SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview experts on all things relevant to branding, design and simplicity. In this Q&A we speak with Peter Damon, group director of the west coast, about how B2B brands are evolving to engage decision makers across generations.

B2C companies have been relentless in their efforts to adapt to millennial preferences. What learnings can B2B vendors use to connect with B2B buyers in this new generation of decision makers?

All too often we hear our clients say, “We have to become more appealing to millennials.” The desire to stay relevant as millennials move into key decision making roles is understandable, and is often a C-level mandate for marketers. A recent Forrester report, “Millennial B2B Buyers Come of Age,” dives into this topic, providing specific insights on how to best communicate with this generation.

While the data is enlightening, I think it misses the target. At a certain point, one has to say, “millennial, schmillennial!” The report outlines, among others, the following millennial B2B buying behaviors: prefers to negotiate informally, responds to authenticity, requires transparency, and consumes content in various channels. The behaviors explained may very well apply to millennials; however, it’s overly simplistic to attribute changes in communication solely to millennials.

I belong to the youngest generation of Baby Boomers and I, too, have changed my buying behavior. I buy the majority of my items, whether B2B or B2C, without interacting with people. I have an iPhone, I go to peer buyer sites for reviews, and I prefer texting or Slacking to email or face-to-face communication. And I’m not alone. Across generations, people are adapting to new methods of communicating and buying, using newly developed technologies that make our lives easier.

If the changes are multigenerational, how should B2B companies adjust long-term?

Thinking about how to connect with B2B buyers, start by listening to your sales prospects, and doing what makes sense for the situation. Regardless of generation, there will be moments when your buyer prefers email, text or an app-led process. There will also be moments, especially with big-ticket purchases, when your buyer will pick up the phone, whether they’re a 30-something or gray haired. Companies that successfully navigate ever-changing buyer preferences provide a variety of choices throughout the customer journey.

There’s always room to improve how your company fosters communication. SAP caters to their buyers’ communication preferences right out of the gate. Their “Contact Us,” home page pop-up provides three ways to connect, offering a relevant regional phone number, a chat now option and an email form. As companies continue to innovate based on purchase preference and behavior, the winning brands will provide further customized options.

What strategies help sales people better serve their perspective buyers?

As an individual seller, ask your client how they prefer to be communicated with and be ready to adapt as the conversation continues. Make sure you are fluent in the communication platforms your potential clients use today, and stay sharp on the platforms of tomorrow—as we know, they’re adopted blazingly fast.

Use empathy to anticipate your buyers’ needs. Simple things, like timing your communication style around their schedule, can have a big impact. For example, most people catch up on email in the morning, but some may prefer texting on mobile after work hours. Pay attention to their behavior and adapt accordingly. Send an email and get a text reply? Next time lead with a text. Leave a voicemail and receive a reply on Slack? Choose Slack when possible.
Although methods of communication are always evolving, successful sales behavior remains the same—meet your buyer where they are, whether it’s a physical or digital platform, and go the extra mile to make their purchase decision as seamless as possible.

How do you determine a buyer’s communication style at the beginning of the relationship?

Start the conversation about communication styles from the get-go. You’ll find that people will be pleasantly surprised when you ask about their preferences and in turn make an effort to reduce disruption on their end.

Institute a process that allows your potential consumer to share their preferences. If you’re communicating digitally, provide an opportunity to opt-in to identify a preferred style of communication. If it’s a one-on-one communication, just ask. Companies can improve their brand experience by using relevant communication technologies to update their sales process and by investing in training new practitioners on an ongoing basis. When it comes to offering your clients a simple and tailored experience, small changes can have a long-lasting impact.

Peter Damon is group director of the west coast. Follow him on Twitter: @BrandFan