In the course of researching a few other topics, I came across a series of articles on how ‘Millennials’ are reshaping the B2B buying process and it got me to thinking about my past life in automotive and heavy duty parts.
Before my life as a Visual Communications Designer, I was a Millennial B2B buyer and manager. Millennial workers are beginning to have more and more say in decision making and purchase authority and for a group that has grown up in a world where Brands are omnipresent, some insight into their mindset can go a long way. This is my story.
It had been a long morning already. No amount of coffee was going to change that. The recent cold snap that had dug in around Calgary was exiting its second week, and the toll it was taking on the aircraft deicing equipment was beginning to rise to epic proportions. And of course, it was that precise moment when the giant overhead door rumbled up unexpectedly as another unit was being brought in. Despite the regular weekly maintenance these units underwent in the winter, they were part of an aging fleet that wasn’t handling the extended cold snap, meaning frequent breakdowns.
The Result: the mechanics in the shop did an admirable job of patching these units up and getting them back into service. My team and I made sure they had the right parts right away. We’d worked closely with our customer, done our diligence before the start of winter to ensure that we had a ready supply of the more common parts, but we’d managed to exhaust some of those early on, and replacements weren’t readily available anywhere in my company’s supply chain. Which meant the hunt was on to find what was needed as fast as humanly possible.
If there’s one constant in the Airline industry, it is schedule. Delays cost thousands of dollars, no matter what time of year, and delays in winter are no exception. So when an aircraft is unexpectedly sitting on the ground, fully loaded, pushed back from the terminal and waiting 40 minutes to be deiced before takeoff, that can mean tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars in potentially lost profit.
And upset passengers.
And frustrated ramp workers.
And an Equipment Manager (my direct customer) who was already getting heat from his superiors in Toronto about the number of delays their group was being charged with.
Knowing that these deicing units were the highest priority (winter in Canada, go figure), everything else was put aside until this issue was resolved.
Fortunately, in the build up to the winter season I’d begun building relationships with key suppliers who would be instrumental in ensuring success down the road. Now that we’d exhausted inventory, and had an immediate need, those relationships were going to pay dividends.
In the fall, I’d started researching these key suppliers from our own internal databases. We had preferred suppliers listed and for the majority of parts for these units, it was the OEM manufacturer. Internal consultations were done with our Purchasing and Sourcing departments, and I had a pretty good feel for what I was getting myself into. I’d reached out to the OEM parts department via email and phone calls to get a feel for who they were and to make sure we could work together (email and phone being the best methods of contact, given that we were in Calgary, and the OEM was based in Kansas). Their timely replies and ease of access assured me that they would be there when we needed them. If I or any of the mechanics had any questions about diagnosing issues or determining correct part numbers, we knew they would be the best collaborators.
They also understood the pressure we were under in the middle of winter to get these units supplied and back out the door. EVERY time we needed them, the OEM was there. I sang their praises to anyone who’d listen in the company, and the managers and purchasers at the other stations in Canada took note. In the 2.5 years I did that job, it was one of the best customer experiences I had.
Now, let’s fast forward to the start of this week as I was looking at various B2B marketing papers. This one from IBM on Millennials in the B2B marketing world really stood out. I was able to identify with pretty much everything that they found. Hence why I’m writing this, and you’re reading it.
What was of primary interest to me was this Figure right here:
Notice any similarities from what I outlined about my own experience above? It’s pretty much a dead on match. You know what isn’t seen here? Price and features and benefits of products were factors quite a way down the list but nowhere near the top. When time was limited there were other factors at play.
So what? you might ask. Why should I care? Here are my takeaways on this:
Know Your Audience
At the time I had this job, I was just turning 30. I am a part of a millennial cohort that is being handed more responsibility and B2B purchasing power as older Gen-X and Baby Boomer employees are retiring or moving to more senior positions. This cohort has different communication preferences, researches products in a digital and social space, has a higher expectation for a great customer experience, and is seeking a deeper relationship than most would expect. So while this might not be a perfect case study for every single key decision maker reading this, it does reinforce the reality that knowing your audience is essential to successful delivery of your offering. While I wasn’t their primary audience, their brand was flexible enough to deliver on their promise to me as well. Well positioned B2B brands that empathize with the challenges the customer faces, harness collaboration and find an easy way of doing business may find more success with this growing group of millennial decision makers and influencers.
Make information and data easily accessible
The Millennial cohort relies heavily on easily accessible data to begin forming opinions on products and services. The one drawback I can identify with the OEM manufacturer was that they didn’t have the best handle on this. While we still had paper copies of the technical manuals, it took longer to find the right parts and sometimes led to ordering errors on our part, a big problem when time is critical. As it was, their collaborative efforts and ease of access to expert individuals in the company made up for it.
Make a great, cohesive, branded customer experience
From the first interaction with your website, to the follow up after delivering your offering to the customer, create a great experience. Understanding your brand, communicating it and living it at every touchpoint are essential parts to success, not only with Millennials, but with every demographic. Consider that this cohort is the first to grow up in a world where consumer brands and brand experiences have been an omnipresent part of life. Delivering a great experience makes you stand out, and contributes to occupying a strong position in your markets mind.
The responsibilities I had on a day-to-day basis were no different than the older Gen X / Baby Boomer managers in the company. I had the same level of authority when it came to operating my branch. The biggest difference lay in how I went about doing the specifics: finding suppliers, building relationships and opening dialogues. Each activity was performed in a much different way than my colleagues. Failure on any of these fronts would have resulted in costly delays for my customer and would have ultimately cost me my job. Understanding that I worked a bit differently led to greater success not only for my supplier, but for me as well.