B2B marketing has already changed in significant ways, but it's likely that more changes are in store as marketers face the need to create meaningful engagement with new generations of business buyers. Today, older Baby Boomers are beginning to approach retirement, members of Generation X are in the prime of their careers, and Millennials are increasingly assuming positions of greater influence in B2B companies. Baby Boomer and Gen X buyers are digital immigrants who largely began using digital technologies in their everyday lives as adults. Millennial buyers, on the other hand, are digital natives who have been using digital technologies since they were children.
So, how will B2B marketers need to adapt their strategies and tactics to effectively connect with Millennial buyers? Recent research by the IBM Institute for Business Value provides important insights regarding how Millennials approach business decision making, how they prefer to perform the activities that are part of the B2B buying process, and what attributes they value in prospective vendors.
The IBM research was based on a survey of 704 individuals who influence or make B2B purchasing decisions of US$10,000 or more for their company. Respondents were from both large and small companies and were located in 12 countries. The IBM survey included respondents from three generational cohorts:
- Millennials (born 1980-1993)
- Gen X (born 1965-1979)
- Baby Boomers (born 1954-1964)
The IBM study found significant differences among the generations when it comes to how they make business decisions. Millennial and Gen X buyers are less likely than Baby Boomers to make decisions in isolation. Fifty-four percent of Millennial respondents and 64% of Gen X respondents said they make better business decisions when they receive input from a variety of people. Only 49% of Baby Boomer respondents expressed a similar belief.
Somewhat surprisingly, the IBM research found that Millennials - far more than Gen X or Baby Boomer buyers - want to interact directly with vendors' representatives when they are researching products or services. When survey participants were asked what sources of information they are most likely to use when performing research, Millennial respondents ranked vendor's representatives first (out of nine possible choices), while Baby Boomer respondents ranked vendor reps fifth, and Gen X respondents ranked them seventh.
The IBM survey also revealed that B2B buyers from different generations have different priorities when it comes to the attributes they look for in prospective vendors. The table below shows how Millennial, Gen X, and Baby Boomer buyers responded when asked what vendor attributes are most important.
The IBM study contains several other important insights regarding the attitudes and preferences of Millennial, Gen X, and Baby Boomer buyers. We're now on the cusp of a generational shift in B2B buying. If you're a B2B marketer, you should take a close look at the IBM research.