The Baby Boom lasted from 1946 to 1964, putting Boomers in the 47 to 65 age range right now. The X’s came along over the next 14 years, making them 32 to 46 right now. The X’s have been called the most cynical, pessimistic, unhappy, and unfriendly generation ever. It has also been said that they don’t buy, they stalk—and while a big deal is usually made about the technical savvy of the Millennials (31 and under; 1980 to the present), who grew up with the Internet, from a sales and marketing perspective, it’s probably more important that the X’s embraced the Internet because it let them shop on their own schedule, with access to huge amounts of information.
By their nature, X’s are skeptical. Now, take that to its logical next step in terms of the sales challenge. If there’s anyone an X will be skeptical of, it’s a salesperson! If you try to make friends with them, they’ll distrust you. On the other hand, if you put enough evidence in front of them that you know what you’re doing and that you can, in fact, help them, they might buy from you. And they might eventually become friends and advocates. Don’t expect loyalty from them, though. X’s will change suppliers if the find someone they think is better.
That’s a bad thing when an X is your customer. It’s a good thing, though, when you’re on the outside looking in. I have written before about Solids and Liquids. Solids are happy with their current supplier—with their status quo—and they’re simply not going to change. Liquids are happy with the status quo too, but they’ll talk to you and give you the opportunity to demonstrate that you’re better. In my experience, many X’s are Liquids.
Here’s one more important consideration with the X’s. They value their time more than they value your product or service. If you can make it easy and efficient for them to buy from you, that gives you an advantage.
The Millennials are becoming a huge economic force, but as I said earlier, I don’t think they’re the “problem” for most printers right now. They are, however, the flip side of any problem—an opportunity! It’ll be at least a few years before the Millennials become the dominant force in business-to-business purchasing, and that means you have some time to try to change their behavior!
Here’s what I mean by that. As a general rule, the younger the buyer, the less likely it is that they’ll want to meet with you to learn about your product or service. That behavior is reinforced by their ability to buy all manner of commodity products without human contact. We have to think that printing is different, though, and that’s even more important if you’re making the transition from “printer” to “marketing services provider.”
So here’s the strategy that I’m recommending. When pursuing a Millennial, simply tell them that while printing may be a commodity, printers are not. Tell them that you think it’s important to do this sort of business face-to-face, at least in the early stages of identifying problems and providing solutions. Explain that you create value by learning about them, and then applying your expertise to their sales and marketing challenges—or even their seemingly simple printing challenges. Will every Millennial buy that line of reasoning? No. But some of the smart ones will, and I think you’ll agree that the smart ones tend to make the best customers.
Now, what does that mean in terms of marketing to Millennials using Facebook and other social media? You can probably use those media to create brand awareness and to generate some inquiries. You can probably do that more effectively by enlisting current customers as your advocates—the “like” process is simply a modern version of word-of-mouth advertising. You probably can’t close the sale to the degree that you want to, though, without getting face-to-face. That simply means that you have to sell the idea of meeting with you, and you do that by positioning it as a benefit to them and a wise investment of their time.
Cam Marston really impressed me as a guy who knows his stuff. If you’re interested in reading more of that stuff, you’ll find a blog at www.cammarston.com, and you can also buy his books there, “Generational Insights” (2010), and “Generational Selling Tactics That Work” (2011). Cam’s books are also available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
PS: You may remember that I’ve awarded Baby Boomer Points a couple of times in the past for recognizing song titles or lyrics that I’ve referenced in my columns. Give yourself 10 BBP’s if you can name the song that today’s title comes from, 20 if you can name the band, and 35 if you can name the song, the band and the album. If you can do all of that, you’re probably a Boomer like me!