Dialing in Your Sales Strategy for the Generation of Digital Natives

October 22, 2018

Millennial Friends at a Table

Are millennials really as destructive as the internet tells us?

I went into Google and started typing in a search term — “millennials are” — and the auto-populated queries suggested that this (my!) cohort is killing capitalism, killing mayonnaise, killing napkins. (The horror!)

Hyperbolic articles lamenting this generation’s calamitous cultural impact are all too common, and they often involve major leaps in logic based on singular data points. But it’s easy to see why there is such widespread focus on the millennial cohort: they’re expected to account for a majority of the global workforce by 2020.

As such, it’s not surprising millennials are also gaining sway on B2B buying committees. A study by Merit found that some 73% of this population segment — loosely defined by being born between 1980 and 1995 — are involved in product or service purchase decision-making at their companies. And that percentage only figures to rise.

So clearly, it’s important for B2B sales teams to understand millennials as well as we can. And luckily, there is a fair amount of new (legitimate) research that can help advance this understanding. Let’s take a look at how to tailor your B2B sales strategy for the first generation of digital natives.

Modern Selling that Connects with the Millennial B2B Buyer

We all know that modern selling is evolving as buyers become more self-driven in their purchase research. This trend is largely driven by millennials, for whom tracking down information online is second-nature.

But don’t worry, millennials aren’t killing the B2B sales profession. We just need to adapt to their methods and preferences. Here are some suggestions:

Team up with marketing

An article in Harvard Business Review earlier this year on How Digital Natives Are Changing B2B Purchasing notes: “This cohort identifies online search, vendors’ websites, peers and colleagues as the most important sources of information — all more important than salespeople.”

That doesn’t mean sales pros won’t play a role in this journey, but it’s becoming more likely that buyers will find their way to the rep than the other way around. The marketing department can help facilitate this path by ensuring that your company and its sales team are easily discoverable by your target audience via search and social.

Engage on social with digestible information

HBR’s piece also points out that “the youngest [millennials] have a particularly strong preference for social media as a source of information,” and adds that — per a 2017 Forrester report — “digital natives prefer short bursts of information, often in visual formats, and they think phone calls are tedious and disruptive.”

With this in mind, it makes sense to maintain an active presence on LinkedIn, with plenty of concise posts and images/videos offering value to your niche audience. That’s not to say you shouldn’t also be hitting on other social channels, but given the context and mindset of its 500M+ professional users, LinkedIn should be a priority.

Establish trustful connections

Citing research by Santa Clara University, HBR asserts that millenials “respond favorably to salespeople who evoke feelings of trust, compatibility, and connectedness, in contrast to buyers 50 and older who focus more on business benefits and deliverables.”

In other words, we need to build relationships before taking that next step to pitching. Our new guide offers plenty of tips on getting closer to to your B2B prospects.

Consider incorporating CSR into your approach

One of the most distinct trends around millennials is the value they place on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Studies continually reinforce the notion that younger buyers are more likely to choose companies that align with their core principles, and actively advocate for issues or causes they care about.

A study by Cone Communications found that by and large, millenials are “prepared to make personal sacrifices to make an impact on issues they care about, whether that’s paying more for a product, sharing products rather than buying, or taking a pay cut to work for a responsible company.”

Which issues matter to your audience? Is your company taking a prominent stance on them? And how can you, as a seller, show that you care and want to make a difference? We wrote last year about integrating CSR into B2B sales.

Make yourself available on-demand

From Uber to Netflix and beyond, the shift toward an on-demand economy is altering consumer expectations, and this shift is carrying over to the business world as well. Salespeople can take steps to meet these expectations by adopting an on-demand sales strategy, which involves making yourself accessible at the moment a prospect is in need, personalizing your approach, and minimizing friction.

A Brave New World for B2B Sales

Shrug off all those doomsday proclamations. Millennials aren’t here to destroy B2B sales or make our jobs irrelevant. (I can’t speak for napkins or mayo, though. They might be on the hot seat.)

While every individual is unique, the preference trends mentioned above are reliably true for younger buyers, and the coinciding recommendations can safely be viewed as best practices for modern selling.

For more advice on connecting with the modern buyer, subscribe to the LinkedIn sales blog to track the latest trends and research.