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3 Ways to Gain a Competitive Edge with Millennials

3 Ways to Gain a Competitive Edge with Millennials

December 6, 2016

Millennials now outnumber Boomers and GenX in the work force. Add in Generation Z, and in four years the majority of the workforce will have grown up in the digital era. They don't use landlines. The internet is not new; they have grown up with it. They want different things from the businesses they interact with. (Read more in What Millennials Want.)

In What Customers Want: A Distributor’s Guide to Customer Buying & Shopping Preferences , we looked at 10 different ways customers want to shop (look for products) and 10 different ways customers want to buy (complete a transaction) from distributors. Millennials have very distinct patterns for their preferences. Half use search to shop, while only one-third would go to a distributor website. Just over a quarter wants to talk to a sales rep.

This is a much more pronounced digital fingerprint than boomers or even Gen X. It highlights a generation that is less focused on relationships, particularly with older field salespeople (who might be retiring soon anyway).

Millennials buy most frequently by sending a purchase order in email, going to a website to purchase or talking to a customer service rep. The other seven ways to buy are irrelevant to millennials as expressed in their frequency of use.

The shift to a digital native majority will happen precipitously over the next two to four years, depending on your industry. But, it takes two to four years to build a strong marketing and digital marketing capability, so even if your industry is moving a little slower, the time is nigh. If you want to reach the majority of your customers, their preferences are critical. Using the standard field sales approaches will be ineffective.

Here are three key moves distributors can make to gain competitive advantage for shopping and buying with the next generation:

  • Create an e-commerce site rich with information that is well organized and easy to find. Your website can then become a destination for shoppers. They will skip search and go directly to your site.
  • Make buying online (on desktop or mobile) really easy. Only 25 percent of survey respondents indicated that the customer experience on their primary supplier’s website was excellent. We are still in the early majority phase of e-commerce in distribution. It is still possible to leap-frog your competitors.
  • Improve your capability in search marketing. Fewer than 15 percent of distributors are doing search engine marketing. And very few of those are doing it well. Given that search is the primary paradigm for millennials and Gen Z, you will be well served by creating a strong capability here.

 Jonathan Bein is the managing partner of Real Results Marketing and co-author of the report "What Customers Want: A Distributor's Guide to Customer Buying and Shopping Preferences," available on Contact Jonathan at

Want to learn more about keeping up with your customers' changing needs? Join us for Sales GPS: Set a New Course for Your Distribution Sales Model, March 1-2, 2017, in Austin, TX. Learn more at


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