The Seismic Shift of B2B Marketing


As a B2B company, you may think your customer base is different. Purchasing decisions are made by senior executives, and your marketing efforts should reflect an older audience.  

Right? Actually, you might be surprised.

A study conducted by Google and Millward Brown Digital illustrates the demographic shift happening within B2B purchasing. More and more millennials are now the ones searching and shopping for B2B products and services, and these millennials are being granted more and more decision-making power. And we’re now reaching the point where the oldest millennials are beginning to take over some of those higher-level seats of power.

What does this mean for B2B marketers?

The Millennial Momentum

Consider that as recently as 2012, only 27% of B2B researchers were of the 18-34 age group. By just 2014, that number rose to 46%.

What does this mean? It means preliminary business decisions are being made not by C-level executives, but by employees throughout the chain of command. In fact, four out of five non-C-levels now have a say in purchasing decisions.

And while final spending decisions are still largely made by higher-level executives, they are often first presented with a narrowed-down list of finalists. And given that as of early 2016, 28% of millennials were already in management positions, many of those final decision makers themselves belong to the millennial demographic.

B2B marketing should focus on the type of content and media platforms that is most familiar to this first generation of the digital age. Overlooking the younger crowd can undermine your chances of a win, as your company may be filtered out as early as the ground level.

Not surprisingly, search engines are the driving force.

The fact that millennials now have so much purchasing power makes this next tidbit come as almost no surprise. A 2015 study brought to the surface what many already predicted: search engines drive the B2B sales bus.

Search engines account for the most preferred method of B2B research, at 25%. This was far greater than the more traditional platforms used by the Generation X and Baby Boomer researchers before them, such as word of mouth from colleagues (17%), salespeople (12%), industry publications (11%) and trade shows (4%). Even vendor websites checked in at just 20%.

When investing in marketing channels, it helps to know where the action is.

And those search engines are mobile.

Equally unsurprising when considering the youth movement happening in B2B research is just how much of it is taking place on mobile devices.

Nearly half of B2B researchers are using a mobile device at some point during the purchasing process. When you see a millennial thumbing through their smartphone on the train, they aren’t always mulling over their Facebook feed. Often, they are reading about products, comparing prices and even making contact. In fact, actual B2B purchases on mobile devices increased by 22% from 2012 to 2014.

Making sure your website and other media channels are mobile device-friendly has never been more important.

B2B shopping is smart shopping.

If millennials have earned a reputation as the “silver platter” generation, it sure isn’t reflected in their B2B research practices. The digital age and the workplace youth movement have led to B2B research that is more dedicated than ever.

Some 71% of them begin with a generic — not brand-specific — search. This means they are taking the time to learn about the products and services as a whole first before going in too deep with any one particular vendor.

In fact, B2B researchers now conduct an average of 12 searches before ever engaging in an action on a vendor website. Now that’s called smart shopping.

What it Means For You

B2B research is changing and that means B2B marketers must adapt. You must know who you’re really speaking to, where they will look to find you and the means they will use to do so.

In this era of B2B research, millennials are essential.

About The Author, Christian Worstell

Christian is a Senior Copywriter at Demand Signals. When he’s not helping clients generate inbound leads through search-optimized and generally awesome content, Christian can be found chasing a little white ball around golf courses in Raleigh.