Managing the “Great Expectations” of the Next Sales Generation

February 7, 2012 by Susan Gunelius
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Guest post by Lynn Schleeter (learn more about Lynn at the end of this post)

“The death of the traditional salesman has been greatly exaggerated,” heralded a recent column in The Economist (October 22, 2011). Why does the media always have to dredge up the Willy Lomans of the world every time the sales function is covered?

Sales has made leaps and bounds since Arthur Miller wrote that fateful play in 1949. Yet there’s been nothing traditional in sales for the past 15 years thanks, in part, to women making it a successful career path. When it comes to tradition, the challenge today is how to motivate the next generation to work in old-fashioned (read: unsocial as in media and societal interactions) work cultures. This is especially true within the sales field due to the disconnected nature of its reps to physical offices.

Here’s the rub, to quote another great classic: The next generation is all about “great expectations.” I teach and advise Gen Yers — also known as Millennials (born after 1980) — at the university level in sales and business ethics. When a student comes back from a sales internship and says, “They didn’t use my skills,” I know that the traditional corporate mindset was more about a “go-for” experience. Then when a VP of sales says: “Your grad left our company after a year,” I have to give him the bad news — “You didn’t engage your new employee the way she expected.”

Onboarding a High-Maintenance Generation

How do companies motivate and manage a generation of workers who grew up receiving awards and prizes for just showing up?

“They’re so high maintenance!” That’s what one manager recently shared with me about how much time she spends getting new Gen Y team members on board. She wonders: Is it worth it? Yes it is — if you learn how to leverage this new talent by focusing Gen Y behaviors on business goals and setting metrics for results. The paradigm shift to tap their creativity and technological savvy is not unlike moving from landlines to iPhones.

Based on an onboarding model developed by the Center for Sales Innovation’s research, here are a few recommendations for managers who need to make the shift:

Just-in-time mentality: Provide plenty of structure for expectations. Remember: They were raised with tremendous self esteem and the freedom to ignore limits. Some Millennials lack time management skills because parents managed their calendars. Most are great at prepping the night before an interview or presentation. A few keys:

  • Support planning to master skills over time.
  • Foster an understanding of how learning directly leads to results/next project.
  • Provide immediate feedback.

Sound-bite generation: Keep content short and focused. Keep in mind that Gen Yers have no patience for long instructions and details. However, they need to know how an application applies specifically to their jobs and projects. But they don’t want knowledge for knowledge sake — they can source it on the Internet. A few keys:

  • Keep a career plan within their vision.
  • Explain why decisions are made so they understand how their roles connect to the big picture.
  • Be real about instructions — they need details — and set mutual expectations.

Get social: Learn new approaches to business. Text messaging, blogging, tweeting and Facebook are Gen Yers’ connection to the world. Help your company to embrace social media but do it in a thoughtful way by formulating policy around it; then allow Gen Yers to speak on behalf of the company.

  • Invite these social media-savvy employees to teach other team members to engage prospects and customers to further sales and marketing goals, based on those who are open to receiving messages in new ways.
  • Capitalize on their desire to volunteer for social causes to gain leadership skills and raise the company’s visibility in the local community.

Yes, the time required to onboard and manage new employees has surged but the payoff is building high energy, local and global citizens who are commited to making a contribution to the world. Every manager’s challenge is to help Gen Yers figure out how the job fits into their life plan!

About the Author

Lynn Schleeter ([email protected]) is director of the Center for Sales Innovation at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn. At the University’s heart is the largest, most innovative college for women in the nation. St. Kate’s also offers a range of graduate and associate programs for women and men. The Center for Sales Innovation is a national resource for women in sales. It is advancing excellence in sales talent among women who want to enter the field and women who want to grow their leadership skills. For more information, visit www.stkate.edu/sales and St. Kate’s Sales Club on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/St-Kates-Sales-Club/122857674426872

Susan Gunelius

Susan Gunelius is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Women on Business. She is a 20-year veteran of the marketing field and has authored ten books about marketing, branding, and social media, including the highly popular 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Content Marketing for Dummies, Blogging All-in-One for Dummies and Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps. Susan’s marketing-related content can be found on Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com, MSNBC.com, BusinessWeek.com, and more. Susan is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She has worked in corporate marketing roles and through client relationships with AT&T, HSBC, Citibank, Intuit, The New York Times, Cox Communications, and many more large and small companies around the world. Susan also speaks about marketing, branding and social media at events around the world and is frequently interviewed by television, online, radio, and print media organizations about these topics. She holds an MBA in Management and Strategy and a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing.

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