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February 17, 2016

Selling to Millennials


There likely hasn’t been another time in history where the workplace has been as generationally diverse as it is now. According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, Baby Boomers still comprise 29% of the workforce, while Gen X and Millennials make up a little over two thirds at a share of 34% each. This essentially means that our current workforce is almost evenly split among three generations. This creates an interesting dilemma for salespeople looking to appeal to all three groups, but as more Baby Boomers retire, the proportion of Millennials in the workforce will continue to grow and become a huge factor in buying decisions.

When Millennials first entered the workforce what seemed to drive them was often misunderstood and disregarded. A few years down the road, as this younger generation has proven themselves to be significant contributors, many have begun to fill roles that come with a substantial amount of decision making power. That means organizations need to re-wire themselves to recognize how Millennials work and make decisions. Selling to Millennials is different from selling to the older two generations, so it’s important to understand the way they think, research and buy as they become an increasingly large part of the workforce and management landscape.

First of all, Millennials are the first generation of what are referred to as “digital natives;” a generation that grew up with the ever changing technology that is now a normal part of our world. As a result, Millennials can’t be sold to in the same way Baby Boomers (or even Gen Xers) were. According to the To buy or not to buy?” report from IBM, “Millennials, even more than Gen X or Baby Boomers, prize a hassle-free, omni-channel client experience personalized to their specific needs. They want data, speed and trusted advisors who are eager to collaborate.” Millennials are rather attached to their technology and will use several channels to communicate and research, therefore B2B marketers need to understand these habits in order to market to Millennials effectively.

It’s because of this familiarity with technology that Millennials have excelled at gathering and analyzing data, which contributes a great deal to what they choose to buy. The previously mentioned IBM study stated that 36% of Millennials surveyed said that their first priority in making a buying decision is based on data analysis. It’s important to make this data available to these researching Millennials in the form of easily accessible content and then use a consultative sales approach to fill in any blanks and collaborate to determine what the best solution would be.

Millennials want to work with and buy from vendors that show a deep understanding of their product or service and will work collaboratively to find the best solution, acting as trusted advisors. They are not very receptive to hard selling and other outdated techniques that Boomers or Gen X may have been more accustomed to. Because they are more likely to do extensive research on several organizations before making a decision, it’s most important as a salesperson to be available to them during the research phase, but then accommodate their desire for more digital (email, chat, social channels) interaction during the decision making phase. This results in the Millennial customer feeling less bombarded and pressured; something that is common when they are sold to in person or over the phone.

This change in how the target market wants to be sold to may be a difficult adjustment for older sales reps that have traditionally done business on the golf course or via other types of “schmoozing.” These techniques don’t work well with Millennials because they don’t contribute to the goal of data-based decision making and may be viewed as hard selling. It’s not that Millennials don’t want to build a trusting relationship with vendors, they’re just more likely to want to do that in a way that is highly relevant to their business, and they don’t see how playing 18-holes of golf accomplishes that.

Millennials are looking for a faster, smoother customer experience that incorporates more technology and more information. How do we help our sales teams deliver that? By enabling salespeople to connect with buyers using the technology they are accustomed to, to empower sales with deep industry knowledge and data, and to guide the sales team to become trusted advisors rather than hard-sellers. 

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