Summary: Society has no shortage of opinions on the unique workplace habits of Millennials. The sales world is no different, but many of those stereotypes miss what makes Millennials shine when it comes to forging connections and closing deals.
For years, the sales world has heard endless stories about Millennials and what makes them tick. Let’s be honest: We’ve probably formed opinions and let them shift into stereotypes without much firsthand experience.
Well, those stereotypes have real-life consequences on sales teams.
By 2020, Millennials will make up 50% of the workforce. It’s time for sales leaders to cast aside the stereotypes and take a hard look at Millennial motivations, strengths, and shortcomings. Attracting and inspiring top sales talent will depend on it.
So how do you maximize the effectiveness of Millennials on your sales team? Let’s start by debunking a few of the more prevalent Millennial myths.
5 Myths About Millennials We Disagree With
- Millennials change sales jobs quickly.
- Millennials don’t know the difference between a real relationship and fake rapport.
- Millennials aren’t willing to work hard.
- Millennials have unrealistic expectations.
- Millennials challenge authority.
Myth 1: Millennials change sales jobs quickly
When Baby Boomers entered the workforce, the prevailing wisdom was that employees who were loyal to their companies would earn more, advance to higher-level positions, and reap 401(k) or pension rewards.
Viewing Millennials through this lens, Boomers and Generation Xers accuse the younger generation of job-hopping in an attempt to find shortcuts to success instead of paying their dues.
The truth: The turnover for sales staff is notoriously high across the field. Some estimates report sales turnover rate as high as 34.7% per year.
Sales burnout has always been a problem in the industry, but it’s gotten worse. According to a 2018 report by The Bridge Group, the average tenure for a sales rep is down to one and a half years—and that includes ramp-up and onboarding timeframes.
Despite the trouble with retention, there’s no evidence that Millennials are job-hopping more than any other generation. In fact, when controlling for other variables, Millennials tend to stay in jobs longer than other generations did during this time in their lives.
According to a study by Pew Research Center, when compared to Gen Xers at the same age, the percentage of Millennials staying with their employers for 13 or more months is slightly higher.
Myth 2: Millennials don’t know the difference between a real relationship and fake rapport
Other generations see the way Millennials connect with people as fake or inauthentic, especially when it comes to talking through technology-based channels.
As digital natives, Millennials are comfortable using technology as a self-expression. Other generations might write off the way Millennials build relationships with leads, but that’s a mistake.
The truth: Sales leaders miss the forest for the trees as they consider how Millennials build their pipeline. We tend to hear about the downside of growing up connected, but in sales, being connected to many potential buyers and customers is the point.
Millennials feel comfortable sharing intimate details and personal stories. Because of their transparency, Millennials often have a natural mindset that balances attraction and promotion when it comes to building pipelines and closing business.
In fact, Millennials are some of the best social sellers.
In addition, Millennials’ comfort with mass communication helps bridge gaps and attract prospects in the sales funnel. As they push out content on social, in blog posts, and online, Millennial sales reps tend to reach broader audiences.
Their connectivity can erase the distance between buyers and sellers. In the past, having to build a customer base one person at a time—whether through conversation, email, or a seminar—was labor-intensive and time-consuming. Now, the ability to push out content that resonates with buyers greatly increases the area a seller can cover.
Myth 3: Millennials aren’t willing to work hard
Millennials are more likely than other generations in sales to spend time on social media, work odd hours, and automate sales processes. Other generations often misinterpret that behavior to mean that Millennials aren’t able or willing to work hard.
Millennials can get a bad rep for taking shortcuts in building rapport with leads or cutting corners in the sales process.
The truth: When I think of Millennial sales reps, I’m reminded of my friend and colleague, an extremely successful sales executive for a $56 million pharmaceutical business. When I asked her for the secret to her success, she told me it was “being lazy.”
She wasn’t being funny or self-deprecating; what she really meant was that she constantly found ways to work smarter, not harder.
She had a keen sense of which activities generated revenue and which were administrative. She designed the sales process for her team so it was filled with as much revenue-generating time as possible.
This is how Millennials approach the sales process. They utilize tools, resources, and technology to work smarter and more efficiently — but they don’t opt out of hard work.
They integrate technology effectively, use it to their advantage, and automate as many processes as possible. Their CRMs are robust, clean, and organized. They rely on data to make smarter decisions, and they optimize the time and energy they spend on leads.
Even if it doesn’t look like the same kind of work performed by other generations, Millennials are putting in elbow grease.
Myth 4: Millennials have unrealistic expectations of career advancement in sales.
Older generations think Millennials believe they deserve promotions, rewards, and benefits without working hard for them.
As we’ve already mentioned, other generations expected to work at the same company, be patient, and wait for opportunity. When Millennials push for advancement, it can come across as greedy or entitled to other generations.
The truth: The first Millennials entered the workforce at the height of the Great Recession. Many had firsthand experience with “last in, first out” layoffs early in their careers.
It was a rude awakening to a new and sobering reality: The unspoken social contract that hard work and patience would be rewarded simply isn’t true anymore.
In fact, employment instability could be what attracted independent Millennials to sales to begin with. A career in sales lets them control their own destinies, schedules, salaries, and rewards to some extent.
Beyond the promise of autonomy and decent wages, sales teams have an advantage when it comes to appealing to this Millennial appetite for career advancement.
Starting with entry-level positions, success in sales is based on meeting your numbers. By structuring quotas, rewards, and advancements with shorter intervals of measurement, sales teams can align with Millennial expectations while accomplishing organizational objectives.
Employers must recognize these preferences and factor them into how they define roles and career paths. Training programs that go beyond how to do your current job to encompass opportunities to build skills for future roles can help you keep Millennials engaged and motivated.
Myth 5: Millennials challenge authority.
Boomers and Gen Xers might feel uncomfortable with Millennials’ tendency to ask questions or offer input on things that technically are beyond their defined roles––interpreting it as disrespectful.
Millennials can be seen as pushy or conceited, especially when it comes to technology or culture.
The truth: Millennials came of age in a world where credibility comes from informal authority and expertise—not formal titles. Growing up with social media also encouraged a belief that it’s important and valuable to share one’s opinions.
Millennials seek collaborative environments where they can contribute and see the impact of their work. On sales teams, it can be awkward for other generations to have Millennials challenge or question ideas. However, Millennials truly are comfortable questioning ideas, using technology to research, and arriving at a better solution.
Their intentions are typically genuine. Sales managers should view this feedback as a challenge to be better, especially when it comes to the sales process or implementing new technology.
Your expertise won’t be automatically accepted simply because of your tenure or title. By engaging in the dialogue prompted by your Millennial co-workers, the entire team can step up its game to stay current on skills, learn new ways of tracking customer relationship management data, or integrate processes to reach different markets.
The Dos and Don’ts of Leading Millennials in Sales
How do you work with Millennials in sales? Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
Do: Embrace Flexibility
Millennials view “productivity” as “the work they complete.” Because of their technological proficiency, they don’t need to be in an office to get that work done—and work doesn’t have to happen from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
What’s more important is that Millennial sellers meet the expectations of client communications. In fact, 74% expect their employers to offer this sort of flexibility. Deliver the flexibility Millennials demand, and judge sales performance accordingly.
Do: Give Clear Feedback—More Often
Get comfortable delivering more frequent feedback. Work with the Millennials on your team to establish incremental objectives, and be prepared to discuss progress regularly.
Offer to use a combination of communication channels—email, text, phone calls, and in-person chats—to connect.
Don’t: Dismiss Their Technological Savvy When Building Pipelines
Being connected to technology and using it for self-expression is like breathing for Millennials. They’re comfortable being themselves in both work and personal environments.
Their prospects and clients are likely Millennials, too. Their authenticity and use of digital tools will attract like-minded people.
Don’t: Fail to Connect Meaning to Work
Millennials want their work to be about more than a paycheck. They want to make a difference in the world around them. More than 90% of Millennials want to connect their abilities to a cause.
Create opportunities for employees to give back, such as company-wide service days. It might seem minor, but these small gestures make a difference. Employees who see their work as having a positive impact are three times more engaged and productive.
The Bottom Line
In a multigenerational workforce, everyone has a different perspective. Celebrating these differences (and not pushing people to conform) isn’t always easy. But a little bit of patience is well worth the effort—particularly in sales—because it helps your team better understand and communicate with prospective clients across generations.
What are you learning from the Millennials on your team? I’m interested in hearing how you’re adapting your leadership style to meet their needs.