The role of millennials in B2B buying decisions, and their distinctive attitudes and behaviors as business buyers have become major topics of interest for B2B marketing and sales professionals over the past five years. Since 2014, numerous research studies – including studies by the IBM Institute for Business Value, Google/Millward Brown Digital, Merit, and Heinz Marketing/SnapApp – have focused specifically on this subject.
Last fall, Demand Gen Report published the results of new research – conducted in partnership with The Mx Group – that provides a current take on the roles, perspectives, and preferences of millennial business buyers. The B2B Millennial Buyer Survey Report is based on a survey of “close to” 200 millennials – people born between 1981 and 1996 – working for B2B companies.
The Demand Gen survey results provide numerous specific insights about the attitudes and behaviors of millennial B2B buyers, but I suggest there are three key takeaways from this research.
Millennials Take Charge
Many millennials have risen to leadership positions and are now exercising significant authority in B2B purchase decisions. Fifty-six percent of the respondents in the Demand Gen survey held director-level positions or above, and another 42% held managerial positions. Twenty-one percent of the respondents were vice presidents or held C-suite positions.
Forty-four percent of the survey respondents indicated they are a primary decision maker at their company for purchases valued at $10,000 or more. Another one-third of the respondents reported being a key influencer and/or recommender.
Other research has confirmed the growing responsibility and authority of millennial B2B buyers. For example, in a 2015 survey of 1,469 employed millennials by Merit, 73% of the respondents said they were involved in B2B buying decisions, and approximately one-third (34%) of the respondents reported being the sole decision maker for their department
A Preference for Peer/Colleague/User Content
The millennial buyers surveyed by Demand Gen expressed a strong preference for learning about products or services from peers, colleagues, and other users. When the survey participants were asked what types of content were most helpful in their buying decisions, the top choice was user reviews (61% of respondents), and case studies came in third (34% of respondents).
When the survey participants were asked what resources they usually depend on when researching business purchase decisions, the top choice was review sites (49% of respondents).
The desire to learn from peers also influences how millennial buyers use social media. When asked what role social media plays in their process for researching potential purchases, a majority of the survey respondents said they browse existing discussions to learn more about their topic of interest (63%) or ask for suggestions and recommendations from other users (55%).
On this issue, it’s clear that millennial B2B buyers aren’t significantly different from other business buyers. Recent research has shown that buyers of all generations are now relying more on information from peers, colleagues, users, and other independent third parties. For example, in a 2019 survey of 712 business technology buyers by TrustRadius, participants were asked to rate the trustworthiness of fifteen sources of information used in buying decisions. Four of the seven most trusted sources involved independent third parties (peers, friends, or colleagues, users, analysts, and communities or forums).
The Challenges Haven’t Changed (Much)
The Demand Gen survey also revealed that millennial B2B buyers face many of the same challenges that all business buyers confront. More than half (52%) of the survey respondents said there are too many people involved in buying decisions at their company, and nearly half (49%) complained that their buying group is often indecisive and misaligned.
The next three most frequently identified challenges were:
- Difficulty getting budget allocated (39% of respondents)
- Lack of trust from senior management/not taken seriously (38%)
- Difficulty proving clear potential of ROI (28%)
While a lack of senior management trust may be a slightly bigger challenge for younger buyers, it’s likely that B2B buyers of all generations would say they’re affected by the challenges identified in this survey.