of a connection, but instant message (text, Facebook, Slack, WhatsApp, and others) is how we talk to all the people in our lives. Chat functions offer a conversational setting that email does not. We can better picture that person on the other side of the screen.
Easy to Work With
Millennials’ first priority when working with a vendor, according to the study, is the “ease of doing business.” We’re digital natives, raised on computers and the internet, so the easy way for an older generation seems clunky and time-consuming for us. We don’t want to print, fill out, and fax over a form when it could’ve all been online. There might not even be a fax machine in our office. Although online forms really are faster, we promise.
Speed of communication is also an important factor; millennials value quick responses when it comes to working with a vendor. That’s where instant message can come into play again—if it’s a quick question with a short answer, it seems cumbersome to send a whole email or make a phone call about it. There’s also a lot more steps to sending an email, especially on mobile. Shooting someone a text or Facebook message lets us ask when we think of something, and lets you respond on an application designed to work on mobile (we promise not to blow up your phone!).
Advice & Data
Once millennial decision-makers reach the decision point in their buyer’s journey, according to IBM’s study, they rely on two sources to inform their final choice: advice from friends and family and their company’s data analysis. While the study reported that Gen Xers and Baby Boomers weigh their own past experience as highest, millennials are more focused on what others think about a situation. We’re not as experienced as the older generations with making these decisions, and that just comes with time. It seems logical we’d look for advice when the wrong decision could cost our company thousands or more.
Reaching outside our organizations and industries to ask friends and family presents a problem for vendors—website content and other marketing materials can end up in the hands of users who are leagues beyond a vendor’s target audience. The study recommends vendors take in a larger picture of their customers’ social circles to discover who those outside influencers are, and taking a look at overall brand reputation (what was the most recent news about your company and was it positive or negative, for example).
How Inbound Meets Millennial Values
Millennial decision-makers are making their B2B buying decisions differently than their predecessors. A personal connection and simplicity by our definition are valuable assets for B2B companies looking to sell to millennial buyers—the good news is, those values are at the heart of inbound, too.
The inbound philosophy focuses on the needs of the ideal buyer, attracting them to your website and online presence with the information and answers they need at any given point in the buyer’s journey. Your online presence is key with inbound, and it’s key for millennial buyers.
Content that addresses the exact questions users are searching is the first step to making a connection with potential buyer. This kind of content says a company understands buyers’ frustrations and what they need—and millennials want to know our needs are important to a vendor. Where this content comes from starts with buyer personas and using the information about existing customers to create a profile of who buyers are and what problems they’re looking to solve.
At the end of this thoughtful content, include a call-to-action that allows a user to schedule a face-to-face meeting to learn more. When millennials start out our searches, we want instant access to the way we can actually talk to someone who can answer our questions. Consider adding chat to a website to make this process even easier for buyers.
Easy to Work With
Inbound websites are easy to use and navigate. A website that’s functional from desktops to smartphones is good news for every generation. If a user finds a company website from a Google search on their mobile device, and it’s clean and shows care went into optimizing the site for that device, it presents to the user that the company understands not everyone does their research from their desktop computer anymore. In fact, 82% of millennials in one survey said that mobile devices are important when searching for B2B products and services.
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The Best News for B2B Vendors
IBM’s study found that millennials are the generation most likely to share a positive experience with a vendor online, either on a vendor website or over social media. When we like something, we want to tell people about it! And if we link back to your website, that builds your website’s authority to a search engine.
At ManoByte, we’re ready to help you sell to millennial buyers. We can redesign your website, set you up with HubSpot’s inbound-focused platforms, and help create the content you need to bring the right traffic to your website. Click below to schedule a growth assessment with us.