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The Magic in Managing a Multigenerational Sales Team [Guest Post]

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Many Sales Managers describe themselves as leaders, motivators, coaches, mentors, perhaps even friends of the people whom they manage. At the end of the day, the job is straightforward: focus time and attention on optimizing the performance of each member of the team. Managing sales people can be difficult.

If a “team” is a group of individuals aligned for a common goal, why does the concept seem to break down in the context of sales? Why does it feel like sales professionals so often operate autonomously, more focused on their own performance instead of the overall performance of the team?

Regardless of the reason, be it incentive-based, a reflection of the innate personality traits of sales professionals or simply a managerial oversight, we would argue that it is the sales manager’s responsibility to push the envelope. Instead of focusing on the individual as a member of the team, focus on the team of which the individual is a member.

The Multigenerational Sales Team, by Warren Shiver and David Szen, considers the potential opportunity that a multigenerational sales team can provide, subscribing to the long-held belief that a rising tide lifts all boats and illustrating how much value peer coaching can instill above and beyond what a single sales manager can offer.

What is a Multigenerational Sales Team?

A multigenerational sales team is a group of individuals whose members represent the three most prominent generations in today’s workforce: Baby Boomers (Born: 1945-1964), Generation X (Born: 1965-1979), Millennials (Born: 1980-2000) and Generation Z (2000-).

Each of these generational cohorts is characterized by specific attitudes and behaviors, which manifest themselves as unique work styles and preferences. For example:

  • Millennials are wildly ambitious, collaborative and have high expectations
  • Gen Xers are more pragmatic and balanced, seeking proof points to minimize skepticism
  • Baby Boomers are driven, focusing on transformative results, placing trust above all else

Understanding that these generational differences impact the way we engage with one another is the first step in being mindful of the greater impact that generational diversity has on our ability to build meaningful relationships, both internally with colleagues and externally with clients.

Take Stock of your Team and Your Competitive Position – Are you Ready?

Consider the individuals on your team and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do they represent various generations?
  2. How do we engage with one another?
  3. In what ways could our interactions be optimized?

Maintaining a multigenerational team can yield tremendous benefits, such as increased collaboration and the sharing of generationally-based perceptions, insights and best practices. By creating an environment where differences are acknowledged and capitalized upon, sellers have an opportunity to build relationships internally while openly discussing and testing approaches for how best to engage with clients in the field.

Optimizing Performance

While researching the impact of generational diversity on the sales process, Warren and David found that almost 66% of survey respondents, representing all three generations, cited generational differences as “Sometimes”, “Often” or “Always” causing friction within the Sales process.

Being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each generation is paramount to a sales manager’s ability to match up generational expertise when and where it matters most. Let’s explore two examples you may or may not be familiar with.

  1. Mentoring – Used to engage individuals within the organization, mentoring requires that an older and more experienced team member takes a younger and less experienced team member under their wing. Reverse Mentoring, popularized more recently, is another example of how generational knowledge can be transferred across party lines.
  2. Showing Bench Strength – Leveraged when engaging with buyers from a generation different than your own, sales professionals may tap a product specialist or subject matter expert that more closely aligns with the age of the buyer. Regardless of who taps who, there is immense value in being able to minimize snap judgements in the field by illustrating bench strength and subtly communicating the notion that, “we get you.”

Let’s explore another, more eye-opening example of how generational stereotypes could perpetuate hostility, limit the team’s potential and lesson their ability to scale best practices.

When Stereotypes Get in the Way

Millennials came of age during the rise of social media and have always been branded as technologically savvy. Their ability to effortlessly navigate social platforms paired with an intense respect for the power of reputational awareness in B2C forums is second to none, yet it turns out that very few Millennials leverage social media as part of a B2B sales strategy. Our research shows that a surprisingly high number of Millennials, 47% to be exact, “Never” or “Rarely” use social selling.

A recent Harvard Business Review article found that:

“Connecting with a prospect now takes 18 or more phone calls, callback rates are below 1%, and only 24% of outbound sales emails are ever opened. Meanwhile, 84% of B2B buyers are now starting the purchasing process with a referral, and peer recommendations are influencing more than 90% of all B2B buying decisions.”

Given the current selling environment, we found it perplexing that Millennials, who have all the tools at their disposal, don’t seem to be using them. After speaking with many Millennials on the topic, here is what we found.

[Page 82, The Multigenerational Sales Team]

“Although they have grown up with technology and various social media outlets, they may not yet possess a network of potential prospects. Their number of connections may eclipse that of a Gen Xer or Baby Boomer, but many of these connections are peers and most are not yet in decision-making roles. Another point to consider is that having grown up with more personal social sites, such as Facebook, Millennials may avoid the platforms altogether so as not to perpetuate a stereotype not suited within the world of B2B sales.”

In this situation, you have a generation that may not be optimizing their innate capabilities. On the flip side you have Baby Boomers, with sales experience and valuable networks ready to be mined that lack the understanding for how best to navigate these social platforms as they build out digital personas.

Sales managers must see through stereotypes to identify opportunities, and they must use these opportunities to open clear lines of communication. By doing so, they are able to perpetuate an inclusive and collaborative environment where all team members are valued for their unique talents and areas of expertise. Only then will a sales manager reap the benefits of scalable best practices and the ongoing sharing of institutional knowledge across their multigenerational team.

In Closing…

Each person’s generation can be seen as one of two things: an asset to be optimized, like a MapQuest app guiding you to your destination, or a potential liability to be avoided at all costs, like some societal taboo not to be touched with a ten-foot pool. Outlined below are the ramifications of both:

If ignored…

Multigenerational mashups are fraught with stereotypical assumptions and resentment. Born out of a lack of understanding and general lack of awareness as to why “they” are the way “they” are. Ignoring generational diversity impacts team morale and often leads to higher turnover, sunk costs related to training and development, loss of productivity and lower overall performance of the individual and the team.

If optimized…

You need only google the term “generational diversity” in the workplace to understand the positive impact generational awareness is having on everything from management styles and coaching to marketing strategies, retention efforts, flexible work schedules and even the design of the physical working environment. The preferences of generations are not just important for the sake of inclusion, but acknowledging them is becoming table stakes in recruiting the best and brightest across industries.

Beyond this obvious fact lies the power in having a team that is multigenerational and the ability to call on the preferences of individual team members as a guidepost for engaging with prospects and clients in the field.

For more information, check out The Multigenerational Sales Team.

Meet the Author

Kelsey specializes in aligning strategic objectives with tactical solutions in order to transform how organizations approach today’s dynamic selling environment. As a consultant with Symmetrics Group, she lends her expertise across client engagements and company-driven initiatives to ensure success

Sales Hiring Simplified!

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