Millennials enter the nation’s sales teams as the most “parented” generation in history. This upbringing often leads to crash-landing when millennials try to take on the demanding responsibilities of monthly sales production. Sales managers are not prepared for this new generation of sales reps, and as a result, often encounter the following three scenarios.
Fast Start Fades: A sales manager hires an engaging millennial who seems full of fire and enthusiasm. The producer’s early success makes the sales manager feel good about the hire. But then it happens: he or she watches the new recruit’s enthusiasm and production fade.
Roller Coaster Rep: A new hire works hard to sell enough to meet assigned production numbers, and then falls short the next month. Back and forth, up and down. The producer sells just enough to get close to budget and then misses for two months—only to rise again, hit budget and survive being fired.
Character Losses: Despite their helicopter parents, many millennials enter a sales team without the basic character traits necessary to make a positive social impact on new customers. If they do meet their production goals, they may do so with poor customer satisfaction and unfulfilled co-worker needs.
New producers with these performance issues foster a poor sales culture with low referral rates and repeat business. This brings inconsistency to monthly sales production, creates high turnover and may impact the agency’s reputation and brand.
Building a productive sales team from new millennial candidates requires paying attention to two important areas: recruiting and coaching. Keep young producers from crashing and burning by using these steps:
Screen candidates using structured questions and validated profiles designed to identify the character and sales competencies possessed by a successful sales hire. These might include honesty, strong work ethic, a desire for independence and strong listening skills, as well as the ability to present solutions and meet deadlines. Look for candidates with a motivational center—meaning they have a specific reason to excel.
During the first 90 days, have the producer complete a lifestyle goal-setting sheet, which details the amount of money they need to survive as well as the additional money required to fulfill a better lifestyle (building savings accounts, paying off debt, saving for new homes, etc.). You will discover some of their motivating influences; both you and the producer will know what income is important and why.
Get to know the producer and customize your coaching approach. Interestingly, even helicopter-parented millennials do not often feel authority figures listen to them or that anyone has really tried to get to know them. What you learn will help you tailor your coaching for each producer. Ask coaching and mentoring questions. Start with anchor questions like, “What do you want?” followed by layered questions like, “Why is ____ important to you?” “What difference will not being able to pay for ____ make in your life?”
Help each producer develop a sales plan and show them the activity levels necessary to reach their lifestyle goals. Focus your producers on the activity levels (identifying prospects, making appointments and giving presentations), and then the character traits that will maintain these levels: hard work, perseverance, discipline, adaptability, inquisitiveness and good listening skills. As a mentor, teach producers how to handle setbacks and challenges. Many millennial employees have been taught that they deserve trophies and results merely by showing up. Recognize and reward effort, courage, persistence and self-discipline. For example, reward behaviors like meeting prospecting and appointment goals or handling tough customer problems with great service. Do not harangue new producers for results in the absence of a process.
Operate your sales team with standards in areas such as honest and ethical behavior, activity level, appropriate dress, customer follow-up and minimum sales results. Always explain why standards exist and how they help people. If standards are not met, make sure you enforce them at once; do not wait to make it clear what is acceptable and what is not. Then, make sure the producer knows that you believe they have what it takes to improve.
You can develop a high-performance sales culture with a millennial sales force through better recruiting and coaching. You will teach people to sell beyond quota, above survival and at the activity levels necessary for the income they want.
Lance Cooper is a keynote speaker and author of “Selling BEYOND Survival: The Essential System for High-Activity Sales Professionals.”