A Match Made in Heaven – Millennials and B2B E-Commerce

Angeline Rast
6 December 2019

ERP giant, SAP, surprised many when they reached a decision and appointed 31-year old Thomas Saueressig as its CIO. The fact that the assignment made news, particularly on how old the new CIO was, is not surprising. But SAP clearly communicated what is going on right now.

The issue of the generational gap is emerging especially in the procurement and supply department. While this does not apply to all older managers, some are having challenges understanding new technologies. B2B online platforms are good examples of such new technologies. Here is a look at why Millennials and B2B E-commerce is a match made in heaven.

Proven to work

The rule of thumb in B2B has been to conduct business face-to-face in a formal office setting. The other ways have been through:

  • Sales reps, garnering a reputation as foot soldiers
  • Direct phoning, including cold calling
  • Using distributors or resellers
  • Direct pitching
  • Paper catalogs, and
  • Noteworthy call center resources

While the above methods have proven to work so far, they’ve rendered older B2B managers slow to adapt to B2B online marketplaces. Millennials aren’t having a time of their lives this way, though. And the current and future trend is towards the internet portal – and resolving the generational gap issues in new technologies take-up. Older managers are also less likely to adopt new technologies because they don’t understand how to work with them, according to one study conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Previous experience with online platforms

Younger managers and procurement teams, on the other hand, are not only shifting to using technology to research and finalize purchase decisions but they definitely prefer the online platforms. One perspective is that younger managers have become accustomed to the speedy, convenient, friendly and transparent features of the B2C online platforms. They likely have had fluid experiences shopping online through eBay, for instance. The Pew Research Center (PRC) found that over 50% of Americans under the age of 50 regularly checked online before committing to purchase new items. Using the B2C marketplaces as consumers, such as buying home and personal supplies from Amazon and Zappos, has opened up younger managers to the idea of experimenting with B2B online platforms, hoping to deliver the same level of appealing service to B2B buyers.

Cause to bridge the generational gap

Market research firm, TradeGecko, polled 200 wholesalers and concluded e-commerce platforms and B2B online marketplaces topped in terms of new customer acquisition methods. According to the survey, using online platforms outperformed many traditional methods of customer acquisitions such as field sales, partners and relying on resellers. The need to gain and retain customers might ultimately require that the generational gap issue is bridged.

Is this possible? It can be done.

This Pew Research Center study indicated that more educated and affluent seniors (65 and older) are more internet savvy than their less educated, less affluent counterparts. Incumbent B2B sellers are likely to be well-educated, significantly well-to-do individuals with decades of work years—which likely came with the necessary adoption of such technology tools such as online platforms.

In fact, according to the PRC study, once taught to understand and use new technology, older managers embrace it with so much enthusiasm. Furthermore, even some younger managers have demonstrated hesitation to adopt new technologies to open up more B2B opportunities. This may be a matter of stereotype, where instead of bridging the generational gap, the younger B2B management resolves to maintain the status quo for the same reasons the older managers do:

  • Fearing that enlisting in an online marketplace might dilute a company’s brand identity, and
  • Adversely affect the legibility of the B2B seller’s offerings

However, as the success of B2B sites Global Industry, Alibaba and even Amazon’s B2B division have proven, the opposite is the truth. Customers are starting to expect elements they have come to expect in B2C e-commerce settings: swift delivery, wider product choice, and convenient/smooth service.

Bottom line

Going forward, more and more customers will constitute the millennials’ block, and they will keep demanding for a seamless buying process whether it be for personal or professional purposes. This need for speed, value, choice, and convenience means that B2B management have no choice but to adapt to new technologies. Learning the knots in online marketplaces is a good place to start. This way, businesses can bridge the generational gap within their organizations to take advantage of this rising trend.

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