Trust The Man but not the man - how system trumps expert for today's buyers

Ed Marsh | Oct 7, 2015


"Oh you want a receipt?"

Maybe it's just me.  Or maybe I'm seeing something that isn't actually there.  But lately I've been struck by how unusual it's becoming to receive a receipt when purchasing something - not just cash (who carries it?) but the very routine credit/debit card purchases made frequently in person.

We seem to have passed through a phase briefly where a receipt wasn't automatically proffered, but was routinely offered, and have now arrived at a point where the presumption is that a receipt isn't desired.  When I ask for one the surprised answer is almost always an obliging "Oh, you want a receipt?  Sure.  No problem."

As insignificant as it seems, I'm starting to think this may hint at the fundamental difference in mindset that challenges boomer business owners as they struggle to adapt their sales & B2B marketing approach to reach new generations of buyers making today's industrial manufacturing buying decisions. 

Do you trust The Man?

Boomers famously didn't.  Of course as they have become The Man themselves, they've somewhat tempered in their disdain.  But core to who they are is a skepticism of the system.  There was a time when they may have assumed the powers of The Man were aligned against them - now it's probably more a recognition that benign dysfunction might occur.  (I'm not a boomer but always ask for receipts for various reasons.  Part fastidiousness, part business accounting obligations and part experience with bank mistakes.)

Millenials, however, seem to, implicitly.  They don't do receipts (off course that's a generalization - but my consistent observation) which means they don't reconcile statements.  They've got implicit faith in the system.

Or do you trust the man?

In contrast, boomers love referrals.  Asking their accountant, attorney, golfing buddy - even the person from the donut shop.  Referrals, and the direct connection with a single perceived expert, the man, is how the boomer likes to acquire information.

The millenial though doesn't want to rely on a single opinion - the man doesn't impress them.  Perhaps a result of the surfeit of 'opinions' to which they've been constantly exposed, individual opinions aren't as compelling to them as to the boomer.  In fact, with exceptions of close friends, individual opinions may be generally disregarded.  Yet Yelp, Glassdoor, TripAdvisor are all examples of resources where enough individual opinions are aggregated that their faith in the system, in The Man, prompts them to place more stock in the collective expertise.

What this means to B2B marketing

The demographics of industrial manufacturing are changing - and the change is accelerating as IHS Global Spec statistics reveal.  While company owners remain overwhelmingly boomers, increasingly engineering and staff management positions are occupied by millenials.  This has tactical implications (importance of mobile responsiveness, availability of self-service information) but it's also characterized by a big generational difference in perspective.

We all use search....but do boomers search for different types of info?  Do they believe they've diagnosed the problem and search for an expert with the solution?  Do they value case studies and data examples more highly?

On the other hand, do millenials see social media signals as a validation of the collective wisdom?  Do they search for information to help them frame and understand the problem first?  Do they discount single examples in case studies, preferring instead extensive user reviews?

We're all people with a lifetime of experiences that form a lens through which we see things.  Generalizations are risky, but also may prompt important insight.

Is it reasonable to expect that folks who don't bother with receipts...because they don't feel compelled to reconcile their accounts...because they have full faith in the system, will search differently, and for different sorts of information to educate themselves and achieve a buying comfort level?

And is it likely that people setting marketing budgets and priorities will instinctively search differently?

Sounds like personas become really important to B2B marketing success in the industrial world - not only to answer the right questions and business priorities - but to understand what form of content, delivered in what context, will make buyers comfortable. 

And maybe buyer journeys need to have parallel tracks for those with more faith in The Man vs. those that respect the man.

Want to learn more about how to apply digital tools to your B2B marketing challenges?  Download our free eBook (which has individual AND collective wisdom!)

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