Millennials became the largest generation in the workforce in early 2015. The rise of the Millennials in the workspace will have a profound impact on how companies operate. At the same time, many organizations fail to anticipate how this generation will change B2B commerce.
Millennials approach information sources differently than previous generations. This, coupled with their increased customer experience expectations presents a challenge for B2B companies.
Rise of the Millennials
As shown in the illustration below, there are over 53 million millennials are in the workforce, making up 28.5% of the overall total. With Millennials focused on promotions and Baby Boomers retiring, soon Millennials will hold many purchasing positions.
Millennials, having grown up exposed to technology, no longer see technology as an add-on or gimmick. Instead, they expect technology to complement all experiences whether digital or analog. At the same time, Millennials emphasize the human factor. In an era of digitization, providing a humanized, personal experience sets a company apart.
Because Millennials view technology as a part of the human experience, they also expect technology to adapt to them. These expectations will especially challenge B2B companies, which already struggle with digital marketing.
B2B: Laggards in Digital Marketing
While many B2B companies have made tremendous strides in their digital marketing, many still struggle. The industry lags far behind their consumer-facing peers. In a recent survey, 70% of digital marketers from B2B companies said: "their organization's digital advertising strategy fails to meet expectations". This is due to the difficulty in gathering quality leads and in measuring the return on digital marketing spend.
This challenge is especially acute in personalizing experiences. B2B companies are struggling to deliver personalized experiences, often citing technical challenges. Another major challenge is the inherent differences in how B2B and B2C companies go to market.
B2B companies personalize based on company and role, rather than individuals. By personalizing too much to individuals, B2B companies can actually hurt sales cycles. This reduces the number of data-points available and requires a judicious approach to personalization.
Another challenge for B2B companies is the disconnect between digital experiences and the actual sale. While B2B buyers research online, most do not buy through digital platforms. Without direct conversions, companies struggle to attribute leads and personalize experiences.
Millennials: New Challenges for B2B Marketers
The rise of millennials poses another digital marketing challenge to B2B companies. According to a recent survey by the Arketi Group, Millennials expect more of digital experiences than other generations. This is especially true at the top of the buying funnel, Millennials' favored channels include:
- Online Ads
- Vendor Texts
- Social Media
Millennials find traditional B2B sales and marketing channels less effective throughout the buying process, and view the following channels significantly less engaging than other generations:
- Analyst Reports
- Vendor Websites
- In-Person Demos and Meetings
- Phone Calls
- Product brochures, datasheets, sales literature
- Trade shows and conferences
A few patterns emerge when looking at different methods millennials prefer for B2B marketing. Millennials favor channels that are digital, interactive, and social. In-person, print, and traditional channels are far less popular than for previous generations.
Contract these channel preferences to these indicated by B2B marketers as the most effective in reaching their goals:
- Events (exhibitions, conferences, trade shows etc) 84%
- Print Media 13%
- Direct Mail 22%
- Outdoor Ads 6%
- Television 4%
- Radio 4%
This poses a challenge, as the channels preferred by B2B marketers are the ones millennials find less engaging. If B2B companies do not evolve their marketing to better serve millennial workers' desires and expectations, millennials will leave for competitors.
B2B Digital Marketing for Millennials
So how do B2B marketers market to millennials?
First, B2B marketers need to lay a foundation for excellent digital marketing experiences. This means eliminating data silos, developing customer 360 profiles and building a strong platform. This requires an effective implementation team and modern technical platform.
With this solid platform, marketers can build technology-enabled solutions to market to every generation. This includes omni-channel marketing, to message consistently across all forms of media, and building personalized experiences across all digital platforms to deliver the correct message. Finally, sales and knowledge enablement platforms help deliver the best content.
Finally, Digital marketers need to market specifically to millennials. Marketers should include mobile, social, and interactive media to capture and hold the attention of millennial buyers. These new forms of media also offer the benefits of increased conversion points and data. These grant marketers a richer data source to inform their marketing efforts.
The rise of the millennial generation poses significant challenges to B2B marketing strategies. They are less likely to be persuaded by traditional B2B marketing approaches. Yet, this presents an opportunity to companies that choose to implement technology-enabled digital marketing. Companies that embrace this opportunity will win Millennials' business from their less-agile competition.