What is the right way to market to millennials? That’s a popular topic since millennials are the largest demographic group in the United States at approximately 80 million people. This means traditional marketing strategies are evolving to be more in sync with the changing preferences that this demographic shift brings.
Yet, most articles on marketing to millennials seem more applicable to B2C than B2B, so how should you think about marketing to millennials if you are in a B2B role?
Recognize the Difference between Sales & Marketing
The first step is to understand the difference between sales and marketing. That distinction is often blurred but it can be clarified by function. Marketing is content-driven because that is the most efficient way to interact with large numbers of people. Sales is human-driven because the sales conversation is an interpersonal interaction that becomes a consultative, problem-solving dialogue. Sales and marketing follow different processes, and the people in those roles have different skill sets, but they must work together as a single unit.
Frame it Around the Buyer Decision Journey
Marketing and Sales are both process-driven, each with a specific strategy to advance the prospect towards a purchase decision. It helps to think about the Buyer Decision Journey as an overlay atop both the marketing strategy and the sales process. The Buyer Journey is a 5-step progression:
- Need Recognition: The buyer realizes that there is a problem worth fixing.
- Information Search: The buyer explores alternatives.
- Evaluation of Alternatives: The buyer develops product preferences.
- Purchase Decision: The buyer commits to a specific vendor and becomes a customer.
- Post-Purchase: You focus on increasing the lifetime customer value and the potential upsell.
Crossing the Chasm
Within the context of the Buyer Decision Journey, it is important to orchestrate a smooth handoff from marketing to sales, yet most companies set their marketing strategy and their sales process in isolation without considering how the two intersect from the prospect’s viewpoint. Mechanically, you need clear definition around when and how prospects are transferred from marketing to sales, and how prospects are returned to marketing if the buyer is not ready.
Making Sense of Word Salad
Mirriam-Webster defines word salad is a “confused or unintelligible mixture of seemingly random words and phrases” which is how most sales professionals think of terms like MQLs and SQLs.
To clarify, these are the typical definitions:
- Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL): A lead that demonstrated some level of interest that tells marketing this is a genuine lead.
- Sales Accepted Leads (SAL): A marketing qualified lead (MQL) that has been reviewed and passed to the sales team for approval.
- Sales Qualified Leads (SQL): Leads that have been sufficiently qualified by showing some intent to buy and are converted into Opportunities that will end in a Win or Loss.
The real difference between an MQL and an SQL is that they are ready to make a purchase. That’s it.
Marketing develops the content plan with the singular purpose of educating the prospects to the point where they are far enough along in their decision process to be handed over to sales. The real trick is getting the timing right so that sales people don’t spend time calling on prospects who are just not far enough along in their decision process.
Develop a Content Plan
Timing that handoff right is why the content plan should mirror the Buyer Decision Journey. The intent is to spell out how you will engage with prospects when they are doing their initial research, how you will be one of the alternatives they consider for potential solutions, and how you will make the short list when they form their product preferences.
If you build each piece of content for a specific purpose within a particular stage of the Buyer Decision Journey, your job of moving the prospect from stage to stage will be infinitely easier.
For example, sometimes content is built with the sole purpose of getting people to visit your website. Not everything is designed to lead to a purchase. Instead, each piece of content should have a specific purpose but it all fits into a coherent path to guide the prospects through their decision process.
But your content plan should be dynamic because it is a process just like the sales process. That means the content plan must be refined, adjusted, and optimized as new information becomes available – just like you would with the sales process.
If the content plan is done right, potential buyers will see you as a source of trustworthy information which also gives your buyer a sense of the value they would receive as your customer.
On Lead Scoring
Many companies use marketing automation platforms to execute their content plan. Those systems quantify a prospect’s interest level using a lead scoring index. That enables you to attach values to each prospect based on their behavior, so for example how much time they spent on your website, how many white papers they downloaded, and whether they attended your webinars.
Without a clear series of events to tell marketing that the lead is ready for a sales conversation, sales reps might be calling on leads that are not ready or might be missing opportunities by calling on leads too late in the process.
How Marketing Helps Close Deals
Once the prospect is transferred to sales, the salesperson is on the firing line, but marketing still plays a critical role in orchestrating a productive sales conversation. Here are some of the specific ways that marketing helps win more business.
- Expertise: The product team and the marketing team have a deeper understanding of the technology, product, or service than the salesperson does. Marketing has a broader perspective on where your solutions fit within the industry and how you compare against other alternatives. This added perspective goes a long way towards advancing the sale.
- Increased Sales Efficiency: When marketing invests the time to build the content plan around the Buyer Decision Journey, the drip campaigns keep the prospects advancing towards the purchase decision. That’s incredibly important for keeping the sales team focused on the right prospects at the right time.
- Marketing Collateral: The materials that marketing produces, specifically case studies, ROI analyses, and competitive analyses, all add credibility which gives the buyer comfort in the purchasing decision. People make decisions on emotion and reinforce the decision with data. The marketing collateral is an essential element in the sales process.
- Competitive Intelligence: In every sales conversation, the prospect wants to understand why your company is different. That differentiation is a central component of the content plan, so marketing is obsessive about your competitive positioning. They will be the first ones to pick up on competitive changes and can telegraph that to the sales team so that they can adjust their sales pitch accordingly. That keeps sales current on what is happening in the market – because marketing is watching out for them.
- Creating Urgency: Sometimes sales stall because the buyer does not have a sense of urgency. Quite often, a tepid sense of urgency can trace back to something missed in the discovery phase of the sales process. Regardless, marketing can be instrumental in creating limited-time offers that build a sense of urgency and help move the deal across the finish line. That is why it is essential that sales and marketing work in concert with one another to drive revenue growth.
What’s the right way to market to millennials in B2B companies?
If you are in a B2B company, the best way to engage millennials is to think about where they fit into the Buyer Decision Journey and how you can participate in a well-informed decision. Most commentary talks about the choice of marketing channels like Facebook, YouTube, or other communication vehicles. Perhaps those are more relevant for B2C, but in B2B, those are tactical choices, not strategic decisions.
Granted millennials are more tech-savvy than previous generations because they grew up in the digital age. Setting that aside, millennials go through the same decision process that everyone else does. They want to do their research and make the best possible decision. That means the framework for marketing to B2B millennials is pretty straight-forward:
- Build the content plan around specific stages in the Buyer Decision Journey
- Ensure a smooth, well-timed handoff from Marketing to Sales
- Initiate a thoughtful sales conversation built around the objectives the prospect wants to achieve
Everything beyond that is tactical, not strategic.