The B2B Millennial Buyer: The New Decision-Makers in the Workplace…on Their Terms

By: Dave Sladack

June 27, 2017

Earlier this year, I asked a national sales manager from a leading consumer brand to share his biggest challenge in 2017.  His response - The buyers are getting younger. They’re all millennials and an older sales team has trouble relating to them.

In 2015, millennials became the largest generation of the U.S. workforce with 53.5 million workers, according to Pew Research. And for the past two years, we’ve seen millennials account for the largest generation of home buyers too.

Millennials have delayed traditional life milestones - buying homes, getting married and having kids - but now all three are happening, many times within the same year. The older millennials are now in their mid-30s and approaching their peak earning years. And, increasingly, they are finding themselves in managerial positions.

At the same time, baby boomers are retiring at increasing rates, creating vastly different workplace cultures. In increasing regularity, workplaces are filled with:

  • Millennials are becoming new managers who are now managing baby boomers
  • Baby boomers being passed over for promotions that used to be based on seniority
  • Millennials are controlling massive purchasing budgets
  • Baby Boomers are selling products/services to millennials with vastly different expectations of how they want to be sold to
  • Gen X marketers are trying to walk the line between appealing to millennials and turning off Baby Boomers

And these generational conflicts are only going to increase in frequency and intensity. This isn’t a question of which generation is right or which generation’s attitudes will win out. It’s about learning to work together. Or avoid learning from one another to adapt to the new market until a new competitor comes in and puts everyone out of business.

Working together requires understanding and empathy. It’s easy to say that Millennials are lazy, entitled dreamers who don’t know how to work hard. It’s easy to say that Boomers are conservative, inflexible Luddites who don’t want to change. These are stereotypes that only serve to deepen the generational divides. Instead, let’s try to understand what makes these generations different and how those differences impact the B2B market.

Millennials in this study were recognized for their knowledge of technology. They were also given credit for bringing enthusiasm to the workplace, but on their terms. They – unlike their Boomer counterparts – were viewed as lacking a work ethic and being a productive team player. The study went on to ask what each generation wanted the most out of their career.  The most popular millennial response was “when and how to get a promotion.” Unlike the generations before them, millennials are impatient when it comes to career growth and if they feel like they’ve grown personally from an experience, they typically won’t wait around for a promotion if it doesn’t come quickly.

How Does the Sales Team Appeal to the Millennial B2B Buyers?

Now let’s go back to my national sales manager friend of mine. How can a Boomer sales team better connect with millennial buyers? A study by IBM Institute for Business Value Millennial Survey offers some insights. In comparison to the other generations, the millennial buyer is influenced very differently.


When starting a B2B search for a product or service solution, millennials prefer direct contact with sales reps.  Millennials value the idea of building a relationship and receiving personalized attention as a way of building trust and perhaps due to a lack of experience, to better learn about the offerings and ask questions. Digging deeper, the survey tells you that while 69% of a millennial’s current organizational process is face-to-face communications, the preferred millennial method is email (69%) or phone (62%).

Millennials are looking for a great client experience. They want it to be easy and collaborative.. This may reflect their lack of experience, but it also reflects a common millennial value of being a contributor to the process.

A millennial buyer places a lot of trust in his/her organization’s own data analysis. And to complement that data source, the survey tells us the millennial buyer will look to family and friends for advice. Interestingly, the GenX buyer demonstrates a reliance on independent data throughout the process, which plays on their skeptical nature; while the Boomer buyer relies on his/her own instinctive experience.

Converting the Millennial B2B Buyer

Getting and keeping the attention of the emerging millennial buyer is still about the sales basics of building relationships and delivering on expectations, but there are nuances which can help speed the effort.

  1. Communicate on their terms

Be agile in your approach. Use texting or social media to make the introduction and offer a compelling, but quick piece of data to make your point. Be short and sweet with outreach. An opportunity to meet in person at an upcoming trade show or conference is a more welcoming path to an initial introduction, as it requires less of a commitment.

  1. Provide a Compelling Case

Provide quick case studies using data and results for credibility. Millennials are visual learners, so balance light copy with visual content and tell a compelling visual narrative. Be authentic and transparent – don’t overly sell.

  1. Provide Ideas, Insight and Connections

Be a willing collaborator and provide extra information to help them learn. Sending published studies, links to articles you recently read, or even networking with your other industry connections tells the millennial buyer you have an interest in them as individuals and they’ll value the mentoring. Millennials lack the diverse experience your sales team has with other customers and situations. Demonstrating your knowledge and willingness to help builds trust.


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