How to Attract the Next Generation of Sales People to Grow Your Business
As a young professional in the printing and distribution industry, and the youngest executive ever to serve on the board for the Print Services and Distribution Association (PSDA), I’ve had a lot of opportunities to observe the current state of the sales profession.
Although I’ve never had any formal sales management training (one could say I was thrust into the role), I have had great mentors, love to learn, and am an avid reader. Also, my first boss (VP of Sales) taught me more than he probably knows by allowing me to see the challenges he faced and learn from his mistakes.
So in looking at our ability to attract Millennials into the sales profession, here’s what I have observed:
1) There is an Age Gap
The challenge we have is in bridging the relatively large age-gap between highly tenured sales managers and their younger reps.
Ten years ago the majority of salespeople were older. Now companies are setting up internship programs and hiring college graduates that are skilled in technology. These younger reps are often asked to sell technology or marketing services only. The sales manager wants the younger group selling technology solutions that have a longer and more complex sales cycle.
At the same time, the sales manager wants the older reps selling products. Products equate to transactional business: small or one off orders that require lots of hand-holding. These are two entirely different types of sales.
How do you get the generations to work together?
Here’s the Solution: Have your sales team participate in online solution-based sales training together. For starters, there are lots of great online courses and videos that teach the fine art of effectively selling large systems. Try setting up a “reverse mentorship” program where the younger reps mentor the older ones.
The older reps will learn about technology and how to leverage social media, and the younger reps will learn about products and sourcing. You may want to throw a staff party and show The Intern. This movie illustrates how effective reverse mentorship can be. A young employee mentors Robert De Niro but the younger co-worker and founder, Anne Hathaway, winds up learning more from him. Old people rule! If you want to keep your young people, you need to invest in them and train them!
2) Senior Sales Leader Burnout
This challenge is about making sure sales managers are not stretched too thin.
In many companies doing less than $25MM in revenue, the sales manager also acts as the marketing director. This poor soul is expected to oversee the sales team and handle all marketing functions. While marketing and sales are becoming more and more intertwined, they require very different skillsets. Effective marketing creates online content that adds value to your product. New content must be created and distributed regularly and the messaging must be consistent across all mediums.
Just because you know how to sell does not mean you know how to write content, distribute content, manage social media and develop a marketing strategy. The sales manager can be so consumed with marketing campaigns that she fails to dedicate enough time to her sales team.
Here’s the solution to this challenge: Invest in Marketing as a specific process in your business. The sales manager needs to focus on sales management activities, where a dedicated marketing resource can drive demand generation, focus on content and support the sales team. Young people are generally much more in tune with the new technologies and social media marketing tools available today, and can benefit from working with sales leaders who understand customer problems and industry trends.
3) Lack of a defined sales process
One issue I consistently see is that companies lack a consistent sales process.
Many sales managers fail to take the time to setup a complete sales process. This “loose process” lacks the detail needed to be effective. It also causes the sales reps to lack consistency in their approach, leading to confusion and sporadic results. The organization conveys different sales messages, causing customers to pick up on the inconsistency. This makes it nearly impossible to maximize productivity and to forecast revenue.
It is critical that companies leverage a detailed and defined sales process from start to finish and use it. It’s important to include “after-the-close” steps. Follow-through during a program launch and follow-up after a program launches is critical. Test the process with different reps and ask for feedback. Review the feedback and refine the process. Constantly evaluate your process to ensure it’s relevant and going to deliver the greatest results.
Millennials want to work for companies where they can learn their profession and become competent quickly. Teaching a defined sales process where younger professionals can see results of their discipline is a way to attract and retain these future leaders of your company.
4) Lack of Data and Information
Most companies use a CRM or some form of tracking to capture sales activity (we simply use a Google Doc spreadsheet – but it works!). Many times sales reps will enter their information but it often lacks detail and important process steps. Many times a rep will note a lead but omit the timeline and percentage probability of the deal closing.
If a rep closes a deal, you want to know why. And you want to be able to learn and grow from the experience. Duplication is probably desired. If a rep loses a deal, you want to know why it was lost and how you can make improvements. Duplication is not desired. Data accuracy is another aspect of sales discipline.
Millennial sales reps will want to understand how your CRM or sales tracking system is used to capture the necessary information. By establishing the discipline of data hygiene – including names, timelines, company, percentage probability of sales, and contact information – you create an environment that is more attuned to the interests of the younger crowd.
So how do you attract Millennials to sell in your company?
Bridge the age gap and establish two way mentoring programs.
Separate the sales and marketing functions to create focus and leverage.
Establish a sales process so that young professionals can learn their trade with your company.
Be passionate about the value of data – young people are tech savvy and data aware – and will expect your company to use CRM platforms like everyone else.
My first boss was extremely open and honest. He shared his concerns, failures, and successes. He allowed me to learn from his mistakes and from my mistakes too. So make sure your sales leadership is in tune with the next generation of leaders, and we will join you and flourish!
For more information about establishing a formalized sales process, visit http://www.butlerstreetllc.com/sales-training or get a growth plan specific to the print industry.
Sarah Scudder is the Chief Growth Officer of The Sourcing Group, one of the fastest growing print distributors in the US. She’s the youngest executive to ever serve on the board for the Print Services and Distribution association (PSDA). Sarah is the CEO and founder of the Young Innovators Group that focuses on innovation and how to attract, hire and retain young people in the print industry. She’s a monthly columnist for the Print Services (PS) Magazine. She’s a winner of North Bay Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 award, Print+Promo’s Trailblazer Under 40 award and Print Services & Distribution Association (PSDA)’s Member of the Year award.