4 Ways Gen Y Is Changing the B-to-B Sales Process
As the older segment of Gen Y—the population segment generally defined as being born between 1980 and the early 2000s—takes on bigger roles in the buying process for their employers, B-to-B firms are challenged to adapt their selling strategies.
A survey of 300 managers up to age 35 was conducted last year by Chicago integrated marketing agency Colman Brohan Davis and research firm E-RM. The results indicated a "propensity for social and interactive communications," the agency reported. In fact, only four out of the 13 tools that respondents indicated they use to research products and services are traditional media, and the agency noted that even their influence was waning. Use of social networks, on the other hand, had increased 152 percent year over year.
According to Liz Brohan, president and co-CEO of Colman Brohan Davis, it was no surprise that the information-gathering tendencies of a group that has grown up with online technology would center on the Internet. "Or that Google would be a verb for them," she says.
What was a surprise is "as much as we think of Gen Y as tech-driven and that all our emerging marketing technologies need to be geared toward them, they are highly integrated [with respect to media]. They're a group that will leave no stone unturned when it comes to research," she explains.
The takeway on this study-finding for Brohan is that companies' marketing mixes need to be highly integrated with what she calls "an eye toward omnipotence. So that you're everywhere that you suspect this individual might be looking for information—which will frustrate marketers, no doubt about it, to have fracture their media budgets further."
The Colman Brohan Davis research mirrors the trends Adam Needles is seeing take shape, too. Needles is director of field marketing and B-to-B marketing evangelist at Silverpop, an Atlanta-based provider of e-mail marketing and marketing automation solutions. "Somewhere around age 30 to 35, you can draw a line in the sand between people who are used to calling around to get everything, and [it's been] all about relationships and face-to-face," he says, and the Gen Y buyers and influencers who expect to conduct a great deal of the buying cycle online. With the latter, "you have people whose expectation is that companies should put everything on their websites; they should be getting real-time feeds and information; and companies should be totally integrated into Twitter and the blogosphere."
With this in mind, let's take a look at some of the ways B-to-B marketers can address the effect Gen Y is having on the selling process.
1. Match your approach to the participants involved in the buying process.
"The leading edge of these millennials is getting closer to 29 years old," Brohan notes—meaning that while more are moving into areas of purchasing responsibility, the majority are key influencers. "They're the ones that do all the research, write up the report and provide recommendations to their bosses and beyond," Brohan explains.
With two to three different generations involved in the typical B-to-B purchasing decision, Needles advises marketers to match their communications to each stage, and thus each group. To reach Gen Y audiences during the research phase, it's important to use digital tactics (webinars, Twitter and blog posts) to draw in this tech-savvy market; your goal is get them thinking in tandem about your firm with the problem their company is facing so you can become part of their solution set. Then, he says, when you're further down the buying process, when a Gen X or boomer manager might get brought into the evaluation and decision-making stage, a marketer will want to be prepared for more traditional sales tactics (RFPs, phone calls, in-person visits).
2. Today's influencer is tomorrow's decision-maker.
Needles notes that plenty of B-to-B professionals are not taking new media seriously, making jokes about Twitter and questioning its influence on sales. He cautions against that short-term thinking. "The truth is," he says, "[new media] are a big part of the upstream education of and influence on people who are doing the evaluation stage. So, if you don't take those media seriously ... you could then set a bad precedent where you may or may not have gotten the sale today, but what kind of relationship are you building with this Gen Y, millennial buyer who in five or 10 years is going to be the boss?"
Colman Brohan Davis' research also indicated that boomer and Gen X managers see their Gen Y colleagues as trendsetters from whom they learn new tricks. The psychographics of Gen Y are greatly different, Brohan points out, noting that this group is always on the hunt for ways to work more efficiently so they can work less. "They're an audience that appreciates a work-life balance more than any of us have before them; it's almost as if their family comes first, their causes come second and then their career comes third. So any way they can drive efficiencies, not be in so many meetings, get things done faster with the same amount of quality—they're going to lead the way [on this front].
3. "Twitter's only for boomers" is a misconception.
Another finding from the Colman Brohan Davis study of Gen Y is their emerging use of Twitter. A verbatim comment defined Twitter as "the place where you go for ideas." For Brohan, this was an interesting outcome, given that a key goal of B-to-B marketing is to arm prospects with the information and tools to make their jobs easier—or "make them heroes," as she says. If Gen Y is looking at Twitter for ideas, they might get suggestions from your company's posts, and thus build your authority with this group.
4. Don't ignore traditional media for Gen Y.
As noted earlier, Gen Y businesspeople leverage every piece of information available to help them better serve their companies. An integrated marketing approach definitely can involve offline media. "One of the things we found was that Gen Y appreciates direct mail; it seems like it becomes a psychological break in their day to pick up something that's landed on their desk," says Brohan.
And while the survey respondents did indicate some resistance to e-mail, Brohan believes that Gen Y is not unique on this front. Rather, she explains, buyers are pushing back on any channels where they feel inundated with irrelevant marketing contact.