The hegemony of millennials and Generation Z in B2B purchasing decisions: what are the implications?


Business is also affected by demographics, and we sometimes tend to forget this.

As Forrester explains in the 2023 edition of its Buyer’s Journey Survey, generational shifts have profoundly altered B2B buying behaviour, making it essential to reassess Go-to-Market (GTM) strategies. Millennials and Zoomers (Generation Z) now account for 64% of B2B buyers, and more than a third of them make (or want to make) their purchases via self-service digital channels. What’s special about them? They are more demanding, they have mastered digital tools and they are much more inclined to express their dissatisfaction than their elders. Chronicle the hegemony of the digital natives in the purchasing function!

Millennials and Zoomers (largely) dominate purchasing decisions

First things first: millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, and zoomers between 1996 and 2012. According to Forrester, this demographic is now by far the majority in decision-making positions in the purchasing function. Better still: according to a PYMNTS study, millennials and Zoomers are now responsible for over 75% of purchasing decisions.

For sales and go-to-market (GTM) teams, the challenge is to explore the behavioural changes implied by this demographic shift, away from prejudice and generational bias. In the second edition of the State of the Connected Customer, Salesforce tells us that only 49% of companies are meeting customer expectations in terms of the B2B buying experience.

Digital natives evolving in their comfort zone

The latest edition of Forrester’s annual Buyers’ Journey Survey, which remains the world’s most comprehensive study of B2B purchasing, with over 20,000 professionals questioned in 14 countries, reveals some surprising information about this upheaval.

On the one hand, young buyers are far more demanding than their elders, for two complementary reasons. Firstly, they are digital natives, in the sense that they have grown up with the web and have assimilated its culture, including the transactional aspect, because before being B2B decision-makers, they were also B2C consumers on a daily basis. Secondly, the unbridled acceleration of digital transformation in the post-Covid world allows them to evolve in their comfort zone.

In concrete terms, millennials and Generation Z have three key expectations, and they are non-negotiable. Find out more…

1. The Market Entry Paths Are Diversifying

While direct purchasing is still the most widespread channel, young B2B buyers are increasingly demanding self-service transaction channels, with no direct contact with a company representative. These include marketplaces and direct e-commerce… channels that are only just emerging in French B2B.

In a survey published by the Harvard Business Review, 54% of millennials showed a clear preference for self-service B2B purchasing experiences, leaving salespeople out of the equation. In the same vein, a study by SFE Partners confirms that the buying process is essentially digital, even in sectors that have historically been conservative in this respect (manufacturing, for example). For example, 55% of millennials explain that the digital purchasing experience is “extremely important” in choosing one supplier or service provider over another.

Faced with this demand for autonomy, suppliers are expected to provide technical, technological and experiential upgrades, with a delicate balance to be struck between the need to personalise in order to appeal to a more demanding buyer, and the need to automate in order to optimise costs.

2. Millennials and Zoomers are active information seekers

Younger B2B buyers consult more sources than their elders and consider third-party resources to be more credible than those provided by the suppliers and service providers they are considering (Forrester). This finding is corroborated by a B2B International study: millennials spend more time in the research phase (13 weeks) than Generation X (12 weeks) and baby boomers (8 weeks). All other things being equal, buying cycles are also getting longer because of the demographic variable.

But what exactly are they looking for? Or more precisely, what are their preferred sources of information? The answer this time comes from DemandGen Report: independent product tests (61%), webinars (47%) and case studies (34%) are the three formats that provide millennials with the most insights in the research phase. The study points out that they use them mainly to compare competing products (58%).

3. Young B2B buyers are less satisfied with the buying experience than their elders

As we said earlier, the younger generation of B2B buyers is not shy about expressing dissatisfaction with the buying experience. When asked about this by Forrester, 90% of millennials and Zoomers expressed major dissatisfaction with their supplier in at least one area, compared with 71% of older B2B buyers. What’s more, they are much more expressive than their elders, as they do not hesitate to communicate their dissatisfaction, whether on LinkedIn, Twitter, review platforms or directly with their peers.

As well as the go-to-market and the sales approach, companies need to step up their e-reputation game and systematise Customer Success Management (CSM) to build loyalty, maintain Customer Lifetime Value and prevent bad buzz.

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