There was a time when life as a Sales Leader was fairly straightforward. Typically, you earned that title through your own performance, and almost overnight, your day to day responsibilities changed. Just when you’d finally conditioned yourself to all those critical activity habits and found your rhythm as an individual contributor, you awoke to a calendar packed with recruiting interviews, meetings and coaching sessions, and a desk piled high with production reports. You’d graduated from childhood to adulthood in an instant, and now life was all about your “kids.” More often than not, that adulthood badge was accompanied by more money and more responsibility, a vote of confidence in your ability to grow through others. You passed on your knowledge and experiences, and established expectations with your team members. Generally, your ambitious troops fell in line and began their own drive to the top.
When did all of that change? How did leadership become so complicated in these fast changing times? A good place to start is 1978. While John Travolta was burning up the dancefloor in Saturday Night Fever, the first of the Millennial generation starting popping their heads out, anxiously looking around for their iPhones. That was 38 years ago, but it may as well have been the 6th Century. So much has happened in the world since then that’s shaped this generation of 1.8 billion individuals across the globe. We’ve seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, September 11, and the Financial Crisis of 2008, to speak nothing of the disintegration of many of the reliable American institutions that provided a foundation of security for prior generations. Layoffs, outsourcing, and the abandonment of the pension plan have steadily created a distrust of corporations over the years, and Millennials, all of whom have now entered the workforce here in America, have forced companies across the economy to re-evaluate their hiring practices, their employee engagement strategies, and the way they work.
Millennials are the most studied generation in history, having been simultaneously praised for their innovative thinking and technology prowess, while being broadly stereotyped as entitled and lazy. The realities are far more complex. Millennials bring a healthy level of skepticism to the world, which often creates friction in the workplace, particularly with the older generations they often report to. They challenge inefficiencies, seek to understand the meaning behind their work, expect considerable levels of coaching and development, and are insistent on receiving feedback. Lots of it.
As sales people, Millennials don’t simply fall in line with the outdated, and overly simplistic directive of “just make more calls,” without any direction or guidance. There’s much attraction to Sales, given the inherent advantages of schedule flexibility, earnings potential, and entrepreneurial feel, but many Millennials quickly become attrition statistics, or steer clear of Sales altogether due to a perceived lack of coaching. Managers everywhere have often expressed frustration with these changing paradigms, but the reality is indicative of a huge opportunity, for those who choose to embrace it. If your team aspires to grow its Millennial sales force, implementing these five development strategies is a must:
- Discuss Career Goals, Early and Often. Make a point to get to know your reps on a personal level, and gain understanding on their hopes, their dreams, and what motivates them. They’ll appreciate your genuine interest, and work harder for you as a result. Talk to them about potential career paths, and be specific about the steps and milestones they need to achieve to rise within the organization. Tell your own story, and be proactive in creating exposure to the experiences of others within the organization. Check in often, and provide lots of feedback on their progress.
- Encourage Smart Work, not Hard Work. Success is no longer measured on the basis of a time card. Given the ease of working remotely through a mobile device, Millennials are often willing to make themselves accessible to work-related issues at all hours, but bristle at the idea of work for work’s sake, and aren’t willing to give up having a life outside of their career. Successful sales people often spend minimal time in the office, focusing instead on prospecting, seeing clients and networking, all activities that generally take place in the field. Encourage your Millennials to be smart with how they manage their time. Attending a 12:00 Yoga class should be encouraged, on the heels of a late meeting the night before.
- Invest Your Time in Coaching on Skills. Knowledge-based training can be leveraged through technology today, but there is no substitute for spending time helping your reps develop the language skills they need to be effective with prospects and clients. As a manager, the hour you spend role playing a referral talk with an eager Millennial will pay dividends for many years. Demonstrate first, then observe. And follow up by having them sending you an audio clip from their smartphone the next day. Provide candid feedback, and challenge them to aspire to their true potential.
- Demonstrate the Impact of Sales Results. Millennials seek meaning in their work, and aren’t driven by the money alone. Evaluate the true impact that your company’s products or services has on your customers, or better yet, society as a whole. This may seem challenging to articulate, but every successful business in a free market economy has value it brings to its customers. If you run a Health Club, use statistics with your reps to show the impact of exercise on health and longevity. If you’re in a position to do so, create an incentive plan that donates to a cause of the rep’s choice at certain production benchmarks. Whatever you do, prove it. You’ll find the exercise worthwhile for your own conviction as well.
- Recognize Achievements. In my 20 years in Sales and Sales Management, I’ve been amazed at how well organizations recognize big picture achievements, such as annual goals tied to conference and trips, but how poorly these measures are tracked along the way. Build a system within your office for consistently recognizing checkpoints and milestones along the way, and do it in a positive and public way. Create an AE of the Month program. Line a wall in your office with Office Records, using real vinyl records encased in frames, showcasing the top achievements of all time, and providing your reps with benchmarks to aspire to. Find fun ways to provide positive reinforcement to those that are working hard, and working smart, and do it frequently.
The workplace is changing. Are you positioned to capitalize?
If you’re struggling to make the best hiring decisions, consider reaching out to RevsUp for help. We can provide you with the necessary resources to improve your recruiting process and avoid costly hiring mistakes.