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B2B4Breakfast recap: the growing influence of millennials in B2B purchasing decisions

By Michael Feeley, journalist

June 2, 2021 | 8 min read

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While Generation X and Baby Boomers may still prefer to think of millennials as ‘young people’, the reality is many of those born between 1981 and 1996 are now seasoned professionals, holding positions of power and influence within their organizations.

Watch the full panel: Millennials and B2B: The stats, facts & insights you need to know right now

Watch the full panel: Millennials and B2B: The stats, facts & insights you need to know right now

The Drum, in association with Merkle B2B, recently hosted a pair of B2B4Breakfast panel sessions highlighting the importance of millennials in contemporary B2B conversations and exploring the key differences in the thought processes of millennial executives.

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In the first panel session, Millennials & B2B: The stats, facts & insights you need to know right now, Jillian Ryan, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence, moderated a discussion with Matthew Powell, vice president and executive director, and Taylor Wray, research manager, both of B2B International, a Merkle company.

To open the discussion, Ryan acknowledged the increased influence of millennials in the contemporary B2B marketplace, noting that: “In 2021, millennials are aged 25 to 40 years old. They are making and influencing B2B purchasing decisions. Some of them are C level and VP level at the organizations you're targeting. For B2B brands, if you haven't already, it's time to start taking this cohort seriously.”

Things are getting emotional

Last year, Merkle B2B and B2B International, published a major piece of research into the global B2B marketplace, “Architecting the Ultimate B2B Customer Experience,” where they conducted 3,500 interviews spanning four major industries: financial services, manufacturing, professional services and technology. B2B clients were asked to relive and evaluate their path to purchase, pinpoint what worked well and what didn’t, and identify the pain points in their journey.

“The research revealed that, even where a millennial is not the lead decision maker, firms are highly likely to seek input from millennials as users before any major B2B buying decision,” said Powell. “As marketers, this means we need to make sure that millennials have the right information in the format they prefer. As you might expect, millennial decision makers tend to favour online touchpoints and communication channels throughout the entire decision process, but especially during the research phase.

B2B International’s recent study on the generational differences in decision making found that millennials spend more time at that front end research stage than their older colleagues; on average, millennials spend around 13 weeks on the initial research phase of a B2B buying decision, compared to 12 weeks for Gen X and eight weeks for Boomers. “Interestingly, millennials are also more likely to take brands out of the running before actually speaking to them,” added Powell.

On the whole, Powell noted, the research revealed that B2B companies do pretty well at marketing their wares to other companies, i.e. communicating how their products and services will benefit those organizations, but not so well in marketing themselves to the individual influencers within those target customer organizations.

“That means building more of an emotional, personal connection with millennials, which is not something B2B marketers have done much of in the past,” said Powell. “The reality is that we're all people. We all want to impress our colleagues, to be respected and to do a great job. There are lots of positive emotions involved in B2B buying decisions. The flipside to that, of course, is the fear of making a wrong decision and the ‘risk averse’ buying decisions that fear can lead to. Our research suggests that, as marketers, we need to better understand and address the role of emotion in these decisions.”

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Trust and pride

When researching B2B buying decisions, the survey had some interesting findings in terms of the types of content millennials are turning to.

“We found millennials were more likely to seek out opinions from industry analysts and experts, more likely to read social posts on category specific forums and, generally, had a more diverse or well-rounded information diet at the research stage,” said Wray. “The other main difference worth noting is that millennials tend to discount or distrust peer reviews or recommendations.”

The research also revealed how important it is for millennials to partner with B2B brands that they are proud to work alongside; companies that have a clear vision and are meeting their obligations to society - somewhat different from their older demographic counterparts.

“For Gen X, it's more about working with partners that are innovative and thought leaders, and Boomers want to work with companies they see as an inspiration to the wider world of business,” explained Wray.

But the biggest takeaway of all from the research, according to Wray, is this: “If B2B companies aren't ticking all those boxes, if they don't deliver an omnichannel experience across a range of channels, they are unwittingly saying to millennials like ‘you're not our target audience’.”

To watch the full session – including a reveal of the four ‘Superpowers’ B2B brands should be developing for success – click here.

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