Today's guest blog post is by Dr. Bruce Robertson, an associate professor of marketing at San Francisco State University (SFSU) who has published in the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, Organization Science, Leadership Quarterly, and other academic journals.
When talking to sales managers, the most frequent complaints about the Millennial generation are that they don't want to work hard (pay their dues), and they don't appreciate the opportunity a sales career can provide. These managers feel they have their backs to the wall. They know they need to hire new reps because their senior people are getting ready to retire, but they can't attract the right kind of young people to the career. One of the big issues facing sales managers today is the generational shift from the Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers who hold senior-management and sales positions to Millennials and Gen Y'ers who are entering the workforce in increasing numbers; by the time they have completed college, they will represent a cohort larger than the baby boom.
Don't Be an Eight Track to Their iPod
According to author, speaker, and consultant Alexandra Levit, Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are techies whose parents taught them that they are entitled to the world. They are confident, collaborative, impatient, entrepreneurial, and socially tolerant. They work by multitasking and in real time. And they prefer e-communication and want continuous exposure to challenges and interesting people. You'd think they’d be sales naturals. Yet my correspondents tell me young people aren't interested in professional selling.
It's natural for senior generations to assume that the younger generation will measure success the same way they have. According to Kirk Hulett, senior VP of strategy and practice management at Securities America Inc., senior generations believe that younger workers should pay their dues, following the same paths to achieve the same level of success. Here are three suggestions to help senior sales managers make the sales career attractive to young people.
Sell the Steak, Not the Sizzle
One of the big differences between Millennials and those who would hire them is that Millennials are looking for meaning in their work, as well as financial reward. A DeVry Career Advisory Board Study, "How the Recession Shaped Millennial and Hiring Manager Attitudes about Millennial's Future Career," found that Millennials consider meaningful work, high pay, and a sense of accomplishment as keys to successful career, while hiring managers consider high pay to be the key to a successful career. In one conversation, a sales manager bemoaned the fact that even though it is a sales career, "the product that is being sold makes a huge difference in people's lives. We spend all of our time talking about the business opportunity with our recruits, and they want to hear about how they're going to help people."
For previous generations, the opportunity to make a lot of money and the ability to be your own boss attracted the right people to a sales career. The product itself was secondary. For Millennials, the product is primary, and the opportunity is secondary. When talking about a career opportunity with Millennials, focus on the benefit that your product provides.
Face the Facts About Facebook
Gen Y is clearly the most tech-savvy generation. According to a Pew Research Center study, "Millennials: Confident, Connected, Open to Change," as of January 2010 (ancient history), 75 percent of Millennials had created a social network profile, and 83 percent said they sleep with their cell phone nearby at least occasionally. Their willingness to share personal information can be disconcerting, especially in industries where government regulation and privacy are concerns. On the other hand, Millennials grew up using technology as a tool for finding information and developing personal networks. They come out of the box knowing how to use the Web as a tool to make their lives easier. Because they are accustomed to the intuitive user interfaces in consumer electronics and video games, they can be impatient with information systems products that are difficult to use.
From a recruiting perspective, it is important to have clear guidelines about the business use of social networks. These guidelines need to be loose enough to recognize the value Millennials bring to the table through their social activities, and at the same time make it clear that there are legal and career implications about what they share both personally and professionally. Training programs need to be online and engaging. Also, it may be time to upgrade the CRM interface.
They're Not Your Father's Next Generation
Some differences between Millennials and previous generations are simply part of their cultural identity. Our parents were shocked by men with long hair and rock music. Today, long hair is accepted regardless of gender, and rock music has become "classic." Millennials are more likely than previous generations to have a tattoo (38 percent) or a body piercing other than in an ear (23 percent), according to the Pew Research Center. While some of us fear this may detract from the professional appearance we would prefer in our salespeople, others of us are worrying about whether our sales force reflects the demographics of our customer base. While increasing costs are pushing more and more sales activity online (Web conferences, Skype) there still is a need for salespeople to meet with customers in order to develop a solid working relationship.
Rather than get hung up on appearances (72 percent of people with tattoos have them in places where they don't show), sales managers can help Millennials become productive by coaching them on social skills. Twenty-somethings are comfortable connecting with others online but may not have the interpersonal skills we would like to see in a sales rep. Part of this coaching will be the importance of personal appearance in establishing relationships and helping the young rep make intelligent decisions without having to "sell out."
On November 16, SFSU will host a panel of accomplished business leaders, who will discuss the challenges of recruiting, training, and retaining Millennials in the sales profession. (http://cob.sfsu.edu/cob/marketing/millenials.cfm)