The Sales Tsunami of Millennials


There is a tsunami headed towards the sales world and it is the Millennial generation.  Let me start with this one point, I find it difficult to define a generation of 76+ million Americans with similar characteristics.  People are the ultimate variable so obviously there are differences within such a large group.  However, some things are more prevalent in this age group of people born between 1980-1995.

I’ve been working with a wide variety of sales leaders with the vast majority of them falling in the Baby Boomer generation.  The stories I have heard are humorous, and elucidative, all at once.

One Boomer sales leader shared with me his frustration of one of his salespeopletexting with a customer.  The company is an engineering services firm and he did not believe texting was an appropriate medium for communicating with customers.  He told his Millennial salesperson to switch to email next time.

Another Boomer sales leader told me of a Millennial salesperson who aspired to move up the corporate ladder.  An opportunity opened up in one of their foreign offices to which this sales leader informed his Millennial salesperson that this would be a strong step towards reaching the next level in the company.  The Millennial passed stating they did not want to move overseas and that they would still find a way to advance.  The Boomer sales leaders responded, “you have to actually do something to move up.”

Tension has always existed between generations.  The Millennial generation is creating a greater tension because of the small Generation X.

The “natural” changes from generation to generation are exaggerated due to the large age gap jump from Boomers to Millennials in the workplace.  The Millennials will have to move up quickly since there simply are not enough Gen Xers to replace the retiring Boomers.

This tension leads to sales leaders having to find new methods to managing a much younger sales team.  My experience in working with these leaders and Millennials has led me to see these 3 consistent topics for leading younger salespeople.

1. Have a clear career path.  One thing I tell all hiring managers is that you have to have a clear career path for this younger generation.  They enjoy learning and growing their skills, including an increase in their compensation commensurate with that growth.  The Millennials are driven to earn more; the difference is that their work is the funding source for their interests outside of the office.  This is a distinction that often gets lost in much of the reporting today.

2. Be prepared for non-traditional work hours.  This difference may be the largest irritant between the classic 8-5 Boomer generation and the Millennials.  The Millennials are “burst” workers in that they enjoy grouping their work into short, high-intensity efforts.  In their world, time is the ultimate flexible asset.  This mindset is difficult to reconcile with a typical sales day comprised of an 8 to 5 goal time.  Sales leaders will have to develop expectations that the primary communication with prospects and customers needs to occur during standard office hours…until the Millennials shift the standard for office hours.  By the way, that shift is already happening.

3. Move towards a matrix organization.  Millennials are matrix-oriented in their approach to the workplace.  Essentially, they see the organization hierarchy flatter than any previous generation, especially the Boomers.  If the Boomers operate under a military hierarchy of power within the company, the Millennials see a group of people collaborating towards one goal within the company…I include the CEO in this definition.  This new approach is shocking to many Boomers (and, at times, to me too).  The Millennials want to collaborate with their boss with a focus on results before “rank.”

The aforementioned topics are already in play today in the workplace.  Some sales leaders are struggling with these seismic shifts in how companies handle these young salespeople.  Yet, this is a tsunami that will drastically change the sales landscape.  Think of what’s to come – integrating social network connections into sales hiring, dedicating salespeople to corporate causes, snap chatting with customers, etc.  The classic sales world will be changing quickly and dramatically as the Millennials establish a new order.