The generation gap is a real phenomenon, and it can seriously hinder a sales unit if leaders and employees who grew up in different eras can’t figure out how to work together efficiently and respectfully.
Millennials recently passed Generation X in becoming the largest age group in the American workforce at 53.5 million strong. Yet many managers still find themselves confounded by how to best relate to this generation that grew up with the Internet as a part of their formative years.
Millennials obviously aren’t a homogenous collective, but there are several strategies you can put in place at your sales organization that will help you keep your team members motivated and performing at a high level.
Connect with them on the overall mission of the company
The business world looks a lot different than it did even back in the late 1990s, and it’s almost been completely transformed from the environment that most baby boomers grew up in following the Second World War. Most millennials have come of age during a period of time that saw a tech bubble burst at the outset of the millennium, followed closely by widespread uncertainty and stagnation after 9/11, and then many people’s pensions, home values, and stock portfolios wiped out of existence with the 2008 financial crisis.
Not only did this instill in them that there really is no such thing as job security — even if you’ve spent your entire career in one place — it transmitted the message that blind pursuit of profit can be harmful to everyone but the powerful few. As a result, many workers in this age group are driven by more than making money and climbing the corporate ladder with abandon. In order to get the most out of these team members, teach them specifics about the company’s greater mission, and help them learn how their success in the organization can contribute to a better life for others.
Keep up with relevant technology
Millennials are accustomed to feeling the pressure of keeping up with the newest technology. Most of their adult lives have been defined by a never-ending progression towards devices and software programs that are lighter, thinner, and more efficient. They rely on technology for so many diverse aspects of their personal and professional lives, and they’re likely to feel stagnant if they’re stuck performing tasks manually that could be improved through tech-based solutions.
If you hope to keep your millennial sales reps engaged in the office you need to give them the technological tools that will allow them to shine.
Give value-added feedback — and be ready to receive it as well
This isn’t about everyone getting participation trophies, or younger workers needing to be coddled all the time. It’s about honestly letting your sales team know when they’re doing a great job, and giving specific, constructive feedback on areas that need to be improved. Millennials want to know their work is valued, but that isn’t analogous to giving out fake awards just so everyone can feel recognized.
Additionally, it’s important to structure your coaching sessions so that your sales reps have an opportunity to provide feedback to you as well. Demonstrate to them that you value their input as a critical part of the sales process, and that together you can collaborate to continually find more effective ways to serve your customers and colleagues.
Embrace the idea of flexible schedules
Many Gen Xers and baby boomers had to make some serious lifestyle adjustments once mobile work email became the way of the office. Meanwhile, for all but the oldest millennials, it’s been a common factor for the duration of their careers. Plenty of them think nothing of working from mobile devices on nights and weekends. Giving your millennial sales professionals the opportunity to work flexible schedules can increase their productivity and help them achieve the work/life balance they crave.
In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only 5% of companies allowed flexible work schedules, so this is also a strategy for differentiating your organization and attracting the best talent.
Don’t overthink things
Yes, millennials as a group share certain proclivities and have had their attitudes on work and the world shaped by specific events. However, they’re still people at the end of the day, and you should relate to them in the same ways you would a person in any other age group.
There’s no need to treat your millennial coworkers as if they’re some kind of alien race that older employees couldn’t possibly understand. Practice good listening skills, empathize with your colleagues, and foster an environment of open and honest communication to develop a sales team that will be energized and motivated to serve their clients.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.