June 14, 2016

B2B Marketing Research Chart: Who influences millennial, Gen X and baby boomer technology buyers’ purchase decisions?

SUMMARY: B2B technology purchases are high-stakes decisions because of the considerable cost involved. If you are in the B2B market, understanding your buyers’ decision-making process is crucial. To whom do the decision makers turn to when looking for solutions, picking the final candidates and, finally, deciding to go with a certain provider? This week, we look at a study exploring the major sources that different generations of decision makers turn to for information in different stages of the decision process.
by Liva LaMontagne, Ph.D., Editorial Research Manager

Selecting new technology is often a big and costly decision for businesses. In a series of research charts, we look at some of the results of a study of the decision-making process of B2B technology buyers from different generations and learn who are the main influencers of those decisions throughout the different stages of the buying process.


In late 2015, Arketi Group, conducted an online survey with 262 managers and executives from telecommunications, technology, education, finance, healthcare, manufacturing, government and business services industries about technology purchases or contracts worth $10,000or more. Participants included 31% baby boomers, 39% Gen X and 30% millennials.

Overall, millennials had the highest percentage of decision makers who reported they had budget and/or final sign-off authority, followed by Gen X and boomers.

Looking deeper into the information sources that millennials and other generations turn to in the decision making process, the researchers asked:

When evaluating a technology purchase of $10,000 or more, which of these information sources have you used? Please select all that apply

The top ten most popular sources for each generation are displayed in the charts below.

View Chart Online

Click to see a larger, printable version of the chart

Overall, millennials reported using all sources of information, except industry analysts, less than the older generations.

"This group has likely had fewer B2B tech buying experiences — good and bad — than others. We would expect millennials to consume more sources of information over time," said Mike Neumeier, Principal, Arketi Group.

The power of industry analysts

There were also differences between generations in terms of the information sources they used at different stages of the process. Neumeier pointed out that in the early stages — when seeking to understand and explore a possible business problem — all generations trust industry analysts as their first go-to source:
  • Millennials first turn to industry analysts and internal colleagues (both at 29%), followed by case studies or customer testimonials at 24%

  • Gen X prefers industry analysts as well (31%), followed by internal colleagues and vendor website (28%)

  • Baby boomers rely on industry analysts (41%), industry/professional online communities or forums (35%), web searches (34%)

Researching available technology solutions

Neumeier added that during the second phase of the B2B buying cycle, millennials are less reliant on social. Meanwhile, baby boomers quickly make the leap, contrary to what conventional wisdom might assume:
  • Millennials turn to internal colleagues again (26%), followed by vendor face-to-face meetings (25%) and vendor website (21%)

  • Gen X jump straight to the vendors for face-to-face meetings and a vendor’s website (both at 33%) followed by industry analysts (28%)

  • Against conventional wisdom, baby boomers head to the web turning to industry/professional online communities or forums and a vendor website (both at 36%), followed by industry analysts and live or in-person demoes (at 34%)

The final tipping point

Neumeier added that in the final stage of the B2B buying process, when buyers develop a shortlist of solutions to consider and select, face-to-face communication with the vendor wins across all generations:
  • Millennials choose vendor face-to-face meetings (24%), then turn to internal colleagues (23%) followed by live or in-person demoes (21%)

  • Very similar to its younger cohorts, Gen X trusts case studies or customer testimonials and vendor face-to-face meetings (both at 27%), followed by internal colleagues (26%) and live or in-person demoes (25%)

  • Baby boomers prefer live or in-person demos (39%), vendor face-to-face meetings (38%), followed by vendor websites (35%)

To sum up, what can B2B marketers learn from these findings?

"Using what we call ‘surround selling’ techniques — for example, influencing third-party experts and colleagues as well as the prospective buyer — is important," Neumeier said.

"All generations reported relying on input from analysts and from internal colleagues. At the same time, don’t neglect your online presence," he said. "During the buying process, buyers of all ages want face-to-face meetings with vendors, turn to vendor websites for content, and consume case studies and customer testimonials."

Related Resources

Subscribe to MarketingSherpa Chart of the Week — Get data and discoveries delivered to your inbox

B2B Marketing: How Citrix used an automated guidance system to double conversions of free trial users [MarketingSherpa case study]

B2B Marketing: Pop-ups outperform email by 643% to drive survey responses [MarketingSherpa case study]

Not Your Father's Buying Decision: How Three Generations of B2B Technology Buyers Decide What to Purchase [Arketi Group research report]

How The 2015 B2B Purchase Decision Process Has Changed [blog post by Heidi Cohen]

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