How do Millennials influence B2B Buying?

B2B marketing has changed dramatically during the last few years. Where selling to millennials was once more common (in the context of business to consumer [B2C] marketing), the younger generation has flipped this area of marketing on its head and become extremely influential in business to business (B2B) purchasing. So, what exactly does this all mean and, more to the point, how should marketers respond?

Millennials and the Digital Revolution

Well, in short, this means that we are witnessing a generational shift in B2B buying that has taken place as a direct result of exposure to digital technology. Millennials (born between 1980 and 1993) have had a lifelong exposure to digital technology that has opened the gateway for them to take on different roles within the workplace and sets them apart from their generational colleagues of Baby Boomers (born 1954 – 1964) and Gen X’s (born 1965 – 1979) who haven’t had the same exposure.

IBM: To Buy or Not to Buy?

A number of recent studies, including IBM’s To Buy or Not to Buy, provide us with an in-depth insight into the preferences and practices of millennials. IBM’s survey was based on 704 individuals (Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boom) from businesses large and small and revealed significant differences between the generations’ buying techniques. The study revealed (as an example) that millennial and Gen X buyers are more likely to make decisions in isolation compared to Baby Boomers. It also showed that millennials want to interact with vendor representatives when researching products and services, far more so that Gen X or Baby Boom buyers.

Sacunas: The Next Generation of B2B Buyers: How the Millennial Business Buyer is Changing B2B Sales & Marketing

Other studies have revealed how millennials tend to favour digital technology and social media platforms such as Facebook and Youtube to research products and services before making purchasing decisions.

The study carried out by marketing agency, Sacunas, looked at the buying habits of over 2,000 millennials across the United States. It found that millennials value authenticity and want direct interaction and communication with brand representatives.

According to the Sacunas study, millennials are far more likely to use digital channels like search engines, vendor websites and social media to make purchasing decisions.

Values and sensibilities

Research from IBM, Sacunas and other sources have also revealed that millennials prefer to do business with companies who have similar values and sensibilities. Online and offline communication is equally important and they crave a hassle-free, omni-channel client experience.

As the IBM report states, ‘B2B vendors and marketers need to demonstrate the relevancy of their brand and deliver the seamless, omni-channel client experiences that millennials, as consumers, have come to expect.’

Adapt and Grow

With easier access to information and personnel, producing content that serves millennials’ needs and interests is a must. Tools and policies should be designed for their convenience and clients must be human and approachable in order to create a client and brand experience that is based on trust and integrity.

Take advantage of the studies and reports out there to find out more about millennials, their practices and their preferences before making your marketing decisions.

The Shortlisting Process

 

In the previous article we outlined a brief summary of what shortlisting is and why it is used. Now we will look at the process itself in more depth, including information on evaluation criteria and the actual scoring system.

Evaluation Criteria

Prior to actually sifting through the sellers and compiling a shortlist- companies should publish their evaluation criteria. These are the essential components by which each seller will be judged. So for example, time at which they can start the work, essential skills, experience, cost, location and any preferred skills. These are just some common examples but each business will have their own specific set of requirements.

When applying, any sellers that don’t meet a company’s essential requirements will be automatically rejected. Those that do meet these requirements will become eligible for the shortlist and that’s when more thorough evaluation will take place, such as scoring.

Scoring

When it comes to comparing proposals, buyers will often be faced with a variety of vendors who are all offering similar things. Therefore the ability to pinpoint which proposals are the most suitable is paramount and this can be achieved using a scoring system.

Obviously, binary answers such as whether a supplier can begin work before a certain date can only be scored in two different ways, 1 and 0 for yes and no respectively. However, when assessing more subjective requirements, such as essential skills, experience and preferred skills, a more comprehensive points system may be required.

For example, when asking sellers to provide proof of experience- the buyer can then judge how far that proof met the requirement- 0/not at all, 1/partially met, 2/met and 3/exceeded expectations. This type of scoring system is a useful technique but it has to be applied in the same way to all sellers that are being assessed, in order to guarantee fairness.

Only applicants who meet all of the requirements will be eligible for the shortlist. However, if that number is particularly high then buyers can choose the highest scoring proposals to take forward. It’s at this stage where factors such as preferred requirements can make such a big difference.

Standing Out

Many businesses will complete background research in to prospective sellers and this can have an effect on their eventual decision. For example, many buyers will utilise sourcing platforms as a way of finding the best sellers. Furthermore, the sellers own website can provide a wealth of information, including case studies, bios and the way in which they approach business.

Reputation is another important factor and one that is often a deal breaker. The cheapest vendors may be tempting but are they reputable and how will their partnership affect the buyer? Reputation can be a difficult quality to gauge but this is where websites and social media presence play such a vital role.  The way in which sellers interact with other customers will be indicative of how they interact with a prospective buyer.

Finally, we should point out that there is an x-factor element to the shortlisting process. As already mentioned, the competition can be tough and the difference between landing on the shortlist and not can be marginal. In fact, sometimes buyers can simply go with their gut and choose a supplier who they feel they can personally work with.

What is Shortlisting?

 

The process of forming a partnership with a new supplier can be time consuming. It’s also a decision that can have lasting consequences for the company and is therefore extremely important.

The B2B buying cycle has become much more complex in recent years. Whereas in the past, it would focus mainly on cost and location, now there are so many other factors to consider. Working with a supplier is no longer a simple business transaction, it’s now a partnership and therefore involves issues such as reputation, marketing, experience and long-term outlook.

With so many suppliers on the market, the task of evaluating them all can be arduous. This is particularly problematic if the requirement for a new supplier is time sensitive. It’s for this reason that many companies now choose to use the technique of shortlisting.

What is Shortlisting?

Shortlisting is the process of sifting through a number of proposals and identifying the suppliers which are most suitable for partnership.

The buyer will use evaluation criteria as a way of scoring each proposal and the highest scorers will move on to the shortlist. The evaluation criteria used will vary from buyer to buyer but they usually include factors such as cost, proof of skills, proof of experience, when they can start work and “nice to have” or preferred skills.

It’s often the case that buyers receive a large number of proposals which meet the minimum requirements and it’s at this point that preferred skills come in to play and can tip the balance.

Once on the shortlist, vendors will move on to the next stage where they will receive a more thorough evaluation before the buyer decides on the successful proposal.

What are the Benefits?

As already mentioned, shortlisting streamlines the B2B buying cycle. Instead of investing precious time, money and manpower in to evaluating a large pool of sellers- buyers can cut out the middle man and identify a small group of the most promising proposals.

As well as saving time and resources, shortlisting also allows buyers to find the best vendors for their specific requirements. Setting an evaluation criteria means that the eventual shortlist will include sellers that offer something meaningful to that particular buyer- as opposed to a more general, one-size-fits-all approach.

It’s worth noting that shortlisting isn’t ideal for everyone. For example, a company may only receive a small number of proposals and therefore it would make more sense to take all of those sellers to the final evaluation phase.

Notification

Once the buyer has compiled a shortlist, they send out notifications to successful and unsuccessful applicants. With unsuccessful proposals will usually receive a stock email that basically tells them they didn’t meet the requirements. It’s at the discretion of the company as to whether they provide further details and feedback.

Successful applicants are sent confirmation that they are on the shortlist and information on the next phase- including assessment requirements.

Exporting isn’t Scary

 

There are many benefits for companies that choose to branch out in to international markets but many refuse to take this step. This is a particular problem with SMEs who are often apprehensive about the resources and expertise that are required to start exporting. A YouGov poll found that only half of the SMEs questioned were planning on exporting in the coming 12 months.

With Brexit looming, exportation is going to be more important than ever before, not just for private companies but also the wider UK economy. The government is attempting to remedy this problem through their ‘Exporting is Great’ campaign, which encourages businesses both small and large to look beyond the British Isles. The truth is, exporting isn’t as scary as many people think and there is help out there for anyone looking to expand.

Why are companies reluctant?

There are many reasons why some companies won’t even consider selling abroad. One of the main issues cited by businesses, especially SMEs is risk. Many business owners fear that exporting is a risky move that could lead to wasted investment.

There can also be apprehension from companies that don’t want to bother with the logistics of selling overseas, whether that be regulations or cultural differences. This lack of experience and technical knowledge can often dissuade businesses from taking the first step.

Of course, we should point out that there are companies that are simply happy to remain within the UK and aren’t looking to expand their operations at the present moment.

What are the benefits?

There definitely seems to be lack of enthusiasm from UK businesses when it comes to exportation. However, there are so many benefits to selling overseas.

Obviously the main benefit is the chance to expand your customer base and therefore boost sales and profit. In fact, the ‘Exporting is Great’ organisation found that “85% of companies say that exporting has led to a level of growth not otherwise possible”. Ironically, although many business owners believe that exporting can be risky, it can actually greatly reduce risk overall. This is because businesses are tapping in to different markets as opposed to relying on one, meaning high demand in one location can make up for low demand in another.

Another benefit to exporting is the chance to boost your brand. Creating business links with other countries is a great way to forge a global identity. This is especially important within today’s market were business is becoming borderless and branding and reputation are vital.

Exporting also provides a unique experience which allows companies to get a much better understanding of the sector they are in. Marketing your product abroad often forces you to think in different ways and this may provide you with a unique perspective that can be utilised at home.

What help is out there?

You might be surprised to know that there is a wealth of support available for companies who are thinking about selling overseas.

Business owners can contact their local UKTI International Trade Advisor, who can help them with issues such as financial subsidises, documentation, contacts and e-commerce, as well as much more. These International Trade Teams can be found in offices across the country, meaning you are never too far from expert advice.

The government offers a range of programmes for companies who want to start exporting, including topics such as high value opportunities, e-exporting, tradeshow access, overseas market introductions and bidding for international aid agency projects.

Companies can also find support from ‘Exporting is GREAT’, which offers expertise for businesses at every level, whether you’re considering the first step or have been selling abroad for years. One such tool offered by this organisation is Open to Export which helps individuals in drawing up a detailed plan for the future.

The choice to start selling abroad can be a daunting one but the potential benefits are great and there so much help out there for anyone willing to take the plunge.