Retailers in the B2B space that haven’t yet considered how to align their sales and marketing strategies with the needs of younger customers risk becoming irrelevant. Millennials now represent the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. And, according to Forrester, 73 percent of workers in this age group are involved in B2B purchasing decisions.
As the first generation of digital natives, millennials have set the bar high when it comes to online shopping and customer experience. They have grown accustomed to the ease of use, personalization, and readily available product data that they find using search engines like Google and commercial marketplaces like Amazon.
To attract this increasingly important demographic, B2B companies will need to find innovative ways to deliver great customer service through their websites rather than leaning on traditional sales calls or visits. Companies should keep in mind that millennials’ purchasing decisions are often influenced by their peers, and they tend to gravitate toward brands that work to meet their individual needs. Millennials also demand precise, transparent product information that can help them find exactly the right products for their businesses.
The days of flipping through weighty catalogs and meeting in person with vendors are coming to an end, as millennials do the vast majority of their B2B shopping online. According to a report by Heinz Marketing, 60 percent of millennials said they don’t typically engage with salespeople until they have done their own research and are near the end of their customer journey. Before they speak to a sales rep—if they speak to one at all—millennials are usually armed with information about pricing, product reviews, and competitors.
It’s imperative for B2B websites to make all of this information easily available, prominent, and searchable. Because online B2B catalogs tend to be extensive, helping customers narrow their searches can be a challenge. That’s why intuitive search functions and smart classification systems are critical.
To make these systems work, product attributes need to be tagged properly so that all relevant products are visible each time a customer performs a search. Many B2C companies have adopted automated tagging technology to perform this task quickly and accurately, and B2B companies are beginning to follow suit.
When it comes to making purchases for their businesses, millennials tend to stick to what they know. In a study by Comscore, 35 percent of millennial respondents cited Amazon as an app that they “can’t live without.” With its targeted advertising and personalized product recommendations, Amazon undoubtedly raises millennials’ expectations for shopping online at other sites. B2B companies can similarly personalize customers’ experiences by installing search capabilities that take into account a buyer’s previous transactions and browsing histories. This can help suppliers deliver more relevant results and additional product suggestions.
Live chat is an increasingly effective way to handle basic customer service queries. This functionality allows customers who are researching and comparing products to ask questions and get real-time support without needing to call a B2B supplier during business hours. Live chat offers millennials a low-pressure way to engage with a company. And since live chat agents are often trained to handle multiple conversations simultaneously, they can help more customers with fewer personnel than is required with traditional phone support teams.
Social media is another important way to connect with younger buyers. According to the Heinz Marketing report, 45 percent of respondents said they begin their product research on merchants’ social media pages. B2B companies can get significant ROI on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram campaigns by posting eye-catching videos, infographics, and fast facts about their product lines, as well as answering followers’ comments and questions directly through the platforms. Though it can be difficult to track conversion rates through social media, the brand awareness and increased customer engagement can be enough to make social media campaigns a worthy investment.
Trustworthy Product Information
Increased access to information like product reviews and competitor pricing can be a double-edged sword. Although millennials prefer to have a plethora of resources at their disposal, they also report feeling overwhelmed. According to Gartner, 15 percent of the customer purchase process is spent on what the research firm dubs “deconfliction of information.”
B2B companies can help buyers find exactly what they’re looking for with clean, precise product descriptions that answer frequently asked questions and assure them that they’re making the right purchasing decisions. And providing product reviews on B2B websites can help customers make decisions without having to leave a site and look elsewhere.
And, although they are data-driven, millennials’ buying decisions are greatly influenced by emotion and instinct. For example, a survey by Label Insight suggests that millennials are much more likely to stick with brands that have worked to earn their trust. Nearly 95 percent of respondents said they are more likely to be loyal to a company that offers completely transparent product information, and 73 percent reported they’d pay more for those products.
B2B companies can prepare to attract and accommodate the next wave of buyers by revamping their websites to be intuitive, social and responsive to users’ needs. Meticulously managing massive online catalogs to ensure that product information, availability, and pricing is transparent and up to date can be an ongoing challenge for B2B companies. But the effort is well worth it: Accurate, complete product information that appeals to buyers’ emotions can increase their trust and satisfaction and can potentially turn fickle millennials into long-term customers.
Fred de Gombert is co-founder and CEO at Akeneo