A generational shift is underway in B2B buying. Forrester’s Buyers’ Journey Survey, 2022, revealed that Millennials and Gen Zers (born after 1980) had become the majority of B2B buyers, at 64%. One year later, our annual survey showed that the share had climbed to 71%.

While this shift is, of course, inevitable, it’s forcing a reckoning among B2B companies. Millennials and Gen Zers — most of whom grew up with the internet — bring different approaches and expectations to the buying process than their older peers. Technology plays a role, but the differences go beyond tech.

For B2B success, understanding and breaking through to these younger buyers is critical. This requires tight coordination among marketing, sales, and product teams. Forrester’s research points to several characteristics of younger buyers that are imperative for marketing, sales, and product teams to understand. Younger buyers:

  • Expect a seamless experience pre- and post-sale. Younger buyers find friction in the buying process unacceptable. They want to be able to shift between personal and self-guided interactions with the sources they trust, and that’s not necessarily your organization. Nearly half of all business purchases are self-service transactions, such as through a vendor or partner website, online marketplace, or directly from inside the product. This puts the onus on product, marketing, and sales teams to align to create a seamless experience that provides the information buyers are searching for at every touchpoint.
  • Think beyond economic value. Compared to their older counterparts, younger buyers aren’t as swayed by financial conceptions of value. They are significantly less likely than older buyers to cite growing or retaining revenue as their top business priority but twice as likely to call improving environmental sustainability a key priority, Forrester’s survey data shows. Emphasize multiple dimensions of value throughout the buying process, or risk irrelevance. Learn to speak beyond economic conceptions of value to also include functional value (i.e., making tasks easier), experiential value (i.e., providing a pleasant customer experience), and symbolic value (i.e., conferring a sense of status or belonging).
  • Make participatory buying decisions. Rather than traditional top-down decision-making, younger buyers are far more interested in participatory decision-making and flatter organizational hierarchy. They consult with an extended network of people who help them define what kind of value they should expect from their purchase. In doing so, they are more likely to be stalled in the buying cycle, largely due to the inability to build internal consensus among buying group members. Providers have an opportunity to support champions differently through their journey to remove barriers and mitigate their risk.
  • Want to co-create with you. Younger buyers aren’t content with being passive bystanders — they want to play an active role in shaping your products and services. In Forrester’s latest Buyers’ Journey Survey, younger buyers were more than 30% more likely than their older counterparts to say that a provider’s investment in co-creating or co-innovating with them was the primary technical reason that they chose the provider. Take a co-creation mindset to your engagement with buyers, guiding them toward building the right solutions through their extended value network of experts, partners, and consultants.

Navigating the generational buying shift will require nothing short of reinvention from providers. Join me at Forrester’s B2B Summit North America, happening in Austin, Texas, and as a digital experience from May 5–8, to start the journey. My keynote session, “A New Generation Of Buyers Will Force B2B Reinvention,” will provide deeper insights into today’s buyers and actionable strategies for breaking through.