Decoding the Millennial Salesperson

Step one: Stop using generational stereotypes and think of your employees as people first.
Employee Engagement Strategies

Do you speak Millennial? A Google search for the term will bring up several articles on how to do just that. However, the notion of "speaking Millennial" or engaging a population born approximately between 1981 and 2000 means subscribing to broad generalizations and stereotypes. Although Millennials are now the largest demographic group in the U.S. and are more racially diverse than previous generations, they are often depicted in popular culture as a homogeneous set. In reality it's more complicated than that.

In order for companies to successfully hire and retain employees, it's important to understand the candidate's mindset and experiences without relying on generational stereotypes. When hiring a salesperson, for example, it's more helpful to rate the candidate's ability to sell and connect with customers versus whether he or she is a "typical Millennial." Here, executives share their strategies for hiring and retaining Millennial salespeople.

Know your Customer
Given that many of its customers are Millennials, who better to sell to them than other Millennials? That is the approach Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance, is taking. Millennials make up nearly half of the sales teams at BHTP, and their numbers continue to grow, says Brad Rutta, vice president of marketing and communications who works closely with the sales teams. The company recruits many salespeople from this generation "because they tend to understand what we're doing on the digital front," Rutta says. "They're often already using the platforms that we want to engage customers on and it doesn't take much to train them on our product offering."

BHTP sells a variety of travel insurance products that customers can purchase on its website or through a travel agent. In addition to its internal sales team, the company also recruits travel agents as external resellers. The company has found a cross-channel approach that includes email, Web portals, and social media is helpful for engaging both prospective salespeople and consumers.

"In the past, travel insurance was mainly considered a luxury for older people, but Millennials are quickly becoming the largest demographic group that's buying insurance," he says. "And they are extremely Internet savvy so we have to make sure that we're communicating to them in the way they expect."

For example, BHTP collects leads on external resellers via an online form on its site. Using Salesforce's Marketing Cloud, the insurer aggregates the data along with other information like the candidate's LinkedIn profile before responding via email. Additionally, the company can apply its data about desirable agents to targeted ads on LinkedIn and Facebook to recruit similar agents. Also, internal sales reps may collaborate with the marketing department on crafting automated email campaigns. The company uses a similar approach to engage consumers who have also shared information like an email address with the company.

When it comes to training and retaining its Millennial employees, there's very little difference in what other employees ask for, Rutta observes. "For example, I may not be a Millennial but I would say that everyone wants the tools and the resources to be successful at their jobs and to be appreciated for their work," he says.

Share the Wealth
Indeed, while Millennials may have certain expectations of what they want in a job, there's a good chance other employees want the same thing, agrees Leela Srinivasan, CMO at Lever, a recruitment software provider. At the same time, there are a few nuggets of truth behind the Millennial stereotypes, she adds.

"There's no question that Millennials are heavy tech users and so the quality of a company's software and technology may affect their view of the company's brand slightly more than others," Srinivasan says. "An outdated website or clunky software detracts from the brand in a Millennial's eyes, which could be difficult for a company to swallow, but they need to fix that if they're going to recruit more workers." Especially for a sales role, the candidate must feel confident that he or she would be able to sell the product, and is interested in it.

Furthermore, "incoming workers, especially Millennials, value transparency which means hiring should be treated as a full-team sport," Srinivasan adds. Perhaps it's because they grew up in an age where information was readily accessible or were burned by the Great Recession. Whatever the reason, incoming workers want to feel assured that the job is the right fit for them and their goals. Srinivasan's advice is to invite candidates to sit in on a meeting with the team they would be working with or shadow an employee for a few hours to get a sense of what it's like to be part of the company.

And as for retention, high compensation and a clear commission structure continue to be key, but employers should also have regular discussions about the employee's career path. "Our strategy with our own employees-many of whom are Millennials-is to always be looking ahead and asking them if they're getting the experiences they want and how we can help them continue learning," Srinivasan says.

These strategies should be applied to all workers, not just one generation, Srinivasan adds. "The goal is to create an environment and company that anyone would want to work for, regardless of your age or your experience," she says. "Millennials may be the ones ushering in these changes, but really, they should apply to everyone."

Look at Experience Level before Age
Additionally, employers should realize that Millennials are not the issue-it's the fact that many of them are young workers, points out Vinda Souza, director of marketing communications at Bullhorn, a CRM technology provider. "Speaking as a Millennial myself, we're not that different other than being digital natives," Souza maintains. "In fact, a lot of the complaints levied against us have nothing to do with being a Millennial. The problem many companies have is with youth."

In other words, young workers may struggle to adapt to the office culture not because they're Millennials but because it's their first job. And instead of segmenting workers by generation, a more effective approach is to consider their experience level. For instance, the term "Millennial" encompasses a wide age group of twentysomethings to people in their mid-thirties.

"I've been working for a number of years already and I'm married with a baby so it would be inaccurate and nearsighted to assume that I want the same things as someone in their twenties just because we're both Millennials," Souza says. At the same time, Souza acknowledges that it's easy for people to categorize others based on appearances. But the sooner companies do the hard work of "treating everyone as individuals with specific goals and aspirations, the sooner they'll have employees who'll work hard for them."