The Coming Earthquake in B2B Marketing

Like tectonic plates pushing against each other, there are two disruptive forces now grinding at the centuries-old B2B world and they are about to change B2B marketing forever. Their names are Demography and Technology.

And their nickname is millennials.

As the largest generation in history, millennials are now 50 percent of America’s workforce. By 2030, millennials will makeup 75% of your employees. And they are already changing the way B2B companies buy and sell.

Born between 1982 and 2004, the 80 million millennials are digital natives. They grew up in a world where they had instant access to the world. With the Internet and smartphones in hand, their perceptions, beliefs and behaviors were shaped by this new socially connected and always-on world.

B2B marketing is on the fault line.

Now reaching their peak employment years, millennials represent not only an influential market force, but they are also forcing businesses to reassess the way they conduct business now and in the future.

Already, 42% of B2B buyers are millennials. They are quickly becoming decision makers and they have a fundamentally different approach to how they research, recommend and buy. They are not only bringing their consumer attitudes and digital behaviors to work, they are also acting more like consumers. As technology and demography combine to make millennial’s business-buying habits closely follow in the footsteps of their B2C counterparts, B2B companies will need to adopt more of the B2C mindset and character and communication channels.

The Earthquake Victim: The B2B Sales Funnel

For B2B companies, the traditional sales process has been linear: qualify, educate, create interest and close. But today’s convergence of shifted demography and increased digital technology, has not just dented the sales funnel, it’s flattened it.

Key to understanding this dramatic change is to remember millennial B2B buyers are people – procurement now has a heartbeat and a brain wave. The millennials who are now influencing and selecting the B2B vendor choice expect the same high quality B2B client experience as they get as consumers, from their consumer brands.

Recent studies show millennial buyers are more than halfway through the buying process before they will ever actually engage with a seller. Reflective of their consumer behavior, their ethos is “Don’t call me. I’ll call you.” As digital natives, millennials are used to instant access to price comparisons, product information and peer reviews. They want to (and can) do their own research. No longer dependent on meeting with sales reps and collecting collateral, their research starts online to consume valuable content, videos, blog posts, how-tos, testimonials – and they consult with social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter.

Their trust in social communities is a key insight: millennials are more prone to value the information they find in social communities since they believe it is more authentic, more accurate and more revealing of a company’s real behavior before, during and after the sale. A recent study by EliteDaily found 62% of millennials believe that if a brand engages with them through social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. This means millennials are not just looking at your company’s value proposition, they are seeking to understand what you would be like to work with.

How human of them.

The New B2B Landscape

A recent study by IBM on how millennials are reshaping B2B marketing reveals how significant the change is today.

More than Gen X or Baby Boomers, millennials value a hassle-free, omni-channel client experience that is personalized to their specific needs.

More interested in convenience, collaboration and expertise, millennials want data, speed and trusted advisors, and since collaboration is critical for this audience, seamless and holistic experiences should allow them to engage with vendors at all touch points.

Millennials want trusted advisors—experts who enjoy rolling up their sleeves and working together to find the best solution. They want easy processes, tools and policies designed for their convenience. More proof of how their consumer behaviors are bleeding into their B2B buying behaviors, they expect every interaction to be specific to them, their interests and their needs. This is CXB2B on steroids.

The need for analytics capabilities and speed will only increase as more millennials enter roles where they have sway over key business decisions.

There is one way for this audience, and that is digital. They want anytime, anywhere data and they will have little patience with organizations that can’t immediately provide the information they need, whether it’s pricing, timing, specifications or anything else.

Vendors need to re-examine if the information they are providing their clients is relevant and easy to access. While that most often means mobile, millennials typically access two to three devices during their day so vendors have to be literally up to speed on all fronts.

During the sales cycle the majority of millennials still prefer email, but face-to-face, it’s a surprisingly different story.

Since 69% of millennials cite email as their preferred form of vendor communication, it’s easy to extrapolate that this is an audience of digital hermits. But nothing could be further from the truth.

When meeting face-to-face, millennials are focused on you – the human you.

They come to the meeting already armed with knowledge about you-the-vendor. They know your brand, your company’s reputation and your products. These meetings are focused on getting to know you – this is the time to develop trust – not to present a sales pitch. They want to know if you’re easy to work with and if you’ll collaborate with them to develop specific solutions for their specific needs. This is not a time for chin-chucking or back-slapping. They are looking for authentic and personalized interactions to explore possibilities with vendors who personally care about their success.

36% of millennial B2B buyers weigh the opinions of friends and family before deciding to buy B2B products and services.

So you may be asking yourself, what’s family got to do with this?

Millennials are a highly collaborative group at heart, and while they are more eager than Baby Boomers to value the opinions and input of their team throughout the research cycle, when it comes time to pull the trigger, millennials are taking the decision home to family and friends.

The perfect blend of logic and emotion: millennials are fact-based and use data to inform their decision. However, when it’s time to act, they are not immune to their emotions. They want the peace of mind that they are making the best decision, and for this they turn to the people who know them best: family and friends.

As if the complexity of the B2B sale was not already sufficiently complex, vendors will now have to consider how to influence these influencers who are well outside their standard target audiences.

Millennials are more likely to praise vendors on social channels, but they will not damn you to the world.

If you’ve made your Millennial buyer happy, nearly 70% will generously post a positive comment on social media. And while they will glowingly praise a vendor online when they are thrilled with the relationship, product or service, it seems complaining about a vendor online is unconscionable to them.

Here again, the millennials consumer behaviors are on display in their B2B behaviors. These digital natives take the power of negative posts seriously and they are unwilling to risk the ramifications of venting publically about business-related matters. This is a B2B boon. Do well and millennials will share and publically laud your success. Do poorly and you will only hear about it in private.

When change is coming, preparedness counts.

While no one can change the changing demography or decrease the increasing technology, there are specific needs your business can address now in order to lessen the shock and win in the new B2B marketing landscape.

  1. Think consumer marketing.

    More B2B companies are quickly adapting to this “consumerized” and flatter sales funnel. Look to where and how you can best create awareness, educate and influence consideration across a much wider funnel and deliver truly engaging experiences that are on par with what millennials experience from their consumer brands.

  2. Look outside first.

    According to a recent Gallup report, 71% of B2B customers are at risk and most companies don’t know it. Shore up your customer knowledge with key account reviews and then leverage meaningful insights to gain true understandings of what your customers really think and want.

  3. Then inside.

    Given the coming B2B earthquake, it’s clearly time to re-assess your marketing channels and align them to your customers’ go-to channels. If you’re still relying only on the old B2B marketing standbys, the shift will be severe. Or are you using videos, testimonials, content marketing, social media and public relations?

  4. Reconsider your sales presentations.

    If they are the standard linear format, you are off the mark for millennials. Today, sellers need to ask more questions, listen actively and be ready to fully collaborate on solutions in order to move the sales process forward. Very few solutions can be pre-packaged today. Millennials are looking not only for your expertise, they want solutions that are customized for their specific needs.

  5. Personalize the client experience.

    Determine the complete customer lifecycle in order to define and adapt to what will resonate most with millennials. Remember this is about being authentic, transparent and human, so be sure the client experience is seamless and engaging across all channels, especially social and content marketing.

  6. Use a sales engagement platform.

    The overwhelming use of digital technology means you’ll have less and less face-to-face time with your customers. So make it count. Using a sales engagement platform will put you ahead by notifying and tracking what and when specific content is resonating. This helps your sales rep know what is successfully engaging and where the buyer is in the sales process, so when they are face-to-face, the time can be focused on building a valued and trusted relationship.

  7. Mobile always.

    Sales mobility is no longer an option. With millennials, it’s foundational. Throughout the sales process, information and engagement will most likely occur on their smartphones. Remember, the first priority for millennials is ease of doing business.

  8. The New B2B Brand is very visible.

    With millennials relying on influencers outside the normal B2B audiences, it’s past time for the typically invisible B2B brand to come out of hiding and become confidently visible for millennial buyers. More than any other generation, millennials value B2B brands: your purpose, mission, vision and core values all matter intensely to this socially conscious audience who values transparency, reputation and a company’s ethics. If you expect to build sales, start by building trust in your B2B brand. In short, get it out of the closet and get your brand working for you.

On the magnitude of the coming change.

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that enormous changes shake the B2B world. If you’re the CEO or CMO of a successful B2B brand, take heart in that you have already managed an enormous of amount of change – and while this coming earthquake requires skills, talents and a point of view that may be contrary to what you’ve always believed, you’re not alone. Here’s to everyone with the courage to act now and the wisdom to thrive.