Millennials now outnumber Boomers and GenX in the work force (see Figure 1.)  In 4 years they will significantly outnumber Boomers and along with GenZ will significantly outnumber GenX.  That means that the majority of the workforce will have grown up in the digital era.  Most, if not all, of this generation has never seen an LP unless their parents or grandparents got nostalgic and purchased an LP player because, you know…. “analog is better than digital.”  They don’t use landlines.  The Internet is not “new”: they have grown up with it.

Figure 1 - Labor Force by Age

Figure 1 – Labor Force by Age

In  What Customers Want: A Distributor’s Guide to Customer Buying & Shopping Preferences. We looked at 10 different ways customers want to shop and 10 different ways customers want to buy from distributors.  Millennials have very distinct patterns (see Figure 2) for their most preferred ways to shop and buy.  The top three ways they most frequently shop include: 50% search, only a third would go to distributor websites, and just over a quarter would talk to a sales rep.  This is a much more pronounced digital fingerprint than the Boomers or even GenX.  It highlights a generation that is less focused on relationships, particularly with older field salespeople (who might be retiring soon anyway.)  They buy most frequently by sending a purchase order in email, going to a website to purchase, or talking to a CSR.  The other seven ways to buy are irrelevant to the Millennials as expressed in their frequency of use.

  • Very frequent shopping methods
    • 50% by search
    • A third at distributor website
    • 27% with distributor sales rep
  • Very frequent buying methods
    • 52% by email
    • 41% by web or mobile
    • 22% by CSR

The shift will happen precipitously over the next 2 to 4 years depending on your industry.  But, it takes  2 to 4 years to build a strong marketing and digital marketing capability, so even if your industry is moving a little slower, the time is nigh. If you want to reach the majority of your customers, their preferences are critical.  Using the standard field sales approaches will be ineffective.

Key moves for distributors to gain competitive advantage for shopping and buying:

  • Create an e-commerce site rich with information that is well organized and easy to find. Your website can then become a destination for shoppers where they will skip search and go directly to your site.
  • Make it really easy for them to buy online by desktop or mobile. Only 25% of our survey respondents indicated that the customer experience on their primary supplier’s website was excellent.  We are still in the early majority phase of e-commerce in distribution.  It is still possible to leap-frog your competitors.
  • Improve your capability in search marketing. Less than 15% of distributors are doing search.  Very few are doing it well.  Given that search is the primary paradigm for Millennials and GenZ, you will be well served by creating a strong capability here.