This is a guest post by David Szen. David is an HBDI® Certified Practitioner specializing in sales training design, leadership development and coaching performance management. As a Principal Consultant at Symmetrics Group, David designs and delivers custom training programs for sales leaders and professionals. His book, The Multigenerational Sales Team, co-authored with Symmetrics Group’s founder and managing partner Warren Shiver, focuses on the increasing need for sales organizations to more effectively leverage talent from generational groups who think, sell and buy in vastly different ways.
According to estimates by the US Department of Labor, in less than ten years, Millennials will represent almost 75% of the workforce. But the multigenerational salesforce is already here, and businesses are struggling with how to develop a cohesive, collaborative team that not only manages through that diversity but thrives on it.
We heard about these challenges as we talked to business leaders while we were writing our new book, The Multigenerational Sales Team. Some of the key questions we explored were: How can generations with different perspectives find ways to successfully work together? And how do you recruit, train and deploy different generations of salespeople to build an effective sales team?
They’re issues that every sales leader needs to get a handle on for their organizations to remain competitive in an increasingly competitive selling environment, one where generational differences can have far-reaching impact.
A Closer Look at Generational Differences
To truly get the benefits of your multigenerational sales team, you need to first understand how the generations differ. Each generation has distinct characteristics, and these affect how people think, communicate, learn, make decisions and even what they value. In sales, it can be a particularly complex web, because in addition to the recruiting and training implications, generational differences between sales professionals and their prospect or client decision-makers influence the selling and decision-making sides as well.
Here are some of the differences in generational mentalities that we found:
- Entrepreneurial and eager to make their mark
- Confident and collaborative
- Respond well to small chunks of learning content at a time
- Value learning something new
- Task-focused, self-sufficient and demand efficiency
- Opinionated and not afraid of open banter at any level
- Have experience—crafty and know their shortcuts
- Value balance
- Driven and often transformational
- Want to share their knowledge and experience
- Relationships and respect are important
- Value trust above all else
But here’s the caveat: No one person embodies every single characteristic of their generation. Take, for example, two Gen Xers—one with children, a house and a mortgage, and one without any of those things. These people are in different places in their lives, so you can’t assume you know them just because you know their generation. Our advice? Take a slice of the generational pie, not the whole pie.
Tips for Getting the Most from Your Multigenerational Talent
As you look at how to leverage the thinking, perspectives and experiences of a multigenerational sales team, there are three key areas to consider: recruiting, training and managing. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Recruiting: Focus less on experience and more on behavior-based interview questions. For example, ask about a time when they had a really difficult customer and how they dealt with it instead of obsessing about how many years they have under their belt. Zero in on their place in life and aim to understand their need to succeed.
Training: Each generation has distinctly different learning styles based on level of experience. One key is to pay attention to the order in which you deliver information. For example, Boomers and Gen Xers typically want to get out in the field and show you their skills right away. Millennials, on the other hand, want some background information first.
Managing: It’s all about generational flexibility:
- Step 1: Be aware. Get to know the facts by understanding what the generational nuances are. Figure out what to be on the lookout for with each generation while being careful not to stereotype or pigeonhole people.
- Step 2: Observe behavior. Get to know how sales professionals and customers behave. Watch for influence from other generations. Avoid making assumptions about the adjustments you need to make until you know all the facts.
- Step 3: Adjust accordingly.
Once you understand the nuances of each generation and how they work, sell and learn, it’s time to tackle thinking preferences and weave the two together. At Symmetrics Group, we use the HBDI as a discovery and application tool to help clients diagnose, build insight and then apply thinking to their sales and management responsibilities.
For example, if we’re working on negotiation tactics, we’ll teach people how their thinking preferences under stress might clash with those of their customers—and how they can factor that into their planning and preparation to set themselves up for a positive outcome. Combined with an understanding of generational differences, it makes for a powerful selling strategy.
And there’s one more element in that “collective intelligence” equation that is so critical in building an effective sales team: We’ve found that many of the frontline sales leaders who are responsible for coaching have a relatively low preference for the Whole Brain ® Model’s C quadrant, which focuses on interpersonal thinking. This causes some tension, especially since the direct reports they’re coaching typically have more natural C- and D-quadrant preferences. So we help sales leaders understand how their preferences affect their leadership style and how to adapt their thinking to have more productive interactions with their direct reports.
Ultimately, generational and thinking preference differences have a profound impact on how we develop our sales teams and how we grow both individual and organizational performance. And now more than ever, if we’re not taking these nuances into account, they can become the unspoken killers of sales progress.
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