What do these people have in common?
➢ The youngest Nobel laureate ever
➢ The CEO of the world’s largest social network
➢ The highest paid actress
Malala Yousafzai, Mark Zuckerberg, and Emma Stone are all millennials. And so are the founders of some of the most influential and fastest-growing companies on the planet: Airbnb, Instagram, Quora, Tinder, Dropbox, Facebook, Stripe, Lyft, Oculus, Pinterest, SnapChat, and a host of other brands.
If you lack a strategy on how to harness such dynamic — and distinctly millennial — energy in your sales organization, you are likely competing with a serious handicap.
In addition to your team, your company’s market and the decision makers leading your client enterprises also comprise a fair number of millennials. In fact, both the workforce and the buyer demographic will soon be dominated by people born between 1980 and 2000, with data from the U.S. Census Bureau showing that the 92 million strong millennial horde already represents the biggest generation ever in the country’s history.
Any company planning to stay relevant and profitable simply cannot ignore this demographic. Because a good portion of their employees and customers will be millennials, organizations need to build and implement a comprehensive strategy that squarely addresses millennial challenges, considers their preferences, and optimizes their unique strengths.
For sales organizations, having millennials as sales development reps or account executives can positively impact topline figures — but only if you play your generational cards right.
Rather than treating millennials as a problem, cultivate them as assets. For startups and emerging SMB companies still shaping their sales process, this is an opportunity to instill the right habits in millennial sales reps and mold them into all-star players.
Here’s why organizations should embrace this generation as the new paradigm:
- Sheer numbers. The math behind the millennial generation is compelling. They will play a dominant role in both the supply and the demand side of the economy: Buyers and sellers will both skew towards the millennial demographic. According to Pew Research, millennials account for more than a quarter (27%) of the world population (about 2 billion) and will comprise three quarters (75%) of the global workforce by 2025, according to a separate Ernst & Young study. In the U.S., millennials represent the largest generation in history. Given the nature of sales as a largely metric-driven numbers game, optimizing this demographic should figure high on every business agenda.
- Pure energy. Entering the workforce in the wake of 9/11, the Great Recession, and the implosion of student debts, millennials developed unusual levels of grit, passion, and confidence. Many took the road to entrepreneurship and founded some of the world’s most disruptive and valuable companies. Those who took the corporate route assume their roles with ample doses of ambition, hard work, and drive. Having grown up in challenging times, millennials developed a knack for solving problems through innovation and creativity. Some of them in the sales profession are introducing new, tech-driven strategies, approaches, and tools in the field. A study featured in Forbes found that “millennials are the true entrepreneur generation.”
- Tech-laced DNA. Millennials directly experienced the evolution of web, cloud, and mobile technologies and may be the first generation to be true digital natives. A vast majority of this demographic sleep with their smartphones, build social relationships via digital technology, and are very open and highly trainable when it comes to new sales technology. Millennials also embrace different communication platforms to match their audience, with many having exceptional social selling skills. They also embrace metrics and data analytics in their workflow, which helps in processes such as prospecting and lead qualification.
- Market empathy. Given the easy access to socio-cultural information, U.S. millennials represent the most inclusive generation, with a strong majority expressing their commitment to social responsibility. This mindset carries over to how they approach peers, customers, and the wider market.
The business landscape rapidly evolves as technological advances, cultural shifts, and demographic changes alter the way we create, market, and sell products.
To benefit from this shifting landscape, sales organizations need to formulate a responsive strategy that aligns well with evolving buyer behavior, reimagines the work environment to draw out the best possible performance, and restructures sales organizations to future-proof value.
When drawing your sales strategy, consider the following steps:
- Design a talent management program that resonates with the millennial mindset. Your recruitment and retention policies should help motivate millennial staff to perform at their best and stay longer on your sales team. Social impact, work-life balance, collaboration, continuous learning, and flexibility score high in their system of priorities, and you may want to align official policies along these areas whenever appropriate. Many millennials will readily trade financial perks for experiential alternatives such as free certified/accredited training or a high-quality working environment.
- Adopt a millennial-focused incentives and promotions scheme. Millennials are hungry for success and are driven to achieve milestones such as awards, recognition, and additional responsibilities. Set and manage their expectations regarding their career path and the road to leadership. Implement the right performance metrics to keep everyone clearly informed about their progress, and reward excellence accordingly in both traditional monetary ways and in nonmonetary rewards such as flexible work hours or free lunch with a thought leader. Remember, unmotivated millennials tend to jump from employer to employer.
Assign millennials to specific sales functions with which they have a strong affinity and set expectations around promotion pathing. Excluding companies with very small sales teams, most enterprises organize their sales teams according to roles or functions.
These roles typically include:
- Sales development reps (SDRs)
- Account executives (AEs)
Customer success managers (CSMs)
This can also be broken up by:
- Segment — SMB, Mid-Market, and Enterprise
Seniority — Junior vs. Senior
When employees are onboarded, they should be told how long they can expect to be at each level of a position and what their numbers need to be. This way, targets are set and employees can “graduate” to the next role if those expectations are met.
The SDR role, focused on inbound and outbound prospecting and lead qualification, guiding prospective customers through the pipeline instead of closing deals, can be a great fit for millennials who excel at reaching out to people and building relationships. Meanwhile, millennials with solid marketing, presentation, and customer engagement skills will have great careers as account executives, managing and growing relationships with both new and existing customers, and tackling the task of closing deals. Those who possess the knack for truly understanding client needs — keeping clients happy and primed for cross selling/upselling/reselling opportunities — will excel as CSMs.
- Reimagine and reinforce your learning and development (L&D) program. Nothing beckons as compellingly to millennials as the opportunity to learn or hone the skills that are relevant to their passion or career. Because of a highly competitive workplace, millennials prefer to have multiple skills that complement their main area of expertise and raise the likelihood of career advancement. It’s not unusual for millennials who currently function as sales development reps to proactively learn skills more relevant to an account executive role, for example. Millennials appreciate and actively look for employer-sponsored training and will readily jump at an offer as soon as they receive one. Because they embrace technology, millennials prefer online video courses, gamified training, interactive learning modules, e-books, and podcasts.
- Keep your sales enablement tools updated. Millennials are a tech-savvy generation; they easily learn how to leverage technology to increase sales productivity. Ask them for insight about your sales technology stack and how each component software impacts the sales team’s workflow and performance. They likely will have an idea or two on how to streamline your sales process or hike efficiency.
- Foster feedback and collaboration. Group chats, conference calls, and collaborative project management software are staple items inside every millennial’s toolbox. So are performance metrics that serve as the class card for workplace millennials enrolled in the school of hard knocks. Known to embrace inclusion, collaboration, and teamwork, millennials thrive in environments that promote fairness, constructive feedback, and collective action toward a specific goal. Moreover, you should provide opportunities for millennials to use their strengths — especially their affinity with tech — to help other members of the sales team.
It goes without saying that the rookies and young managers in your sales team represent the generation that will matter most in the emerging millennial economy. Because of their unique characteristics (their sheer numbers, pure energy, market empathy, and tech-laced DNA), millennial sellers are well-positioned to become the best sales professionals in recent history.
Smart organizations will harness this dynamic human resource to achieve ever-higher levels of success. Has your company already established a talent management strategy that will attract, develop, and retain highly skilled millennials? If not, now is the time to make a difference.
“Organizations need to build and implement a comprehensive strategy that squarely addresses millennial challenges, considers their preferences, and optimizes their unique strengths.”