Keys to Inspiring (and Retaining) Your Millennial Sales Force

March 01, 2018 | Colleen Honan
Keys to Inspiring (and Retaining) Your Millennial Sales Force

millennials, sales leaders, sales enablement

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I love working with millennials and can’t get enough of them. But many sales managers I encounter don’t share this opinion and have a bit of a defeatist attitude toward them. Some of the complaints I typically hear are, “They expect to run the place on Day 1,” or “They job-hop like crazy – I know I won’t have them for more than 18 months,” or “They’re so entitled, thanks to their helicopter parents!”

While it may be tempting for sales managers to write off millennials, they know they can’t because millennials will make up 75 percent of workforce by 2025. Savvy sales managers know that a more productive approach is to acknowledge that millennials often do have a different set of values and behaviors compared to prior generations, and then develop strategies for working with them.

The first thing to understand about millennials is that their value system is not “wrong,” it’s just different. They tend to be more focused on work-life balance than previous generations. They also typically value “inclusion” in their work activities – they don’t want too much structure to prevent them from having a “seat at the table” with their seniors, where they can share their opinions and be part of the decision-making process. As an extension of this inclusion ethic, they also want to be actively involved in their own progress – to understand their specific paths to success so they can make sure they are doing the right things to get there.

I’ve also found that millennials bring a lot of other great qualities to the table: they’re often up-to-date on the latest technologies, they’re super-curious and ask a lot of questions, they’re very ambitious and have a thirst to learn, and they have real opinions that they’re not afraid to share. All of these attributes can be very valuable in the sales profession, and they’re the main reason why I love working with this generation – I wish I had 100 millennials on my team.

3 areas to focus on with millennials

Retaining sales reps is always a challenge, and it can be doubly difficult with millennials if they don’t clearly see how today’s efforts at work will translate into tomorrow’s career advancement. To retain millennials, it’s critical to understand these generational attributes and bake them into career development plans. Some key areas to focus on with them include:

  • Be proactive with their careers: You have to consistently set expectations and outline a career path for millennials. For example, when they start a new sales role, you should already be pointing them to their next role, saying: “If you do X, Y and Z, I expect you to progress to role B in 18 months.” I’ve actually formalized this process at Brainshark in our “Next Role” program. Many of our millennials typically start in customer support roles, and they often want to get into sales. So, I created a Next Role program where we pair them up with sales reps so they can listen to calls, learn how to negotiate, prepare for meetings, etc. This becomes motivational training for them, because there is a clear connection between what they’re learning, and how it will benefit them in the next stage of their careers.
  • Coach, coach, and coach some more: The good news about millennials is that they’re young and often new to the sales profession, so there are no bad habits to “unlearn.” Sales managers should take advantage of this and provide consistent, ongoing coaching for their millennial workers. Of course, the first step toward accomplishing this goal is to make sure sales managers are capable of coaching. In my role at Brainshark, for example, I put in place a “Future Leaders” program where people who want to get into sales management take a 12-week series of training sessions to learn what it means to manage and lead. We meet once a week, and participants have to be certified every step of the way, including in coaching. They also are certified at the end of the series as Future Leaders. By instituting coaching skills in sales managers, you can create a “culture of coaching” that is highly attractive to millennials (remember – they’re eager to learn!).
  • Make things fun: Using gamification and other strategies to recognize millennials goes a long way toward accomplishing the goal of giving “meaning” to their jobs. They long to be recognized – so create plenty of games and contests that enable them to achieve work goals and meaningful recognition.

I’ve found that millennials also really enjoy collaboration with others, so assign fun projects to teams, like orchestrating social and charitable activities. Millennials don’t want to just labor away at work – they want to enjoy the process at a social and spiritual level. (And when you think about it, that’s a very healthy attitude!)

There’s no question that millennials are a fundamentally different generation from those that preceded them. But those differences come with a lot of positives. You just have to do a lot of coaching, communicating and career developing. And if you do it right, you can focus their desire for growth and recognition in a way that motivates them to really excel at their jobs.

I’ll take more people like that any day of the week!

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