Millennial B2B Buyers: What you need to know about the new wave of decision makers

November 1st, 2018 11 min read

When you hear the word “millennial,” the first image that comes to mind is often a 22-year-old college student glued to their cell phone and procrastinating doing something important. Ten years ago, your idea might have been fairly accurate, but millennials are growing into working adults with a unique mindset and outlook on how to approach important tasks.

Over the last decade, the term “millennial” became shorthand for being narcissistic, entitled, and coddled. But despite the negative stereotypes, millennials have taken the workforce by storm, and they now dominate the B2B buying process. According to our annual buyer survey, over 45% of B2B technology buyers are 25-34 years olds, making them the single largest demographic, followed by 30% in the 35-44-year-old age group.

That means to engage and convert today’s B2B buyer, you need to understand how millennials want to buy.

Who are millennials?

There is some debate over the exact definition, but most experts agree that the millennial generation was born between 1980 and 2000. So yes, that selfie-taking intern might be a millennial, but so is the 30-something executive who will sign on the dotted line.

It might seem hard to compare the habits and lifestyles of someone in college to someone in the C-suite, but there are some common characteristics that many millennials share due to the physical and social surroundings in which they were raised.

The majority of this generation witnessed the evolution of technology and social media. They grew up using instant messaging platforms, but probably still experienced the pain of not being able to surf the internet without interrupting their family’s land line. Many started out with a Walkman, then moved on to MP3 players before streaming music on every device. They experienced the rise and fall of MySpace, then championed platforms like Slack and LinkedIn as a new way to do business.

While this generation is more connected than ever, they also have a tremendous independent streak. They can quickly tap into always-on news and personal updates from their social circle, yet they want to develop their own opinions and share their own stories as well.

It is no surprise than when it comes to buying behavior, millennials are reliant on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Amazon that allow them to read reviews of everything from gourmet meals to garbage bags. According to one study, 8 out of 10 millennials won’t make a purchase without reading a review first. They value insights from consumers over advertising and marketing, and they are also more likely to write reviews to assist others with their decisions.

Millennials in the workforce

As of 2017, 35% of the American workforce are millennials, making them the single largest generation in the U.S. labor market, followed by Gen Xers and baby boomers making up 33% and 25% respectively.  

With roughly 56 million millennials working or looking for work in the United States alone, it is easy to grasp the impact they are having on the workforce worldwide. Uniquely, the way that millennials have grown into adults, has greatly shaped the way they work and the types of jobs in which they are searching for.

Both Inc. and Forbes have described millennials as being much more inclined to look for remote flexibility and work-life balance, however they’re equally as likely to continue checking their work email after hours and on weekends. This generation is likely to hop from job to job until they find the career that fits them best. They’re also more likely to embrace technological upgrades, consider the negative and positive impacts of automation at great lengths, and pave a strong path for Generation Z (the next group of youngsters).

When it comes to B2B, 73% of millennials that work in the space are involved in the technology purchasing process for their companies, and a third are actually the sole decision maker. It is no surprise that this generation of buyers heavily relies on digital channels to research products, which can include websites but also online reviews and social media.

Millennial impact on the B2B buying process

TrustRadius recently launched our B2B Buying Disconnect in which we surveyed over 430 technology buyers in order to dissect the buying process. Long story short, buyers trust hands-on experience, even if that experience was not their own. In addition to interacting with the product themselves, they sought out the voice of their peers via reviews, personal referrals, and customer references. Conversely, several trends indicated that buyers, simply do not believe vendor marketing and vendor-provided materials are trustworthy.

When it comes to describing vendors and their marketing strategy, some common themes among all buyers were:

  • “Company websites are inherently biased towards a positive view of a product”
  • “While the companies representatives never lied or misled, they are still sales people so I trust them less out of my own suspicion and prejudices”
  • “They are just looking to make a deal and make their money”

Buyers do understand that a vendor will have their own best interest at heart and want to sell their product. But as much as buyers expect this, they are still hoping to have a transparent and open conversation with vendors about their products, a conversation that many feel they do not receive.

While this changing dynamic applies across buyers in all generations, there were a few trends that specifically stood out with millennials.

Millennials particularly valued their own personal research, taking advantage of free trials, peer referrals, and user reviews. They felt that customer reviews in particular, even those provided by the vendors, were much more trustworthy than other marketing tactics like vendor marketing collateral and their websites. They were also very adamant about speaking with the sales rep as little as possible, preferring to make their decision as independently as possible.

That being said, millennials do, in fact, appreciate vendors that are forthcoming about their product’s limitations and issues. When vendor reps were upfront and honest, as opposed to avoiding the question or not addressing these issues fully, they were significantly more likely to get the deal done with millennial buyers. 

The primary reasons millennials did interact with vendor reps was to confirm product limitations and negotiate pricing. At this point, the sales rep is able to make or break the sale by providing excellent feedback, quick responses, and work with the buyer on a price plan that works well with their budget if and when possible.

In addition to quantitative data, we also collected qualitative responses from buyers on how they interacted with vendors. Some common themes included:

  • “They worked with us heavily on pricing, while that can show that they are overpricing us off the bat, it still went a long way.”
  • “I did like how they accommodated our pricing request”
  • “The vendor encouraged the final decision with price.”
  • “They didn’t attack their competitors instead focusing on what they could do for us”
  • “Vendor provided all the information we were looking for and did not try to hide any limitations.”

Overall, the desire to avoid vendor representative as much as possible throughout the buying process is what uniquely separates millennials from older generations. Non-millennials are more likely to work with vendors more often and for different purposes — but that trust is slowly disappearing from the marketplace as a new generation takes over the B2B decision making.

Key takeaways for marketing and selling to B2B millennials

With all of this information, you would think that all B2B vendors would pivot their processes and cater to this unique age group. But over 23% of marketing and sales leaders are unaware if their reps interact with millennials. With today’s buyer the assumption needs to be that they are, and that means embracing new best practices. 

1. Don’t be aggressive. Millennial buyers are generally 57% of the way through the buying process before they’re even willing to engage with sales reps. Being overbearing could be a big turn off to a millennial buyer, as they will see you as being too pushy and salesy.

2. Explore new channels. Try engaging with potential buyers on social media and through their networks. 92% of millennial B2B buyers use social media to engage with industry thought leaders, which is an opportunity to converse with and convert those buyers in a more genuine and trusting connection. They are also more likely to use third-party reviews.

3. Train for transparency. The odds are that today’s buyer is contacting you after doing extensive amounts of research. They aren’t looking for a pitch, rather they are reaching out for validation in the form of transparency from your rep. Training your sales reps to listen to questions fully, be up front about limitations, educate themselves about all possible integrations, and being as open and honest as possible will build trust and lasting relationships with your millennial customers.

These new tactics are certainly different from the old-fashioned gatekeeping and spinning that used to be the norm in B2B. But they are rooted in fostering trusting relationships with customers. In the end, if a millennial buyer has a positive experience with your team, they’re more likely to not just buy your product, but also to act as a referral, write a review, or otherwise advocate to the next buyer who is considering your product. And that is a millennial buying trend that everyone can embrace.

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