5 Steps to helping Millennials Succeed in Sales

“They’re too fragile”, “Not motivated”, “Would rather text than talk.”

These were a few of the comments I heard this week as I participated in a local business advisory meeting. How we got to this point in the discussion was via the topic of the typical first job for today’s business bachelor’s graduate, a position in entry level sales.

The consensus from these business leaders was that they see a much higher attrition rate in initial sales positions for millennials vs. older new hires. They said millennials were likable, tech savvy, and team players, but also that they couldn’t handle rejection or close - which in sales is a particularly bad combination!

After that meeting I’ve thought about how to help millennials leverage their strengths and become successful salespeople. Here are five common traits of millennials and the five corresponding ways we can help them to succeed in sales:

  1. Millennials like to stay in touch, just not in the same ways as earlier generations. Millennials do like to — it’s not a character flaw, just a different approach to having a dialog; a series of short electronic chats rather than a series of meetings, letters or emails. Help millennials to extend their dialogs to other formats. Encourage them to focus on nurturing dialogs that help their prospects to reach quality decisions and to do so by using whatever channel their prospect is comfortable using — whether it’s a meeting over coffee or even the dreaded phone call.
  2. Millennials want bang-for-the-buck in their lives. This creates a real challenge for them as sales work expands to fill every minute of the day and then into the evening. Encourage millennials to avoid time-wasting multitasking, to prioritize higher return activities at the beginning of their days, and to “time box” their administrative duties before signing out. Be aware that sales days tend to drag out when the salesperson is closing or call reluctant. Those activities often “slip” a day at a time until Friday, and then into the next week.
  3. Millennials may not have been allowed to fail as much as earlier generations. While I’m not sure I ever want to have salespeople with strong “failing well” skills, it’s very easy for any new salesperson to become discouraged with a loss. Help them analyze, and not internalize, losses. Show them, that as one of my mentors said, “You’re either on the winning team or the learning team.” And make sure millennials have their fair share of the “Glenngarry” or premium leads and accounts.
  4. Millennials very often do not have the same “pictures” of success — cars, homes, toys, etc. as earlier generations. Without the need to cover expensive purchases, millennials are more likely to sell because they like it, not because they have to. Help them to find and understand their own motivations. If not internal motivations, then externally to do their bit for their team, for the health of their company, belief in the good of the product, or even in the awesome work done by their customers.
  5.  Millennials don’t like to be managed, they like to be led. Bring them into the goal setting process and really listen to their perspectives — sales is changing, they’re on the front line, and millennials often have unique and valuable perspectives. Provide the best possible mentoring, particularly in the first year. And remember that managers control resources and processes while leaders guide willing followers on a common journey. I’m with the millennials on this one!

Millennials are the future of B2B consultative sales — both as the sellers and as the buyers. We need to help our millennials succeed, both to meet our short term revenue goals, and also to insure our ongoing relevance and connections to our customers and markets.