Motivating Your Millennial Sales Force
Dr. Joanne G. Sujansky and Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed
When Marketing Manager Reed Kaufmann’s company
added an exciting new promotional apparel line he saw a big
opportunity to grow his sales. What he didn’t count on, however, was
the conflict that arose between his veteran sales staff and the
younger sales reps he recruited to help market the new line.
Reed’s firm sold branded promotional products to
business clients – things like pens, notepads, organizers and
corporate gifts – along with logo-imprinted golf shirts and baseball
caps. The new apparel line was radically different, featuring
colorful shirts with bold designs and “edgy” slogans. Reed realized
that he needed youthful sales people who could market the new
product to schools, clubs and emerging businesses.
However, after recruiting and training a group of
recent college graduates, Reed’s plans soon fell apart. He hoped to
integrate the new employees into his existing sales team, which was
populated mostly by Baby Boomers and members of Generation X, but
instead of friendly teamwork, resentment and frustration quickly
surfaced. Reed was faced with an unexpected and maddening set of
conflicts and confusion.
His younger employees genuinely understood what
was cool about the new products, but they had no clue how to sell
them. At the same time his experienced sales staff were almost
totally skeptical of the new products, which they didn’t really
“get” or have any real interest in selling. How could Reed build a
multi-generational sales force to promote these exciting new
products and grow the business?
In today’s environment traditional sales training
and management techniques may not work as they did in the past. With
Millennials now entering the workforce, today’s sales teams may well
be a volatile mixture of four different generations. But members
from the Mature generation (born between 1909 and 1945), the Baby
Boomer generation (1946 to 1964) and Generation X (1965 to 1979)
have all had time to adjust to each other in the workplace. It’s the
newest generation – Millennials who were born between 1980 to 1999 –
who are now shaking things up.
Millennials possess a unique set of skills and a
different work ethic than previous generations and they will have a
profound impact over the next five years. By 2014 there will be more
than 58 million Millennials employed in U.S. organizations alone.
Along the way, however, Millennials are getting what many say is a
“bad rap.” There’s a perception that the younger generation has
unrealistic expectations and possesses a poor work ethic. In
reality, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s just that
Millennials bring a different perspective to the workplace and a
fresh way of looking at things.
Generation Y, as they are also called, is
generally well educated and technologically savvy. They embrace
diversity and have a strong preference for collaboration over
competition. They are pragmatic, individualistic and optimistic.
Millennials expect to be successful and they fully expect the
support necessary to reach their goals. In short, they are likely to
become energetic and successful members of your sales team, given
that you adjust your traditional sales management strategies to take
advantage of their preferences and strengths. Following are four
tips to help sales managers adapt to the unique needs and
perspectives of their Millennial salespeople:
– Millennials are extremely goal oriented, but their individual
targets must be connected to the organization’s goals. They want to
know not only how the goals will affect their compensation but also
how they contribute to the overall bottom line. When they see they
have a long-term stake in accomplishing their goals, your
Millennials will be highly focused.
Challenges – Millennials have been raised to value collaboration over
competition. When sales managers create competing goals (such as
pitting sales team members against other teams or against each
other) it may frustrate Millennials. Try setting some goals with
rewards for everyone in addition to individual rewards.
– It’s not uncommon for sales managers to create sales contests with
tangible rewards for the winners, such as trips or gadgets. But
offering an iPod as a prize may fall flat if you find out that 80
percent of your younger salespeople already own one. Rather than
trying to guess which gadgets or prizes Millennial salespeople find
appealing, offer them the chance to select from a number of
interesting and creative prize options (such as gift certificates to
local restaurants, gift cards to Best Buy or Target, free or
discounted company products, tickets to a sports or recreation
Atmosphere – Millennials like to work hard and play hard. A fun, energetic
atmosphere is the best way to keep Millennial employees engaged.
Look for ways to create social opportunities as rewards for meeting
significant milestones. Ice cream socials, paint ball excursions,
Nerf fights and similar events can help keep morale high and
actually build greater employee performance.
As you begin to recruit and integrate Millennials
into your work team don’t be afraid to “change up” how you orient
and train new hires. Too often in the past the members of preceding
generations were thrown into a new job without much guidance. This
“sink or swim” approach won’t work for Millennials, who have
experienced extremely attentive teaching and parenting styles as
they grew up. Given a fair chance they’ll make strong contributions
to your organization and may lead the way to a more collaborative,
efficient and energetic environment.
Dr. Joanne G. Sujansky, CSP (Certified Speaking
Professional), has more than 25 years of experience helping to
create cool workplaces that attract, retain and get the most from
their multi-generational talent. As founder of KEYGroup, she and Dr.
Jan Ferri-Reed, KEYGroup president, provide businesses with
insightful information to create engaged, productive and profitable
organizations. Together, they’re co-authors of the best-selling
book, “Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies Are
Losing Billions in Turnover to This Generation and What to Do About
Read other articles and learn more about
Dr. Joanne G. Sujansky and
Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed.
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