Counselor Commentary: The Generational Divide

Saturday Night Live has roasted quite a few people over the years, from politicians to athletes to Hollywood celebrities. Recently, the show’s writers decided to mockingly target an entire generation: the Millennials. The SNL skit – which features a multi-colored-hair version of Miley Cyrus – is laugh-out-loud funny, playing up several Millennials’ stereotypes. There’s their obsession with cell phones and selfies, their lax work habits and their complicated view on social issues. Words can’t do it justice, so you can watch the skit here.

Whatever your view on Millennials – whether you think they’re entitled spoiled brats or just misunderstood – there’s one thing that can’t be argued: they’re now the largest generation in the history of the world. And, while Baby Boomers still have greater buying power, controlling the majority of disposable income in the U.S., Millennials are gaining fast. By 2017, estimates show Millennials will be spending $200 billion each year on consumer products and services alone.

In the B2B market, Millennials will soon hold even greater influence, as Boomers retire and turn their accounts over to the younger crowd. If you don’t understand how Millennials research, shop and buy, you’re going to lose an edge over firms that are in tune with this generational change. So, what’s your game plan?

It helps, of course, to look in the right places as you figure out what to do. IBM’s Institute for Business Value (IBV), for example, has produced one of the most detailed studies ever on how Millennials are reshaping the B2B market. At its heart, the study compares Millennials’ approach to decision making at work to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. IBV also explores what Millennials really want in a buying experience, as they peruse websites, scope out vendors, and give feedback to customer service reps.

The results of the study clearly show that Millennials differ in key, and somewhat curious ways, from older buyers. For instance, when researching consumer products or services, Millennials lean on the advice of online reviews and their friends. But in researching potential B2B purchases, they want interaction with vendor reps, much more so than Boomers or those from Gen X. According to the study, “Millennials are less likely to refer to third-party reviews and comparisons, and friends and family are at the bottom of their list when they’re in research mode.”

If you’re looking for more info on Millennials’ B2B behavior and habits, another good place to look is the upcoming ASI Power Summit in Dana Point, CA. Carolyn Heller Baird, the IBV study’s lead author, will present highlights of her findings in a Power Summit session on Tuesday, November 3. It’ll be just one of many leading-edge presentations at the three-day event, which will also feature a technology demo room, fashion consults with one of Hollywood’s top stylists, and the unveiling of this year’s Power 50 list. Who knows, there might even be a clip or two from SNL, with Miley’s multi-colored hair and all.