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You may have tailored your office culture and training processes to accommodate more millennials in the workplace, but have you considered how you’re selling to the next generation? More millennials are in B2B buying positions, and they shop and buy differently than preceding generations. This article examines those changes and how to adjust to meet these new demands.
Millennials composed 35.6 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2016 (see Figure 1), ahead of Generation X (31.2 percent) and baby boomers (30.7 percent), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2026, millennials will widen that workforce lead, composing an estimated 44.2 percent of the workforce.
The numbers look different in distribution – for now. Millennials compose just 2 percent of employees of Industrial Supply Association members, according to a 2016 ISA ONE Strategic Report, but their numbers will grow, says Cam Marston, whose company Generational Insights helps clients understand generational change and its impact on the workplace and marketplace.
“It might be a baby boomer-dominated industry,” he says, “but the evidence is clear that it won’t last very long.”
While distributors are slow to hire the next generation, their customers aren’t. More of them are hiring millennials for procurement and other positions, meaning it’s critical to develop a sales approach to match the changing demands of these new distributor customers. Understand millennials and you’ll have a better understanding of your customers.
“There’s value in spending time learning them better,” Marston says. “By being aware that you have customers of different generations, it begins to inform your decisions.”
Millennials have different ideas about what they want in a workplace, and they also have different shopping and buying preferences, according to Marston, who presented “Selling Across the Generations” at Essendant Inc.’s show for suppliers and resellers last month in Las Vegas, NV.
As digital natives, millennials want ease of doing business, quick access to information and different ways of ordering, Marston says. They also want to work with a specific type of company – one that is more concerned with looking forward and less concerned with what it’s done in the past.
“Boomers and matures are very interested in background and histories and legacies and what’s proven the test of time is more credible,” Marston says. “The Gen Xers and millennials are more interested in a focus on the future and how a product or company will influence and affect their lives. That’s a big distinction that many groups that sell need to understand.”
In other words, your company should be focused on sharing the ways it can help millennials with their business, not just how it once helped their parents’ and grandparents’ business back in the day.
‘Who is my customer?’
Learning what millennials want begins by asking them. Problems arise when a company – no matter if it’s B2B or B2C, selling primarily to boomers or millennials – gets overconfident thinking it knows who the customer is and what the customer wants.
“They look up one day and realize that that customer has passed them by, that that customer has changed, that they really don’t know as much as they thought they did,” Marston says. “The implication of not understanding is that your customer is going to change and you’re not going to be aware of it.
“The question to always ask is ‘Who is my customer and how do I learn more about them?’ Not, ‘I know my customer and I’m going to deliver what I think they need.’”
Stellar Industrial Supply, Tacoma, WA, asks as many questions as possible about their customers’ buying demands and interaction preferences, according to President and CEO John Wiborg.
In Stellar’s qualification and positioning phase, for example, the company works to better understand its customers – really, anyone with a buying influence – by asking how they prefer to receive information (text, email, etc.) and how they consume technical data (video, website, catalog, etc.). This process is especially critical for engaging with millennials,