Humans have an innate need to classify things — including ourselves. We’ve devised shorthand phrases for grouping people chronologically stretching back nearly a century: the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, the Millennials.

The thinking goes that each generation has its own set of behaviors. The Millennials, who according to a study by who according to a study by Google and Millward Brown, now make up nearly 46 percent of B2B end-user buyers are a great example. Characteristics ascribed to this group include being perpetually connected via mobile devices, constantly distracted (or suffering from a short attention span), and accustomed to getting what they want when they want it.

Introducing Generation Customer

This characterization isn’t fair — it’s a gross oversimplification. The generation is perhaps better characterized as the first digital natives and the generation with the most intimate connection to technology. And the characteristics attributed to the millennials — connected, distracted, short on time and accustomed to instant answers — isn't applicable to only one age group. It's common to all modern customers. Call them “Generation Customer.”

The customers are already out there. The real challenge is to get businesses out of their current mindsets and make them part of generation customer, too. That will require businesses to re-think every aspect of operations to mirror the demands that Generation Customer expects to be met. If any component of your sales and marketing operations doesn’t offer a benefit to the customer that you can articulate, eliminate it, because it’s getting in the way of you delivering what customers want.

Five Transformational Trends

According to McKinsey and Company, a converging set of megatrends has transformed the modern B2B buyer — among them analytics, hyper-connectivity, automation, software intelligence and the sharing economy. As a result, these customers have new demands.

First, they want to be able to get information in any way they want, and they want it fast. That doesn’t necessarily mean rapid, omnichannel responses from support, although that’s part of it. These buyers also want to be able to search and to employ other options before getting to a conversation with a person.

Generation Customer expects businesses to know about them from their very first interaction. These buyers are well aware of what businesses do to understand prospects and are cognizant of how much intelligence is gathered on buyers today — in part, because their companies are doing it, too. Therefore, when they contact you — or, even more so, when you contact them — they expect that you will not treat them as a stranger.

The timing of that engagement is important, too. The current generation of customers wants engagement with sellers when they’re ready for it. Their time is too valuable to spend dealing with sales before they’re ready to buy, and they don’t want to have to hunt down contacts at the companies they want to buy from when they’re close to a buying decision.

Buyers want the people they buy from to be as available to them as other people they know. That means available all the time, and through a host of channels. Don’t expect them to stick to one channel, either — they’re just as likely to use two or three channels in the course of an interaction. Be prepared to use any and all channels that the customers use.

Finally, know that customers need to complete their purchases as quickly as possible. Spending time waiting for a B2B purchase to close because of process problems on the seller’s side steals time that could be better spent doing something else.

Re-Aligning Customers, Sales and the Business

These five major trends change customer expectations, but also change the game for sales. Sales has to adapt by helping reps become subject matter experts, and by providing them with tools that help them access information and content at the speed customers require.  You can no longer sell to a customer — you have to sell with the customer, adding value to the decision process in order to get deals closed. 

That means a focus on internal processes and efficiencies has to assume a lower priority in favor of aligning those processes around customer desires and needs. Businesses that belong to Generation Customer understand how to complete this re-alignment in a way that’s beneficial to the customer, the salesperson and the business.

This is a generation not defined by its age, but by its expectations. How businesses change in response to those expectations will vary from business to business and industry to industry. But the empowered buyers of Generation Customer expect those changes, and expect them now. The companies who prosper in the next few years will be the ones that embrace those changes and become part of Generation Customer.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Björn Söderqvist