03 MAY, 2016

What I Learned from Managing Millennial Sales Reps

Millennial Sales Reps

This article originally appeared at Sales & Marketing Management.

As it probably does for many of us, the day I realized I was no longer the “young guy” at work came as a rude awakening. It happened once I began to build and manage my own inside sales team, which was made up of 20-somethings. I found myself getting increasingly frustrated by habits like staring down at cell phones during meetings or lack of commitment to working normal 9 to 5. Coming up in the business world, I had learned that you showed dedication by coming in early, leaving late and putting in a hard day’s work during the hours you were at your desk.

Once I got over my initial shock and dismay at the seemingly lax habits of my young direct reports I realized something. They were taking notes on their phones. They were texting me from home with questions on work they were doing. And when they did come in to the office, they were fully present and ready to work, not just showing up for face time. Most importantly, they were hitting their sales goals.

Why do they work that way?
In today’s work environment, we are always connected. We no longer have the luxury of going home and forgetting about work unless we willfully shut off and ignore our smart phones and other devices. Today’s workers are often plugged in around the clock, answering an important email while waiting for the check after dinner or finishing up a proposal on the morning train at 7:30 a.m. This state of affairs has led to “work-life integration,” where “9 to 5” doesn’t mean all that much anymore. Work is simply a part of life, and that means some of it might get done during traditional business hours, but some of it gets done outside those hours when it makes sense. You should not need to manage through face time if you are on top of your team’s responsibilities and how well they are meeting them.

What do they want?
Every individual has different motivations, but there are three common themes I’ve seen within my own team:

Flexibility – Thanks to the “always on” work environment, the new currency for the millennial generation is time. Free time allows them to have more experiences, enjoy life and even be more efficient at work when they’ve been able to relax and recharge. Allow your employees freedom to modify their hours and work remotely when necessary. Just be sure their goals are well-defined and time-sensitive so they know what is expected of them even if they’re not sitting at their desks.

Advancement – My younger team members tend to be very focused on their own advancement within the organization. At the first sign of success they want to move up and get a better title. Be aware of this and talk to them about their goals when they’re hired. Tell them specifically what you expect in order for them to move to a higher position and compensation, and make sure you make good on your promise or they’ll be looking elsewhere.

Rewards and perks – A well-structured compensation package no longer has the pull it once did. In fact, competitive salaries and healthcare benefits are expected today as a bare minimum. Millennials look for employers to go above and beyond, offering things like student loan repayment help, experiential rewards like travel or activities that enrich their lives, or cash bonuses that can help them with credit card or student debt. Status symbols like the designer handbags and gold watches of yesteryear no longer do the trick, especially when many of your younger workers may be struggling to pay rent every month.

Do they really talk like this?
Coming up in the business world, I was taught that business communication should be fairly formal. Now I see my millennial reps texting their prospects, using emojis and incomplete sentences to communicate in some cases. At first I was horrified, until I realized it was often effective.

As a manager, it took me some time to come around to communicating with my team this way. I was committed to having in-person conversations until I saw that they much preferred a quick text message or ping on Slack. The same conversation that would have taken 20 minutes in my office took place in less than 20 seconds, to the same end.

One thing I have to stress to my young team is that they have to remember their audience. While emojis and trendy acronyms might work with younger prospects, it’s a different story when you’re trying to relate to a 60-year old VP at a construction company. It’s important to teach them empathy for those who didn’t grow up with iPhones attached to our hands.

Keeping it all in perspective
Like all generations before them, Millennials have simply been shaped by the times in which they have grown up. In fact, many people born before 1980 have adapted to the same trends and have taken on the same behaviors. I know I’ve benefited from adapting to my team. I can only hope they learn as much from me.


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