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We’ve all seen the stats. By 2020, the U.S. workforce will flip from 50 percent baby boomers and 25 percent millennials to 25 percent baby boomers and 50 percent millennials. It’s hard (and foolhardy) to ignore the fact that millennials are shaping the B2B buying environment — and their influence will only increase. The key question for B2B marketers now is, what role do millennials play in the buying process – and what does this mean for branding and marketing efforts?

The New Gatekeepers
Recent Google research is particularly illuminating. The study revealed that almost half of all B2B researchers are millennials. This percentage has nearly doubled since Google first studied this group in 2012.

This has important implications for B2B brands. While C-Suite executives continue to be the ‘holy grail’ for B2B marketers, ultimately making the final decision, it is increasingly millennials who are determining which companies get into the consideration set in the first place. And we all know how important it is to get on that short list.

If millennials are most influential at the beginning of the customer journey, then it is a brand’s top-of-funnel messaging, content, channels and overall experience that must align with their information consumption needs and behaviors.

What Millennials Want
According to a recent IBM study, millennial B2B buyers differ from their predecessors most noticeably in their focus on the experience of working with brands. Where Gen X prioritizes quality of products and services and Baby Boomers want speed, millennials are looking for vendors who offer a great client experience. And they use the discovery process to judge what this experience might be like. In fact, a CEB study suggests that buyers are now as much as 57% of the way through the buying process before actually engaging with a seller. All this points to the growing importance of getting the brand experience right early on in the customer journey.

Not surprisingly, the IBM research found that 69% of millennials prefer to engage vendors during the sales cycle using email. Mobile usage and video content consumption are also intensifying, according to the Google study. While much has been written about millennials’ preference for all things digital, the IBM study points out that beyond any particular channel, millennials “value hands-on, authentic experiences with a brand.” All this means that it’s not enough to build a responsive website or have a library of video content. Your brand must resonate with millennials. And it must be available on their terms – when and where they want to engage with you.

Unlocking the Gate
The role that millennials play in the B2B buying process will continue to evolve as members of this group evolve within their companies and their own careers. Today, they are gaining influence early on in the customer journey as they lead the research process, but as they begin to take over the C-Suite they will quickly shape the decision-making process as well. While it might seem like a bit of a moving target, B2B brands that are able to align with the unique needs and preferences of this increasingly influential customer will continue to find themselves on the short list.

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Who Owns the B2B Customer Journey?

The Age-Old Debate
A number of interesting reports came out this year that examine the B2B buyer journey. In one way or another, each weighs in on the seemingly unavoidable tug-of-war between marketing and sales. Who owns the customer journey? Who is more influential in the customer experience?

Depending on which report…