Ensuring that chief executive officers (CIOs) are positioned as drivers of strategic growth is not a new idea. But now their role is becoming even more relevant to helping the business increase profits. That’s because they are very well-equipped to help their companies reach the new generation of business leaders who have responsibility for corporate purchase decisions.

Millennials — generally classified as adults under the age of 40 — are now the largest segment of people at work in the developed world. And they are more digitally oriented in pretty much everything they do, too, not least buying stuff. They’re natural online shoppers and, perhaps not surprisingly, they have now comfortably increased purchasing items online.

We’ve known about their habits in a business-to-consumer (B2C) context, but this behavioral shift has been less visible in a business-to-business (B2B) context. It’s real though. Today, “older” millennials — say anyone above 25 in 2020 — might be part of corporate decision-making units. Some are the decision makers themselves.

So, B2B companies are learning to change their sales engagement approach to target this new generation of buyers.

I have seen recent global research that suggests millennials, when purchasing B2B goods and services for their employers, use a very distinct set of information channels, compared to their older colleagues:

  • Those over 40 prioritize in-person interactions to keep up with market trends; those may be colleagues, peers or analysts.
  • Those under 40 tend to use social media first and rely far less on face-to-face meetings. Theirs is an online buying journey.

CIOs have a central role to play in reaching and engaging the millennial segment of buyers successfully. There are a couple of reasons for this.

  • Not to put too fine a point on it, but a CIO’s job is to be the most informed person on the board about technology and how it can achieve the right outcomes for the business. It means that a CIO is very well placed to understand how millennials — be that a new partner or a rising star at an important client company — can be engaged by digital tools.
  • CIOs have been creating internal alliances with their functional and line-of-business peers for years in the context of shadow IT. They are by now highly adept at working out collaborative ways of delivering business outcomes through technology solutions.

So, here is the opportunity for CIOs to come together with the chief marketing officer, chief digital officer, chief human resources officer and head of sales to make sure millennials are touched in the most digitally appropriate way. CIOs can make the purchasing process much smoother to attract those under-40s in the corporate accounts they are targeting. This might include social selling tools, chatbots and other artificial intelligence-enabled digital interactions. Internally, the employee journey also can be revolutionized by digital tools.

What of the next age group, the Gen Z cohort?

Guess what? Members of Generation Z, born after 1995, are even more digital-minded. In research covering 12 countries, we found that more than 75 percent of 15- to 18-year-olds were open to having a chip embedded in their body as a replacement for their smartphone. In India, it was as high as 95 percent. This group is next to enter the workplace.

CIOs will have to find ways to make sure these prospective colleagues are digitally enticed to do business with their companies.