By Kevin McGirl, president, sales-i
According to Forbes, millennials will comprise some 46 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020. This percentage is only likely to increase: as time goes by, more and more will cycle in to replace those who retire. With their supposed reputation for laziness, entitlement, and self-centeredness, it’s easy to perceive them as a necessary evil.
But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s correct – and getting the most out of millennial staff at your company will require you to dispel some of these illusions. In truth, this generation isn’t better or worse than the one that came before: it’s just a product of different circumstances. Millennial salespeople are often defined by three key characteristics.
1. They have high expectations
You shouldn’t expect unbending loyalty from your millennial salespeople: per Deloitte’s 2016 survey, 66 percent of this generation’s workers don’t anticipate being at the same company by the end of 2020. And though this survey never says it outright, it may be tied to their growing expectations: 63 percent don’t believe their leadership skills are being developed, and 56 percent have ruled out working for particular organizations due to conflict with their personal values.
Millennials have higher expectations of the businesses they work for – and accommodating and managing these expectations is essential.
2. They’re highly independent
Just as millennials aren’t as willing to commit to workplaces as their parents, they’re also not as willing to commit to workstyles. The 9-5 model may have been dominant for a century, but they’ve little patience for it – if the work gets done ahead of deadline, why does it matter when it gets done? If they’re not meeting a client, why do they have to wear an uncomfortable suit and tie? Why use the company’s creaking, unintuitive systems and devices when they can conceivably bring their own?
Millennial salespeople will be happy to pursue your business goals – but they recognize that there are many routes to a destination. They want to work for companies that allow them to forge their own path.
3. They’re digitally and socially savvy
That millennials use social media will not be news to anybody; that they use it so much and so frequently may be. Some 90 percent of young adults use platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, and over 60 percent of 13-34-year-olds in the U.S. use Snapchat alone. Given a choice, they’ll happily “like,” “pin,” and tweet instead of call or email.
This might strike you as a potential red flag: it’s easy to assume that, the more social media users your company employs, the less productive your company will be. It’s equally easy to put a negative spin on the first two characteristics: to equate high expectations with entitlement and independence with bullheadedness.
In some respects, it may be true – but there’s no reason that your business can’t turn these traits to its advantage. Harness their characteristics correctly, and you can establish a proactive, energetic, forward-thinking sales culture: one where reps search for new opportunities instead of fulfilling routine orders; one where they help the company swim, rather than simply stay afloat.
Adopt new technology
Of course, your millennial sales force won’t manage itself, and it’s vital to take the right strategic measures to get the most out of their particular skills.
So, if your younger employees are tech-mad – tweeting, sharing, and browsing at every opportunity – the answer isn’t to ban or frown on these things. It’s to integrate them deeply into the way you work. It shouldn’t matter if your millennial salesperson contacts a prospect via phone or social media: give them the tools they need to work the way they like to, and you’ll soon see the rewards.
And don’t limit this to social media. Younger employees are typically more comfortable with advanced customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence tools, which can provide data-driven insights into the behaviors and attitudes of prospects and customers.
Naturally, it’s also wise to take advantage of their comfort with these tools: if they’ve used something else in their previous experience and prefer it, ask them why. If their rationale holds up, you might be able to make improvements across the business.
Independence is also a trait that should be nurtured and rewarded: the more comfortable employees are with your business, the happier and harder they’ll work for you – and the more you facilitate their autonomy, the less you’ll have to micromanage them.
So, if bringing their own technology will help them work faster, it should be allowed and encouraged. If working from home or at atypical hours – 10-6, 8-4, 7-3 or something else entirely – suits their lifestyle and doesn’t impact your business priorities, there’s no reason to prohibit it.
No one – whether they’re a millennial or a baby boomer – should assume they know everything. You stand a much better chance of meeting your younger employees’ expectations and retaining their services in the long term when they feel like valued, listened-to members of the organization – when older members of the team share their knowledge, make them feel welcome, and help them get up to speed. In the process of doing this, they’ll also likely pick up some insights about technology and the millennial mindset.
It’s perfectly possible for millennial staff and older employees at your company to not only coexist but flourish together. But the younger generation is likely to chafe under outdated models of working and inflexible practices and processes. Like other employees, millennials thrive under certain conditions and struggle under others. Give them space to succeed, and they generally will.