One of our most popular keynote programs these days is how to sell products and services to Millennials. Our youngest generation in the workplace can be a confounding mystery to their older brethren. Yet at 80 million strong, the purchasing power of the Millennial generation cannot be ignored. As such, savvy sales professionals and business leaders are gathering information and educating themselves on techniques to effectively sell to Millennials.
If you think about it, we are the first sales leaders in history that have faced selling to four generations in the marketplace: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Each of these generations sees the marketplace from a different vantage point, having been shaped by the events and trends that occurred during their upbringing.
Take a look at the table below:
There are 75 million Traditionalists. In fact, they still make up 2.5 percent of the workforce. The Traditionalists began working at whatever age it became necessary. Some at age 7, others no later than age 18. They believe that you are grown up when you need to be responsible. In other words, you could reach adulthood even if you were younger than 18 years old. Traditionalists have a strong work ethic and do not waste anything! Many of them were active in the military and became used to a hierarchical system. They passed down their acceptance of a hierarchical system to their children, the Baby Boomers. The events that significantly influenced Traditionalists were The Great Depression and World War II.
There are 76 million people who comprise the Baby Boomer generation. They are the children of Traditionalists. In turn, the Millennials are their children. Baby Boomers were brought up to take care of others. They believe you are grown up at age 18. On average, Boomers will hold three to five jobs during their lifetime. Currently, the bulk of buyers in the marketplace are Baby Boomers, but that fact is shifting rapidly toward the Millennials. Baby Boomers are very competitive. This is because they were the first generation that had to compete for a job with another generation. Prior to the Traditionalists, one generation would simply replace the next in the workplace/marketplace. Baby Boomers often define themselves by their jobs. They love to work and when they retire they become consultants. The economic advances and innovations of the Baby Boomers rapidly propelled the economy forward. The Boomers, however, are a split generation. Half of the Baby Boomers are influenced by Woodstock (i.e., peace & love), while the other half is influenced by the Vietnam War and the assassination of the Kennedys (i.e., roles & responsibility).
There are only 49 million men and women who comprise Generation X. In other words, they are not a replacement generation for the Baby Boomers. Gen Xers believe you are grown up when you complete your education (i.e., approximately 22 years old). They are tracking to hold six to eleven jobs during their lifetime. Generation X were the “latchkey kids.” Both parents worked and no daycare was available, so they were on their own a lot and had to entertain themselves. The shift to technology occurred during their childhood. Telecommuting was created as they entered the workplace. Generation Xers are frequently independent performers who want to do their own thing.
Last, but certainly not least, we have the Millennials. Many events have helped to shape the Millennials: The Gulf War, Columbine, Y2K, the dot-com Bust, 9/11, the Wall Street Meltdown, Bin Ladin. Is it any wonder the Millennials like security? Yet, they are a very impatient bunch.
"Savvy sales professionals are paying attention to the needs and preferences of millennials."
According to the Council of Economic Advisers, Millennials are now the largest, most diverse generation in the U.S. population. There are 80 million Millennials, and 15 percent of them aged 20 to 34 were born in a foreign country. Millennials have been shaped by technology. In fact, this generation has always known technology and the Internet. Their birthday presents were cell phones, for goodness sake. Millennials are also the first generation that can actually multi-task. As such, they are quick learners who voraciously assimilate information. Millennials value community, family, and creativity in their work. They are greatly influenced by their parents, who were loving, sheltering, pressured them to learn, and nurtured a close relationship. In fact, the average Millennial receives $423 per month from their parents, whether they are employed or not. Millennials are also influenced by their peers, whom they are in contact with frequently via various social media and electronic means. Millennials believe that you are grown up at age 30. They are tracking to hold between 15 and 30 jobs during their lifetime. They are decisive, good problem-solvers, and like to work and have fun at the same time. Millennials are the most entrepreneurial generation since the Traditionalists. But they do not automatically respect authority. Millennials know they can access any information they want immediately, and they have been taught to question everything. More Millennials have a college degree than any other generation of young adults. By 2013, 47 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds had received a postsecondary degree. Despite their great education, Millennials have faced substantial challenges in entering the workforce during the most pronounced downturn since the Great Depression. As a result, Millennials are less likely to be homeowners than young adults in previous generations. Also, many college-educated Millennials have moved into urban areas in greater numbers than their less-educated peers.
With regard to what Millennials want in a home, it mirrors what most of us want: location, location, location. Millennials like to be near everything. They want to live where they work, and not endure long commutes. With regard to financial considerations, Millennials are more likely to let financial reasons influence their choice of a home, as opposed to selecting the right size. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), most choose a home that is financially comfortable and is within their budget and means. Many Millennials do not have the money for a down payment, so they use unconventional zero-down mortgages. In some instances, Millennials are not the main decision- maker, since their parents are co-signing or taking out the loan in their name. NAHB states that many Millennials want to buy an existing home and fix it up. Also, Millennials tend to buy homes that are smaller, older and less expensive than homes bought by older generations. They tend to prefer 2,000 square feet of living space or less, nothing fancy or sprawling, and a maximum price range in the $200,000s.
When making purchasing decisions, Millennials use technology much more than previous generations. They read and research everything. It is as though they have a symbiotic relationship with Google. They set up ticklers and auto-alerts. They also like infographics, photos, and video. That being said, the Millennials I interviewed for this article stated they leverage their connections when making purchasing decisions. It is not uncommon for Millennials to shop for six to eight months before making major purchases.
So how do we sell to Millennials? First of all, gain knowledge of their perception of your credibility. One way to increase your perceived credibility is to focus on what they want in a sales professional. The Millennials I interviewed repeatedly echoed: “I want my sales professional to understand where I am coming from. Do not use a cookie cutter approach. Personalize.” As such, sales professionals need to demonstrate insightful functionality. Differentiate yourself by being consultative, relationship-oriented, and willing to listen. Confirm your understanding of their needs and customize solutions.
Another strategy to consider when selling to Millennials is to appeal to their entrepreneurial orientation and technology acumen. Many Millennials stated: “Provide us with tools and information. We can research online, create what we want, and ask questions if necessary.” For example, those Millennials looking to purchase a house often use resources such as Houzz.com. The website provides an online platform for home remodeling and design.
Use smart communication. Advanced sales techniques, such as reversing and paraphrasing, are essential when working with Millennials. It is imperative that sales professionals help Millennials feel understood, while also moving the sales process forward in a non-threatening way. Also, use the means of communication that is favored by Millennials. Yes, this may include lots of text messaging. And for goodness sake, do not ask them to send you a fax.
So what’s the bottom line? From a population standpoint, Millennials are the largest generation in the history of the United States. Their collective purchasing power is enormous, and it will do nothing but grow over the next 30 years. Savvy sales professionals are paying attention to the needs and preferences of Millennials. High-performing sales professionals are adjusting their communication style, as well as getting more comfortable with a variety of technologies and different viewpoints. Millennials are not fickle. They can be loyal consumers. Value them. Respect them. Have fun with them. And enjoy the ride—it is going to be long one!
Doug Van Dyke is a leadership and sales consultant, executive coach, and strategic planner. To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching and consulting services, contact doug@ leadershipsimplified.com or visit www.leadershipsimplified.com.
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