January 30, 2020
By Kevin Clune
You’re an IT sales leader about to meet a prospect face to face for the first time while visiting their location to perform a site survey. As you enter the business you notice that the office is branded from floor to ceiling and is buzzing with activity. Everyone you pass is smiling and engaged, almost as if they aren’t working at all. It feels like something exciting is happening here, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is. The receptionist kindly shows you to your prospect’s office and to your surprise you find yourself shaking hands with a young business leader who is 20 years your junior.
This scenario plays out every day and represents the generational change happening in corporate culture all the way down to the small business environment. Young leaders and entrepreneurs are starting new businesses and breathing life into old ones now more than ever. Luckily for the IT Industry, they’re doing so by finally embracing the technologies that have been in our tool bag for years. From my vantage point, this is the biggest difference between the new and old blood and it should be viewed as a breath of fresh air for VARs, MSPs and other providers of business technology solutions. We will finally have the technological buy-in that we always wanted from our customers, but to get it, we have to cater to the same values that inspire this change to begin with.
Millennial IT Buyers Have Consumer-Like Expectations
Salesforce recently published a State of the Connected Customer (registration required) report that helped me personally validate what I already assumed to be true about our need to experience consumer driven experiences. According to this Salesforce survey, 80% of millennial B2B buyers want vendors to personalize engagement to their needs and create Amazon-like buying experiences. After reading this report I began to reflect on my own experience and the picture suddenly came into focus. I buy from Amazon every time I can, primarily because its fast shipping speed, smooth buying experience and return policy make it difficult to argue otherwise. This isn’t an accident and it’s changing the way I behave as a consumer.
As a matter of fact, my loyalty to Amazon is deeper than I even consciously knew it to be. After a recent review of my account, I discovered that my family and I placed 198 orders in 2019 alone (most consisting of multiple products), which equates to one every 38.4 hours. As you can imagine, doing anything this often is habit-forming and will undoubtedly change expectations as a result. This is why I, much like my generational brethren, now have far different expectations when I make any purchase, even ones that I make for my business.
Ditch ‘Free Quotes’ for Experiential Value Propositions
So what does this mean for IT providers that want to tap the potential of the millennial market? It doesn’t mean that you should open an e-commerce store and give away all of your margin. Instead, learn from Amazon and other habit-forming consumer brands and their ability to identify and invest in high-friction areas of their business. In IT, the point of friction that most providers appear to struggle with is at the later stages of their sales funnel. The days of being able to draw substantial interest from a ‘Free Quote’ or ‘Free Consultation’ on your website are dusking. The millennial prospect knows that at some point they will speak to a sales representative who will provide them a quote, and this is hardly enough to get them interested.
What these buyers truly want are software as a service-like experiences. They want to know what it’s like to do business with you at little risk to them, in a trial-like environment. The biggest question for IT providers is; how can you execute this at little risk for your company as well? In my opinion, this is where the average-size IT provider needs to …
… leverage its technology partners and the immense resources they bring to market. Many of these technology partners now offer their resellers access to trials and tools for things such as security assessments, dark web scans, phishing tests, etc. These great trial products and services can be stacked together to offer prospects a more experiential value proposition at almost no cost to the reseller. All that’s left to add is some marketing spin and a touch of personal service and you can finally tap the millennial market without busting the bank to do so.
Don’t Be Afraid to Innovate (or Fail Trying)
For those looking to take on more risk to extend these millennial prospects greater value, don’t be afraid to try new things. In my heyday operating an MSP, we once experimented with offering a ‘Free Hour of Support’ for anyone who wanted to try our services and used LinkedIn messaging to get the word out (long before the tidal wave of LinkedIn spam we see now). All the prospect had to do was register in our ticket system and create a support ticket and they got the full customer experience without going through a lengthy sales process. While this experiment was successful in netting a few customers, it created a nightmarish onboarding scenario on our service desk. Our technicians were forced to discover the prospect’s environment on-the-fly, with the added pressure of needing to impress our newest potential customer hanging over their head. We eventually realized this wasn’t a fair shake for our service desk — we were so tied up in figuring out if this offer would work, we never took the time to figure out what to do if it did.
While we chalked this up as a failure, it was successful in proving that somewhere in our normal sales process there was friction that was preventing prospects from wanting to do business with us. From there we were able to reinvent our marketing and sales funnel to give the prospects the experience they were looking for and build the amount of trust in us that they required to move forward as a customer. Whether we were selling to millennials or not, we found that this was a lesson worth learning and a pivotal one in the overall growth of our business.
Kevin Clune is a former director of marketing and operations of a Top 500 MSP and current co-founder/editor of MSP Growth Hacks, a content platform that helps managed IT providers grow their businesses through lean principles, analytics and a brand-focused strategy. When he’s not creating content, his time is spent working one-on-one with founders, operators, marketers and sales executives in the managed IT industry to help them execute their goals for growth. His past experience also includes owning and operating businesses in digital marketing and B2B lead generation. Follow Kevin Clune and MSP Growth Hacks on LinkedIn.
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