How B2B Businesses Can Prepare for the Next Generation of Buyers

In some ways, B2B marketing will always be the same: businesses have a problem and you have a solution.

But the way businesses find your solution can change with a new generation of buyers.

The landscape is changing. According to Digital Marketing Magazine, the next generation of buyers will expect more personalization and less advertising talking-to. A survey of millennials found that 34% of them are looking for some sort of personal experience with a tech brand before they work with them. And as you’ll see, the demographics are shifting. The people responsible for B2B buying decisions have a new set of priorities.

Businesses like yours will need to adapt. That begins with understanding—and then using key insights about the next generation of buyers to grow your B2B marketing strategy long term.

How B2B Marketing is Changing

We’re in the middle of a generational shift. Millennials are growing up—and with this growing up in demographics, they’re gaining a stronger foothold in the world of B2B marketing. This means changes on both ends: a younger generation is doing the research when seeking out B2B solutions and that same younger generation is doing the selling, too.

Consider the following:

The demographics are shifting. Think With Google called the idea that millennials aren’t making the big B2B decisions a “myth,” pointing out that B2B researchers are nearly half 18-to-34-year-olds as of 2015. Millennials are arriving on the economic scene and that’s become more than apparent in B2B.

These changing demographics are no small matter. Understanding the buying habits of millennials is at the core of adapting your B2B marketing strategies for the future.

B2B starts with an online search. There’s no getting around it—most people begin their B2B quests with an online search. Even if it doesn’t comprise the entirety of the research, it often serves as an entry point to the tune of 90% of those researching B2B purchases, beginning their journey in an online terminal like Google.

This also means that B2B branding might not be what you thought it was—the same research suggests that these searchers will look through listings for a long time before engaging an individual site. To stand out in the world of B2B, you have to get out in front where people are searching before expecting your brand to do the work for you.

Video is growing more important. Adobe statistics suggest that 52% of marketing professionals use video to generate strong ROI—the same logic holds up in B2B marketing, according to Forbes. Think With Google dismissed the idea of video being essential only for informative purposes, noting that “B2B researchers watch video during the entire path to purchase.”

Cold calls are out. Millennials don’t have time for cold calls, as Digital Marketing Magazine points out—85% of millennials report that cold calls and spammy emails will only make them less likely to select a B2B option. While this can be good news for anyone with a distaste for cold calling, it also hints at a deeper insight into the next generation of buyers—they’re looking for personalization, not the door-to-door salesman approach.

The Impact of Social Media and Mobile on B2B Marketing

The digital era has had a profound impact on the way people—even businesses—process the idea of making a purchase. Sales and strong persuasion matter less; social influence matters more. The average consumer can turn to friends on social media or online reviews to get a sense of a service before they sign up. It works the same for businesses.

That’s why we’ve seen both social media and mobile grow in their importance in B2B marketing.

In fact, social media has already become a favorite of B2B marketers, with 83% now reporting they use it. That makes it the most common marketing platform for B2B. On average, today’s B2B company will be on about 6 social media platforms. With that dedication comes increased ROI, with businesses reporting that they see increased interest and traffic thanks to social media marketing efforts.

Mobile marketing is also driving changes in B2B marketing. As Think With Google points out, mobile marketing can drive an average of 40% of revenue in B2B organizations.

Remember how B2B research overwhelmingly begins with online searches? Many of those searches occur on mobile—and could approach 70% of said searchers by the year 2020. Currently, the levels are at about 50%, suggesting a seismic shift in the way business customers go about finding solutions online.

If your company isn’t positioned for mobile search, it can easily miss out on the growing trends.

Strategies for Adapting to the Next Generation of Buyers

Knowing that the demographics of B2B are changing—and that these demographics will influence the buying behavior of B2B searchers—your company needs to be in a position to take full advantage of these trends. But what strategies can you undertake to adapt to the next generation of buyers?

Focus on the right areas. What will deliver the maximum impact on your B2B marketing investments? Consider that 85% of B2B marketers place their emphasis on generating more leads. Have you kept your organization that focused, or have you lost interest in generating leads in favor of less-definable buzzwords and difficult-to-prove returns?

Create an engaging “moment” by utilizing social media and video. When IBM launched a video campaign based on its IoT technology, the strategy was multi-pronged. IBM created a video, “IBM Helps Protect Endangered Rhinos with IoT Technology.” Along with the video, IBM used social media advertising to create a Twitter “moment.” They waited until World Rhino Day—when the hashtag would be in full effect— and then posted across channels, including YouTube and Facebook.

The clear implication: IBM understands that B2B marketing has shifted toward social trends and a younger demographic. IBM actively engaged in an important issue like rhino preservation, not only to do good but to engage this younger demographic and raise awareness on its Internet of Things. IBM didn’t simply create one video, post it, and hope for the best.

Position your company for the future of B2B search.

If millennials increasingly turn to social media and online searchers to experience a personal level of trust with a brand like yours, then you need to make your company available on those platforms. That includes:

  • Mobile search. Does your company show up in mobile search when customers search for B2B solutions? If not, it might be time to engage with SEO, mobile marketing, and even content marketing. Social media advertising also makes it possible to advertise directly for those searching for your services.
  • You don’t have to create a 60-minute documentary to have success with video. Your company can boost its profile simply by creating brief and impactful videos that coincide with its latest marketing campaigns. In the case of IBM, they found an issue that mattered to millennials and found a way to connect that issue back to its service, the Internet of Things.
  • Your website. When someone arrives at your website, are they engaged? What kind of experience do they have? Should they trust you? Should they feel like you’re the type of brand that will talk to them like they’re a person, or is there an impersonal touch to the way you go about your business?

Get creative.

Easier said than done—but getting creative is essential to understanding how the next generation of buyers might respond to your B2B marketing campaigns.

A greater percentage of millennials believe that creative campaigns are more essential for building trust than do Generation Xers or Baby Boomers. And with the growing influence of millennials, that’s a sure sign of future trends in B2B.

But let’s define what it means to be “creative”:

  • Finding ways to link your business with an emotional need. What’s the emotional hook of what your business offers? What is engaging about the B2B problems you solve? IBM’s IoT campaign found an emotional issue—caring for Rhinos—and was able to link it to its own services. This kind of outside-the-box thinking is what gets people to view your brand in a new light and to feel you’re a brand they can trust with their B2B needs.
  • Becoming a powerful source of information. In the world of content marketing, there’s nothing more powerful than building a tool or infographic to which people can constantly refer. For example, consider this Mortgage Calculator by the New York Times. Although the Times is not a B2B brand selling to millennials, they did find a way to build trust with millennials by creating a powerful tool that they can use. When the New York Times lists further links to other content—such as “Can I afford to buy a home?” there’s already the trust of this calculator built into the “brand,” so to speak. What can you do to become a powerful source of information for your market segment?
  • Building a long-term relationship with leads. Today’s B2B leads will go through a lot of searches and a lot of options before settling on one they feel they can trust. That means you need to nurture a long-term relationship with leads. Not only are the demographics shifting, but leads are worth it—leads that convert into full-time customers can have a lasting impact on the trust and consistency of your brand.

Building a Better B2B Brand by Understanding Your Market

The next generation of B2B buyers isn’t just evolving. It’s already here. What will define your position in the future marketplace isn’t how well you can perform—but how well you can adapt your marketing strategies to show how well you can perform.

Today’s market segments require deeper levels of trust. They want to know you have a strong reputation. They have to trust that you have the answers. They have to find you when they do their research online. And most of all, they don’t want to feel that you’re making a hard “cold call”-style pitch to cross them off your sales list. The next generation of B2B businesses is looking for a stronger emotional connection with the brands which they engage. The only question is—will you adapt enough to make sure that your brand is on that list?

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