There is an old saying where I come from: “Things aren’t like they used to be and they never were.” As Millennials and Gen Z enter the workforce, I’m seeing lots written about how companies need to change their culture to accommodate the “younger” generation. That may be true, but over many generations the sales process fundamentals of professional selling have changed little.
There Are Always New Kids On The Block
Me. I was a new kid entering business in the 1970’s. Born of parents from the Greatest Generation at the beginning of the post WWII baby boom. My folks had lived through the depression and WWII. Tough times to hear them tell it. They had little and wanted more for their kids. So they spoiled us. We baby boomers were the “Me” generation coming of age in the 60’s protest era and the sexual revolution. As we aged and settled down we produced Gen X: cautious, skeptical and self-reliant. My kids are now bringing Gen Z into this world after giving us the Millennials. Each generation has different characteristics of how we relate to one another, what we think is important and our comfort with technology. As great professional salespeople, we need to know and appreciate the differences.
But How Are We The Same?
My interests in how I view the world and what interests me are very different from my grandchildren’s. (Yes, I’m that old!) But think about how we get what we want. First we decide what it is we need or want. Then we tell someone who can facilitate getting that for us. In my day it was asking, usually at the supper table, for the new bike or an increase in my allowance. Now, I get a text with a link to the web page of what my grandkids are hoping for. When the need is known someone decides where to buy it, what price to pay and how to get it delivered. So, ever since two people bargained over trading things of value the buying process has been fundamentally the same.
Fundamentals Are Fundamental
The laws of physics are laws; they don’t change. They govern the actions of a baseball from the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand until it arrives at home plate. The pitcher through practice learns how to use those laws of physics to make the ball curve or “dance” on its way to home plate. Likewise when the bat strikes the ball the laws of physics govern where the ball will land.
The fundamental purpose of a business is to make a profit. The only way to do that is to find, win and keep good customers. Customers who value your product or service and will pay a price making it profitable for you to service them. Professional sales people know the fundamentals to make good sales: build rapport, find the pain, determine the budget, understand the buying process, make a compelling presentation and follow up. These fundamentals worked for my grandfather, for my Dad, for me and for my kids who are great salespeople.
Communication Skills Change
How great salespeople apply the fundamentals change over time. My grandfather and father’s greatest sales tool was their car. They traveled their sales territory daily meeting face-to-face with customers. Occasionally they used the telephone to phone an order into the office. My kids rely on email, the Internet, and cell phones to contact prospects and to find, win and keep good customers. While communication styles change, great salespeople today still have effective communication skills (in a variety of means, perhaps). They still ask good questions, listen actively to the answers, confirm what they heard, ask for the order to close sales.
It’s Still A Mix Of Personalities Out There
In the world of face-to-face selling people still buy from who they like, respect and trust. The buyer world is populated with folks from all generations today. Some of us baby boomers are still active. Gen X, Millennials and maybe a few Gen Z are now mixed into the workforce. Sometimes in large complex buying situations multiple generations are on the buying team (and hopefully the selling team). Understanding the general likes, dislikes and attributes of each generation is helpful. And the professional face-to-face salesperson has the skill to determine the likes, dislikes and attributes of the individuals they sell to.
What You Can Do Right Now
- Think about your A list customers. Where do the decision makers fall on the generation spectrum?
- Remember the last series of successful sales meetings. How well did you communicate with the buyers?
- Read about the general characteristics of the generations. Are these hints on how to relate to buyers within your generation and across generations?
- Inventory your sales skills. How do these skills need to change to do business with the changing generation mix?
Don Crawford & Lois Carter Crawford