In Part I of this blog series, we explored the case for change, highlighting how generational diversity impacts a seller’s ability to connect with buyers from generations different than their own. This blog investigates how recent market and demographic shifts, such as the internet and generational differences amongst buyers, have created new dynamics in today's B2B buying process.
What specifically are Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, and Millennial buyers looking for and how does a seller adjust?
The Internet Changed Everything (in Sales)
It is hard to remember when the internet was not considered mainstream, but just two decades ago we were operating in a very different selling environment. To provide perspective, there were 100,000 websites in 1996 compared to today’s 1.14 billion. Netscape Navigator was the browser of choice, most people still had a dial-up internet connection, and I was pushing my Encarta Encyclopedia CD-ROM into the reader desperately awaiting the launch of Google.
Before the internet, sales organizations relied on sales professionals to engage with prospects and communicate value to the client directly. Salespeople would comb through phone books, were highly skilled at cold-calling and felt no apprehension knocking on the door of an unknown or unsuspecting buyer.
These same sales organizations soon began capitalizing on the internet as a unique avenue that allowed them to effectively communicate to a vast audience of potential buyers. It reinforced the value being echoed in the field and represented a level of professionalism when buyers considered one firm over another.
Concurrently, as phrases like “online presence” and “corporate digital brand management” were becoming mainstream, buyers started to become fatigued by sales pitches that seemed to permeate all aspect of their lives but continued to fall short on meeting their unique needs or innate motivations. Skepticism began to rise, and buyers started blockading themselves behind a literal and figurative firewall.
Buyers today, especially Millennial and Gen X buyers, seek out information in advance of the pitch. They formulate their own opinion of what is needed and what companies offer the best solution before a salesperson ever sets foot in the door… and while Baby Boomers still feel a nostalgic longing for that face-to-face connection, the internet is slowly eroding the value provided by sales professionals in those early stages of the buying process.
How can a sales professional circumvent this abbreviated sales cycle? The answer is twofold: they must first hone a digital persona that emphasizes expertise and then continue to deliver relevant client insights that resonate with their buyer.
Your Digital Posture
Last year we interviewed Chris Dessi for our new book, The Multigenerational Sales Team. Chris is the CEO of Silverback Social and CNN’s special correspondent on social media. He explained that, “In today’s selling environment, there is no reason why a sales executive should not have a fine-tuned digital posture.”
Citing that even when engaging with Baby Boomer buyers, who may require a heightened level of engagement before placing you in their “circle of trust,” the idea of not maintaining a digital posture leaves you susceptible. Chris warned, “Imagine you cold call a Baby Boomer buyer to set up a lunch meeting for the following week. What happens if he decides to Google you before reaching back out? If you haven’t curated content that reinforces your credibility and begins building trust, you are dead in the water.”
If creating a digital posture is foundational, then sourcing and delivering meaningful content is how you start connecting with your buyer. It is about consuming information and contextualizing it for a specific buyer based on an anticipated need or motivating factor.
The buyer’s “need” will likely align to the strategic priorities of the firm, which are often uncovered through effective customer research and discovery. Buyer “motivations,” on the other hand, are a bit harder to pin down without knowing the buyer’s age.
Don’t worry, though! Nothing a little sleuthing cannot solve. Do yourself a favor and upgrade to the premium version of LinkedIn to gain access to over 360 million profiles. Assuming your buyer has a profile, first check to see if they have made their birthday public. If not, check the dates associated with their education or work backwards from their first posting.
Once you identify their age, you will need to determine their generation: Baby Boomers (Born: 1945-1964), Generation X (Born: 1965-1979), and Millennials (Born: 1980-2000). Finally, consider what content will be most relevant and why. Below are a few considerations for each generation:
- Millennials: They want current materials, as in now. Do not send them an article from last year. It was outdated the day after it was published. Focus on curating content that is time sensitive, paradigm shifting and easily sharable with others within their organization or network. Consider sending trending Industry Publications, Podcasts, or a TED Talk. Remember, this generation is highly confident and ready to share their newfound knowledge with their community of colleagues and mentors.
- Generation X: They want it to be proven. Do not waste their time with fluffy, feel good pieces, as Gen-Xers are extremely efficient and tend to be more pragmatic. Consider sending relevant industry journals and case studies with proof points to minimize skepticism. This generation is extremely independent, often keeping info and insights close to the chest. Be diligent, but remember that they are likely collecting all of the information they need to make their case internally.
- Baby Boomers: They want to make a difference. Do not rely on digital interaction alone. When curating content for this audience, ask if they would like to review the insights in person. Face-to-face engagement is the first step in ensuring this generation feels comfortable. Consider the value of referrals and warm connections. This generation has been driven their entire careers, often blending the boundaries between work and home. If you are not in their circle of trust, you are out.
For more information on what influences each of the generations, click here to download our Generational Pocket Guide.
When it comes to prospecting, every engagement should aim to pique curiosity and align with either a need or a motivating factor. Awareness of generational motivations and preferences is only part of the equation. You must remember that individuals do not always fit neatly within a generational box. People are impacted and influenced by experiences, both professionally and personally. Do not forget this and follow the rules associated with generational flexibility by being aware of each generation, observing their behavior, and adjusting as required. Good Luck!
In Symmetrics Group's recent book, The Multigenerational Sales Team, we explore both the negative implications and potential opportunities associated with managing a multigenerational salesforce and engaging externally with decision makers from various generations. Generational considerations are one of several lenses with which which we view sales effectiveness.