Stereotypes about generations of people are nothing new, necessarily. The Silent Generation thought of young Baby Boomers in a certain way, and now Generations X and Y are thinking of millennials (generally defined as individuals who reached adulthood around the turn of the 21st century) in specific terms that often include adjectives like “narcissistic,” “spoiled,” “entitled,” “idealistic” and “lazy.”
These stereotypes are easy to repeat and cherry pick a few examples around, so they have becomes the official narrative of millennials in the workplace. But the true fact is that most assumptions we make about millennials are wrong. And perhaps more importantly, with millennials quickly comprising the largest percentage of the U.S. workforce, this generation is here to stay. Anyone who wants to be managing a successful organization 10 years from now needs to figure out a way to harness the strengths of this generation, rather than pointing out the perceived deficiencies.
Separating Fact from Fiction
The first thing you need to do in order to successfully manage a millennial sales team is to get out of the retread thinking model. That requires tackling some of these myths head on:
Fiction: Millennials aren’t competitive. There seems to be a prevailing school of thought that millennials grew up getting trophies just for showing up, and as a result, don’t know how to really compete.
Fact: This assumption about millennials not being competitive is simply wrong. In fact, millennials have to be competitive because the workplace has become much more competitive than it was for previous generations. Thirty years ago, if you wanted to do sales in Ohio, you competed for those jobs with other people from Ohio who wanted to do sales. Now? You might be competing with a guy from Singapore with 48K Twitter followers. Competition is everywhere for Millennials, and with somewhere between 47 to 54 percent of jobs likely automated by 2030, competition will only increase. If one of every two jobs go away within 15 years but the population doesn’t substantially drop, competition will become a prerequisite for future generations. In short, millennials are competitive because they must be.
Fiction: Millennials are so team-oriented, they can’t strive to hit individual targets.
Fact: The business world in general is moving more toward a “team of teams” mentality, which you see a lot with consulting operations or the military. You get a bunch of individuals together, put them on a task, define the target, and then they work to hit the target. Once that task is done, the team breaks apart and everyone gets assigned to new tasks/projects. This is more like a swim or track team, where individual performance – in a 200 meter vs. one mile, let’s say – is crucial and it then contributes to overall performance. It’s not a millennial thing to be all about teams. It’s now a business concept.
But millennials also understand the individual hero concept, because that’s what they’ve been seeing for most of their upbringing – from Lady Gaga to Mark Zuckerberg to ordinary people getting huge Instagram followings and becoming celebrities themselves. Millennials understand they need to be individual heroes while being part of a team.
Fiction: Millennials are too purpose-driven. We need to hit targets!
Fact: Although this is the most-bemoaned aspect of millennials by traditional management, it’s almost entirely incorrect. First of all, everyone needs purpose and there’s no such thing as being “too much” about purpose. In fact, great salespeople sell themselves first. Ultimately, people buy because of psychological reasons and need. The product is important, but it’s never the most important aspect of a sale. Think about times you’ve been sold to. If the person comes in hot talking about product, product, product … are you that interested? Probably not. But if the person comes in trying to build a relationship around value and need and shared goals, are you getting more comfortable and ready to buy? Probably yes. Millennials have been building personal brands and relationships across networks and technology since they could first hold a phone, and have demonstrated that the most important driver to them is branding themselves. That’s a powerful attribute when you’re trying to sell!
Clearly, we can’t generalize about an entire generation, because 80-120 million people don’t manifest the same personality traits and characteristics. But Millennials can sell, and they will rise to meet the needs of a job and a sales role as those needs shift.
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel on how we manage our organizations, but here are four tips to help get the most from your millennial sales team:
- Recognition is important. The once-a-year performance review is a relic. You need to be talking to your teams consistently. Are they doing well? Good. Tell them. Are they missing targets? Not good. Talk to them about what’s wrong and how to do better. This isn’t unique to Millennials, by the way. We don’t wait for some official review period to communicate.
- Show the competition. Your No. 1 focus should be on your sales leads and retaining customers, but you also need to see and understand what the competitors are doing. It will motivate your team. Millennials have spent the last 7 to 10 years seeing everything their friends and favorite celebrities are doing in essentially real time. They’re used to this. Social media is relative comparison on steroids. They get it. Channel that when managing them.
- Show the score. Who’s brought in the most business? Who’s helping the most with growth or retention? Put a board in the office, or connect it to your CRM. Whatever works. But have a way to show the score. You’ll be surprised how quickly you give up on the misconception that Millennials want to be hand-held and realize they’re young and hungry just like you were at that age.
- Give up the assumptions. You can’t manage a team from assumptions or generic business journalism advice. You manage a team based on the people around you and what they need to be put in a position to succeed. So any assumptions you’re clinging to? Chuck them in the river and start from the people actually sitting and standing in front of you.
Over the past two decades, Lance Tyson has continually elevated his entrepreneurial skill and spirit in a variety of industries, always returning though to his passion of developing strong business leaders. As President and CEO of PRSPX, Tyson is a facilitator, trainer and conductor of over 100 workshops annually in areas such as performance management, leadership, sales, sales management, customer service and team building.