I’m no expert in generational differences. And to be honest, in a B2B context I had a biased viewpoint that generational impacts would be minimal due to the team dynamics. But my mind is starting to shift. A few of us will be digging deeper into this to see what we can state with confidence, but here are some early observations.
First, it is next to impossible for me to believe that the vast majority of all B2B teams evaluating purchases would not be multi-generational. Our latest studies show millennials as the biggest group, followed by Gen-X, and a small percentage of boomers–and remember this is where respondents must be managers at a minimum.
Second, focusing on millennials, there are some expected observations. Millennials are more likely to discover products and services (for their companies) through search and social media. They value videos and infographics more than others as well.
Looking at it at this level, I started to be concerned that millennials are the driving force behind sub-optimal buying efforts. We know that surface exploration leads to higher regret and the early signals from above might imply that that is a generational thing. With experience, maybe things get better.
My first look at experience did not reveal a big difference. Yes, experience matters, but I also discovered Gen-Xers with some similar behaviors. Boomers were quite different (I’m a boomer, but as a Billy Idol fan I’d rather be (and almost am) Generation X.
But I did wonder if there was something else beyond individual experience? You can bet where my mind went (if you follow my posts often). Any guesses?
You got it–Enterprise Technology Adoption Profiles.
I explored the behavior of millennials in various ETA profile buckets. While some of the results were similar, for things like information depth, research approach and rigor, the behavior shifted based on the organizational ETA. Effectively the organization’s attitudes about technology nurtured better buying habits that shifted the inherent nature of the millennial generation (note: I probably misused nature vs. nurture there, but humor me a bit).
Let me give you tw0 specific examples. You might remember an older post on pessimism. We did a study and found that 54% of our respondents expressed agreement with the statement “We regret almost every purchase we make after the subscription agreement has been finalized.” Well, the millennials in that sample set were right at the same range-56%. But if you break it down by ETAs, you see a different picture. Here is the percentage of millennial respondents that agreed with the statement by the ETAs of their organization. The first % if millennials, the second is all respondents in the ETA group (including millennials):
- FID (Flexible, IT-Led, Dynamic): 33% , 30%
- SCD (Strict, Cooperative, Dynamic): 37% , 28%
- SIR (Strict, IT-Led, Responsive): 38% , 27%
- ABD (Accommodating, Business-Led, Dynamic): 63% , 51%
- ABM (Accommodating, Business-Led, Measured): 63% , 56%
- FCM (Flexible, Cooperative, Measured): 65% , 71%
- ACR (Accommodating, Cooperative, Responsive): 70% , 71%
That’s interesting. For our lowest regret (and best buyer) groups, the millennials make up a bigger portion of those that regret. As buying effectiveness decreases (and regret increases), the share of the group from millennials gets smaller. For our worst buyers, millennials are a smaller percentage than other groups.
Second, let’s look at another statement, the feeling that “The volume of information is overwhelming” with regard to vendor content to support implementation and deployment. I blogged about this in the past, where 43% of respondents felt pretty strong (score of 6 or 7 on 7 point scale)agreement with the statement. Millennials were slightly higher at 45%. But let’s break it down by ETAs again:
- FID (Flexible, IT-Led, Dynamic): 29% , 27%
- SCD (Strict, Cooperative, Dynamic): 27% , 23%
- SIR (Strict, IT-Led, Responsive): 26% , 26%
- ABD (Accommodating, Business-Led, Dynamic): 56% , 42%
- ABM (Accommodating, Business-Led, Measured): 47% , 41%
- FCM (Flexible, Cooperative, Measured): 56% , 56%
- ACR (Accommodating, Cooperative, Responsive): 55% , 51%
Once again, feelings about information are heavily influenced by the environment at work.
The net of all this. There is much more to explore and share with clients as we dig deeper. What is clear to me is that organizations that invest time in improving their approach–both policies and practices–to buying can develop and leverage all generations effectively. Those that don’t may see frustrations, confusion, and uncertainty increase.
Finally, I have to do it…My short lyric update to The Who’s “My Generation”
People try to put us down (talking ’bout my generation)
Just because we skim around (talking ’bout my generation)
The things they do look awful old (talking ’bout their generation)
I hope we buy before I get mold (talking ’bout my generation)
This is our generation
This is your generation baby
Why don’t you all E-E-E T-A (…)
Learn how to dig in an effective way (…)
I’m not trying to cause a regret’d decision (….)
Smart buying doesn’t have to feel like an incision (…)
These are all generations
These are our generations
(apologies to Pete Townsend)