The Millennials are Here

What are the Implications for Quickly Ramping Up Millennials into the Sales Force?

Millennials – a/k/a Millennial Generation, Generation Y, Generation Next, Net Generation, Echo Boomers – describes the demographic group following Generation X (the cohort that followed the Baby Boomers). The dates marking the starting and ending birth dates for the Millennials varies by what you read, but the most referred to is the mid-1970s and the early 2000s. The largest generation since the Baby Boomers, the Millennials will have a huge impact – socially, economically, and even on sales training!

In January, the Corporate Executive Council argued that it’s “critical to understand how Millennials operate” before determining how to communicate with them. It presented a starter list, including:

  1. They have a need for speed – wanting instant gratification and early, frequent feedback. And, as many of us have found, they expect to progress in their career path rapidly.
  2. They’ve received constant praise – considered a generation nurtured by their parents who were very involved in their lives – we’ve all heard the phrase “helicopter parents” – Millennials believe there are no “losers” because everyone wins a trophy.
  3. They want meaning – Millennials are eager to learn and believe they can make an impact.

So, given these characteristics, what does are the implications for ramping them up quickly – starting with building sales training?

First, Millennials are eager to learn, so take advantage of that mindset. They come to a sales training program with a positive mindset when pre-program communications share how attending the training will improve their performance – resulting in an impact for their customers and for their careers.

Second, use only fast-paced, interactive designs. Traditional stand-up training where an instructor walks through a slide deck doesn’t succeed with Millennials for two reasons – the program are too slow and too restrictive for an audience used to video games, texting, and Facebook. They are also too solitary – it’s the sales rep alone as the learner interacting with the instructor … perhaps with occasional exercises thrown in. Millennials, however, were raised to value collaboration over competition – seeking input, knowledge, involvement, and feedback from their peers. Sales training that succeeds with Millennials must be fast moving – and interactive!

Third, build on their receptivity to feedback. While Millennials may believe everyone wins, they are open to coaching and feedback to improve – providing an excellent opportunity for sharing best practices and critiquing their performance – positioned as a developmental opportunity.

Finally, let’s talk about the atmosphere. Everyone likes fun – and Millennials surely do. Building fun into the sales training program is important to keep Millennials engaged.

People often note that we can complain about Millennials and reject them … or we can connect and capitalize on their talents. The latter is clearly the way we need to go.

So, what does this mean for sales training? Well, as previously mentioned, it is doubtful that putting Millennials in a room and sharing slide after slide will work – nor will just sprinkling in a few exercises. Rather, we’ve found that flipping the lecture/activity ratio around has a must greater chance of achieving success. Simply put – build sales training focusing on experiences using slides to introduce bits of content along the way. This model lets the Millennials spend most of the sales training program actually “doing” – working in groups and receiving feedback to improve their performance along the way.

The “Cadillac” of this method is sales simulations. We’ve found that sales simulations – where content is presented before the sales simulation either in a classroom setting (where, again, exercises are the focal point) or in pre-work – provide an ideal opportunity to engage Millennials. Why? They sales simulations meet the four criteria mentioned above: They are very interactive, face-paced training programs, where sales reps collaborate. And, they incorporate the challenges the sales people face. These attributes mean sales simulations are able to engage the Millennials from the start.  And, of course, they can be competitive teams, too.

© 2011 – 2014, Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer. All rights reserved.