3 Strategies for Managing a Millennial in Sales

Dan Perry

Different age groups have their own norms. Most speak their own dialogue and refer to different cultural references. Baby boomers still talk about MASH or the Brady Bunch. Generation X’ers quote Seinfeld and Friends. And Millennials and Generation Z watch Grey’s Anatomy on Hulu (probably on their phones!). 

This is a real challenge in the world of sales leadership. You can’t deal with a 60-something in the same way you manage a 20-something. The reality is, there aren’t core differences between these age groups – people are fundamentally people. But there can be major differences in how they frame their concept of work. A sales leader can’t ignore these differences. Treating all reps the same, regardless of age, has a proven negative impact on productivity.

A common question we get from our Baby Boomer and Gen X sales leaders is, How do I manage a Millennial? Here are three key strategies:

1. Find the Commonality, Respect the Differences: Sales leaders can’t pretend that their reps’ generation isn’t an issue. For example, everyone needs consistent coaching. Baby Boomers might prefer it delivered in a more structured cadence and face-to-face. Millennials, on the other hand, typically prefer it more real-time, in small chunks, even over text. The common need for coaching is universal, but the preferred delivery model will differ. Adapting to the generational situation will enable you to lead better. This results in increased productivity no matter what the age. The key is to apply the fundamentals of adaptive selling to the generational differences. Think about more than the substance of your sales management. Pay special attention to tone, spoken language, body language, and delivery mode.

2. Blend Work-Life: Millennials don’t always separate work and life like Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers. It’s less about compartmentalizing and more about fluidity across various aspects of life. In practice, this might mean a rep works from 6-8 am; takes an exercise break from 8:30-10; works again until 5 pm; takes a dinner and a socializing break from 5-7 pm; then works again until 9 pm. Many Millennials excel at their jobs, but do it with a different mental model of the workday. Embrace this different view of work/life. The worst thing you can do to a Millennial is insist they maintain a strict 8-5 pm regiment. Many will repel attempts to establish rigid routine. Balancing structure with flexibility, especially in virtual/remote work environments is tough. Making the effort to tackle this issue with your Millennials will yield  productivity benefits. 

3. Peddle Faster: Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers often point out how Millennials are always on their smartphones. Heads down, most imagine Millennials are obsessively looking at their Instagram or Snapchat feeds. But what might appear as social media distraction is learning. Constant and real-time learning, they are keeping up with the fast-changing world. And they're learning faster than their Baby Boomer and Gen X counterparts ever did. Past generations read the newspaper, watched local news, or reviewed an encyclopedia to learn. Now information comes directly to you with a few easy key strokes. If you want to manage Millennials, you need to be abreast of changes. Millennials get frustrated when you aren’t on top of everything and in the know. Leading Millennials requires you to keep pace. Be less afraid of ‘information overload’ in training. But combine information with roleplay and practice to drive the greatest productivity.

For all the potential benefits, we also get a lot of complaints about Millennials. 

‘They want to get promoted after only 6-9 months here. They need to pay their dues!’

This is a common issue we hear from Baby Boomer and Gen X sales leaders. But remember, this isn’t always about formal promotion. More than likely, when you face this issue, it’s about breaking routine. Your legacy organizational model communicates that the only way reps can break routine is to get promoted.

A traditional approach to org structure and incentives can be extremely frustrating to Millennials. The best answer is not necessarily a promotion, but a break in routine. Think about alternative ways to address this craving for new experiences. Consider adding additional responsibility within the same role or expanding a territory. Also, think about assigning the rep a special project or inviting them to participate in a task force. The key is breaking the routine.

We live in a new era of sales management. Understanding different ways of leading and motivating are essential. And with Generation Z starting to graduate college, the need for different sales management models will continue.

To learn more about designing your sales organization to thrive in today’s multi-generational reality, contact us. We can help you assess your current situation and recommend high-payoff changes to sales structure, process, and incentives. The quicker you start executing these actions, the more your productivity will improve.

Dan Perry

Dan Perry

Daniel Perry is a partner at The Brevet Group. He leverages nearly 30 years of experience leading sales teams and helping complex sales organizations become elite performers.