The link between consumers, digital and SMBs



Humans are fond of categorising everything, looking for a neat order to the world. Sometimes, this practice can be controversial and divisive, even leading to some rivalry. Consider the ongoing saga around generational gaps. Are you a baby boomer, a millennial or from Gen-Z (or the oft-forgotten gen x)? Does that determine if you prefer regular coffee or special lattes? Does it represent your feelings about environmentalism? Does your generation type make you naturally attuned to different views?

As many of us have realised, the blunt definition of a generation is not very useful. Not everyone in the Sixties was a hippie or became yuppies in the 1980s. Indeed, the majority lived average lives.

That being said, one area of the generation gap is starting to assert itself – millennials in the small and medium business world. A recent survey from ActiveCampaign found that modern SMBs are increasingly run by a younger generation who are more attuned to trying out digital experiments. But younger isn’t the operative word here, explains Riaan Bekker, thryve’s Force Solutions Manager:

“Think about it – the first millennials are about to turn forty in this year and next. They have accrued a lot of experience and insight but still have enough time to push new ideas. Many so-called millennials are now in their thirties, with families and such. It’s a much more mature picture than what people typically think of when they hear the word ‘millennial’.”


A digital mindset

This shift has a tangible impact on how companies adopt digital technologies. ActiveCampaign’s survey reveals a solid shift among SMBs away from traditional marketing and towards newer channels. For example, 63% use email marketing or social media instead of more traditional channels. And we could correlate such differences to their overall success. 71% of millennial businesses surveyed grew over the past year, whereas of the businesses that did worse, 69% of those were run by owners aged 45 and older.

This is not to say that younger generations are better at running small businesses. But they are taking advantage of their attunement to the market. They have a more natural sense of what today’s consumer responds to, typically using digital channels to that effect. According to research from Salesforce and, modern customers prefer sales and support channels that provide immediacy and personalisation. Younger business owners sense this relationship between people and digital enablement more intuitively.

The same trend will be visible in how those SMBs manage their operations. If we can make a generational distinction, millennials are more digital-native – and that is showing in their businesses.

“We work with several smaller companies and startups with very modern ideas,” explains thryve’s managing director, Sean Pyott. “They have visions of very integrated and responsive environments, and they focus on speed and flexibility. You rarely have to convince a younger business owner to consider using a digital solution, as long as you can demonstrate how it will deliver on their vision. There is no pushback against digital technology, because they know it works and it reaches their customers.”


Time to go digital

Yet as mentioned earlier, millennials are no longer ‘young’. They increasingly represent the middle part of society, and this means digital is squarely shifting from an emerging idea to mainstream wisdom.

The success of SMBs ties closely to how they leverage digital technologies and services. For example, an SMB using a platform such as Salesforce Essentials is well-positioned to reach its customers and identify worthy leads. It’s also able to take advantage of the integration and collaborative possibilities inside digital platforms, and the digital services it uses to create more agile cultures – ideal for adopting remote working or expanding to different revenue opportunities.

If the above research provides one salient message, it’s that the digital age has arrived and not a young person’s game anymore. It’s becoming the status quo, and SMBs of all types – even those run by the older and more seasoned generations – should take this shift seriously.

“We can joke about people still using paper ledgers and things like that, but it misses the point,” says Bekker. “Everyone uses a smartphone, everyone is getting connected, and everyone sees some value that digital brings into their lives. Younger business owners have a generational aptitude to spot that advantage, but every business should be adopting digital systems. They should pick what works for them, something thryve can help with. Don’t ignore digital. It now defines business success, regardless of when you were born.”