As millennials expand into B2B product research and purchasing decision-making, marketers are turning to incentive programs to bridge the generational gap.

The rise of the millennial generation, those born between 1981 and 1996, has shifted expectations in B2B sales. According to a study by Google, in 2014 millennials were responsible for 46 percent of all B2B product research, a 70% increase from two years prior. In the years since, millennials have become the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, increasingly becoming the decision-makers within their organizations.

According to the Harvard Business Review, this shift in demographics has brought new challenges to B2B sales and marketing professionals. Millennial B2B buyers value independent research and are more distrustful of sales reps and overt marketing material than previous generations. Furthermore, they place less emphasis on features, benefits, and business deliverables (longtime cornerstones of traditional B2B marketing). Rather, they tend to value higher-order, inspirational values (such as a trust), company core values, connectivity, and social and experiential values.

“Millennial buyers really care about who you are as a company,” says Nichole Gunn, Vice President of Marketing and Creative Services at Incentive Solutions, an Atlanta-based incentive company that specializes in B2B sales and marketing. “They care about what you stand for. They aren’t looking for a buyer-seller relationship so much as they’re looking for a true partnership. They want you to be a trusted advisor, someone they can connect with and share information within a fun, collaborative environment.”

Increasingly, businesses are turning to companies such as Incentive Solutions to explore how B2B incentive programs can help them use non-cash and experiential rewards, such as incentive travel, to personalize their relationship with millennial buyers. According to the Incentive Research Foundation, 84 percent of U.S. businesses are now using a non-cash reward program as part of their marketing or human capital strategy, with many of them increasing their budget for incentive travel, merchandise, and gift card programs in recent years.

“When looking at what motivates millennials lifestyle and experiential rewards are hugely important,” Ms. Gunn says. “Hiking gear, kayaks, and gift certificates to services like Uber Eats, which enhance or facilitate their lifestyle, are going to appeal to millennial audiences. The option to redeem points toward travel options and events is a must. Millennials, more so than past generations, are really motivated by the experience.”

In addition to the emotional capital and motivational value that non-cash rewards produce, modern incentive programs create new omnichannel touchpoints where companies can communicate with customers and educate them on the subjective value of their brand.

“Millennial B2B buyers’ expectations have been shaped by their B2C experiences,” says Ms. Gunn. “They expect an engaging and seamless user experience across a multitude of mediums, be it online, email, SMS, or through interactive quizzes, trivia, and surveys. Integration and personalization are more important than ever.”