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Next Generation of Decision Makers

Originally published: 05.01.15 by Terry Tanker

Next Generation of Decision Makers

Millennials — today's largest group of consumers — want data, speed and trusted advisors who are eager to collaborate when making buying decisions.


A few weeks ago, Jim McDermott, our vice president and editorial director, sent me an interesting research document from IBM's Institute for Business Value entitled "How Millennials are Reshaping B2B Marketing."

The multigenerational study explores the preferences and practices of those who influence business-to-business purchase decisions. IBM's findings show B2B marketers how to connect with this new generation of decision makers.

If you're not familiar with what a Millennial is, it's anyone born between 1980-1993 — currently age 35-22. Also part of the study were the two generations of consumers prior to Millennials — Gen Xers (born 1965-1979) and Baby Boomers (born 1954-1964).

The report explores how Millennials approach general decision making at work, compared to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers (They want data, speed and trusted advisors who are eager to collaborate).

According to the research, Millennials show many of the same career aspirations and attitudes about leadership and recognition as the other two groups, however, they have a distinct decision making process.

For example, Millennials employees feel they make better decisions at work when a variety of people provide input

— they believe it's important to gain team consensus — Gen Xers too. Boomers, on the other hand, are far less likely to consult colleagues to get buy-in. Millennials also depend on analytic technologies to help make better business decisions.

Those accustomed to getting data with a tap on a device have little patience with organizations that can't immediately provide the information they seek. Accordingly, the research suggests vendors consider whether the current scope of their client audience is broad enough, and if the information they provide clients is relevant and easy to access quickly.

One aspect of the research was very interesting to me. It looked at Millennials' expectations for consumer brands and questioned whether this was influencing how they researched and engaged B2B vendors.

The short answer is yes. Preferences were organized into four core activities: researching, engaging during the sales cycle, deciding to buy and sharing the experience. With regard to consumer products and services, they trust their peers' opinions and, while they do place stock in what their colleagues think on the B2B side, they also want to interact directly with the vendor.

This may seem odd, given their on-line research habits, but what really matters is understanding what it's like to work with a particular vendor, having personalized interaction to explore possibilities and to have questions answered, in turn they will share their excitement with co-workers.

The report includes a few charts, and the one that outlines the importance of each communication tool and its relative importance to each of the three groups is priceless for marketers.

So, what are the preferred attributes of B2B vendors? That really depends which group you're speaking to.

Millennials are most interested in convenience, collaboration and expertise, Gen X wants assurance their satisfaction will be met and Baby Boomers want speed. B2B vendors who are used to working with Boomers and Gen X clients need to be mindful that the new generation of decision makers places a higher priority on a hassle-free client experience than their older colleagues do.

All three groups cite face-to-face meetings as the predominant way they engage with vendors during the sales cycle. When researching, Millennials seek vendor contact at their own convenience and, after they have the information they need, they prefer to keep vendor interactions quick, easy and virtual while the decision is being made.

When it comes time to make a decision, Millennials' top two influencers are their organization's data and recommendations from friends and family. Neither Gen Xers or Boomers place much weight on advice of personal confidants — their own experience is what's most important.

Millennials also weigh their personal experiences, but appear less confident of their own assessments. They want purchasing decisions to be informed by data, but also want the peace of mind that they've made the right decision by reassurance from those who know them best. Obviously, this is an interesting challenge for B2B marketers. Even if Millennials have the data they need, someone outside the vendor's market could sway the final decision.

Key Recommendations

B2B marketers need a full mix to connect with Millennials. They need seamless and engaging touch points with regard to data, information and sales. Assessing the client experience from your client's point of view (always a good idea) is a must. And, consider your brand reputation, because key influencers may come from outside the business.

Millennials want trusted advisors — experts who enjoy rolling up their sleeves and working together to find the best solution. They want processes, tools and policies designed for convenience.

Deliver these client experiences, and you'll delight decision makers of all generations, not just Millennials. To download your free copy of the report, head over to the Download Center, or simply fill out the form below.


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About Terry Tanker

Terry Tanker

Terry is the owner of JFT Properties LLC and publisher of HVACR Business magazine. He has more than 25 years of experience in the advertising and publishing industries. He began his career with a business-to-business advertising agency. Prior to forming JFT Properties LLC in January 2006, he spent 20 years with a large national publishing and media firm where he was the publisher of several titles in the mechanical systems marketplace.

In addition to his experience in advertising and publishing, Terry has worked closely with numerous industry-related associations over the years including AHRI, NATE and ABMA. 

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