Your established sales team—purring along like a well-oiled machine—is starting to dwindle. One by one, the experienced, expert, mature employees, members of the Baby Boom generation, cut back to part time or retire. And you are faced with replacing them. You find yourself looking at the new generation of rising talent, Millennials. This group, currently 23 to 38 years old, have grown up in a digital world. They have never known a time without computers. They have a special set of skills, but, like anyone else, they are looking to do meaningful work for companies that appreciate what they bring.
The generations defined as Millennial employees are likely to present challenges and opportunities. They can offer challenges because, as a group, they may have expectations different from what you’re accustomed to. They offer opportunities because of their fresh ideas and point of view, desire to make a difference, and comfort and abilities with new technology.
This year, members of the Millennial generation will outnumber Baby Boomers, according to the Pew Center for Research. In the next few years, they will represent more than half the U.S. workforce. Ready or not, Millennials are the future of every enterprise.
FINDING NEW SALES STAFF
Pamela Hammers, an independent sales training consultant for Miller Heiman Group, sees those challenges and opportunities every day.
“Very few universities have sales programs,” said Hammers. In the manufacturing area, people with science and engineering background may be the best prospects for sales, anyway. You’re looking for potential and can bring them along in your company and industry, training them in both the sales process and the necessary product knowledge.
What are these new hires looking for? They want to contribute, to be part of something, to make a difference and to actively participate in the exchange of knowledge, Hammers said. They are looking for work/life balance. They may be looking for a job near their family… or in a desirable location like California.
NEW HIRES: SETTING THEM UP FOR SALES SUCCESS
For best results, Hammers recommends a comprehensive introduction to the company and the work. In addition to the initial company orientation process, she recommends new hires go on ride-alongs with senior salespeople early on. This way, they can meet customers and start to grasp how the products help customers do their job, make their products or provide their service.
Seeing the products in action can help spark a passion for what they will offer customers. The valve they see being manufactured on their own company’s shop floor translates to success for their customer, and in the end, food, medicine, fuel for cars, drinking water for the public or any number of products and services for the end user.
LEARNING THE CRAFT
“You are unlikely to find new hires who already know how to sell,” Hammers said. Sales people all need to know about the products, the solution set and how to use your CRM (customer relationship management) system. However, that’s not enough, she said. “You can’t send them out with just product knowledge. Cover such basics as how to have conversations with customers, ask questions, be open and listen.”
Ideally, sales training is an ongoing process, not something that happens in the first few months and then never again. Everyone can continue to develop and increase in knowledge at any stage of their career. New hires who learn the sales cycle alongside experienced staff benefit from the others’ experience. Mentoring and coaching newer sales staff reinforces the skills of seasoned professionals and gives them the satisfaction of helping the next generation.
Hammers gave an example from her current sales training work with a tire manufacturing company. “This week’s topics included effective client meetings, how to talk with people, engage with them and build rapport. Core communications skills.” The group included both new and longtime sales staff.
The best training offers material in the multiple ways that people learn. Some need to see, some need to hear, some need to do, Hammers said. “Mix all the modalities. See, touch, feel. Give them real role plays” so they practice in the training, not on their customers. Include the unexpected. “Sometimes things don’t go so well,” she said. “How do you handle what comes up?” Problem solving, discussion and role play can draw on the experience of the seasoned staff and the fresh perspective of the newer people.
Manufacturers often have a short term view of sales training/development, Hammers said. It is not “once and done.” A long-term development plan has benefits for the whole sales group, with guidelines for what someone should be able to do in their first year and in subsequent years. “Go deeper, get new skills for different relationships and longer sales cycles,” Hammers said. “New products and new processes need new skills, as well.”
INCORPORATING YOUNGER STAFF INTO THE COMPANY
This Millennial generation, as a group, has some characteristics that may not be so familiar in the workplace populated by older workers, “but they are no different from anyone else,” Hammers said. “They want to contribute.”
One stereotype about Millennials says they are not loyal, Hammers said, “but they can be really loyal if the passion they show is returned—in recognition, in training, in the company investing in them.”
For existing staff, Hammers said, “it’s important not to hold your experience over them as making you better than them.” Instead, “value and harness their knowledge,” she said. “Perhaps say, ‘I’ll help you with my knowledge. [You can] help me with this technology. It’s moving at light speed.’”
Of course, since they grew up with it, these Millennial workers bring a deep understanding of how to use technology, Hammers said. Some of the first major contributions of the new hires may be in helping bring the company’s use of technology up to date in areas such as social sales.
An IBM study of Millennials in the workplace suggests, “The key takeaway for business leaders is this: Millennials represent the first wave of digital natives to enter the workforce, and this does distinguish them. Organizations that have embarked on their own [digital] transformation urgently need this digital capital. They should eagerly look for ways to embrace Millennials and create the work environments where top talent can flourish—across all generations.”