Millennials are always on their phones. They change jobs regularly. They expect constant, immediate feedback. These are just a few of the criticisms leveled against Generation Y. All of these things may be true, but they have upsides as well. Millennials are up-to-date on current technologies. They have the long term in mind for their careers, refusing to settle for anything less than the best. They want to learn and grow.
It can be difficult to see these upsides, however, when you feel like you are not connecting to a client, coworker or employee from a different generation. We spoke with two experts in the industry on how to approach business relationships with different age groups. Understanding your client, your sales representative or coworker will be easy if you practice the following tips:
Social Media Matters, but Not as Much as You Think
“While we have social media accounts (and maintain an online presence), we do not, however, typically interact with our customers in this manner,” said Devin O’Brien, M.A., senior consultant, O’Brien Corporation, St. Charles, Ill. “Our communications tend to be broad (generally updates or holiday wishes)—and with respect to our efforts—we don’t tend to generate too many responses, specifically on the sales side.” O’Brien admitted that the lack of interaction on social media is two-fold: He is not well versed in using it as a sales tool and O’Brien Corporation’s customers are not receptive to it.
Sarah Scudder, chief growth officer for The Sourcing Group, New York, had a different take on the role of social media in print sales. “I think social media is relevant in any industry. We are a ‘now’ society. We want news and we want it yesterday,” she said. “If a company does not have a social strategy and they are not leveraging it, they are missing out on a huge opportunity.” Scudder emphasized the importance of using social media as a strategy for becoming a thought leader in the industry. “It is really important to stress having a strategy. It is not just throwing something on Facebook once in a while,” she said.
Because change can be challenging, it is sometimes met with resistance. O’Brien offered advice to the social media averse. “I think a good way to gain comfort with social media is to understand its practical use and why it’s important to the sales process,” he said. “Individuals may not have to directly utilize the tools (e.g., make posts, etc.); however, a solid (high level) overview with practical application and expected/realized results can go a long way to loosening the tension. If it works, keep doing it.”
Scudder also pointed out that social media can be an avenue for younger generations to get more involved in the industry. “That is the outlet where they are hiring younger people,” she said.
Yes, You Need Unlimited Texting
Regardless of your age or your client’s age, selling is based on relationships. Technology helps enhance those relationships. “Emails and text messages are the standard vehicles for ‘now’ communication, and contemporary enhancements have made the processes as easy as ever,” O’Brien remarked. “Technology, as a whole, is fairly broad, but the fact that I can go online, find a video about a bourbon tornado fire in Tennessee and send it to my distillery customer makes creating touchpoints incredibly easy.”
Technology does have its limitations. “When you have a diverse salesforce like O’Brien [Corporation], it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page (e.g., CRMs, cloud storage, email marketing, etc.),” O’Brien said. “The old ways work for the older generation, but to be a well-oiled sales machine, everyone needs to be on the same page, using the same tools and applying them in a consistent way. As time goes on, the technology gets more enticing to millennials like me and scarier to the baby boomers (and some Gen Xers). As the gap grows, it gets hard to manage the new and exciting resources when buy-in is low, or understanding is low.”
Face-to-face Selling is Still No. 1
Despite the benefits of texting and emailing, meeting with a client face-to-face is still the best option if you want to land the sale. “The Internet and technology are great, but nothing beats a personal, face-to-face relationship,” O’Brien said. “If you put your eggs in one basket with online (faceless) sales, you’re going to have a bad time. We are humans selling to other humans. It says a lot when you do it in person.”
Scudder agreed. “People buy from people. People don’t buy from companies,” she said.
If younger generations are having trouble adapting to the face-to-face selling routine, the best way for them to learn is by experience. “Millennials can be very ‘me me’ and it’s important to know that no one cares about you and no one is going to help you,” O’Brien remarked. Harsh, perhaps, but it is advice he gives from experience. “I was thrown to the wolves in my first years and blamed others for not helping me grow my business. You have to fend for yourself and only you can make yourself successful.”
Regardless of age, tech know-how or any other factor impacting your relationship with a client, modify your sales and communication technique to the client. “It really depends on the person. We all experience the world differently and generation is only one factor in the development of who we are. Generally, we’re all human and want the same things out of our communication (respect, active listening, compassion, etc.),” O’Brien said.
Scudder mentioned that tailoring communication to the recipient is also important for employees or coworkers. “I think something that is really important is to understand peoples’ communication styles and the ways they perform and like to work best,” she stressed. “Whether you are dealing with employees in your own company, prospects or clients, it is important to establish early on what is most effective for them.”
Why Working with Different Generations Works
For companies to be successful today, there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between older and younger generations. Scudder is attempting to do this with her organization Young Innovators Group. “I am passionate about the print industry and think that we need to engage young people and constantly innovate to remain relevant,” she said. Industry veterans are starting to retire so they need to find young industry professionals to replace them. “You need young, innovated bodies in order to be successful today,” Scudder said.
Having representatives from every generation enhances an organization. O’Brien mentioned that O’Brien Corporation has employees from various age groups, but they learn from each other. “Finding common ground with so many different types of people can be a real challenge; however, each group brings something unique and special to the table,” he said. “The goal is to harness each of our special talents and apply them effectively toward the organization’s mission. I always think of it like basketball: You can’t have five point guards; we have to value our diversity and leverage our unique skills (e.g., 3-point shooter, big man, passer, etc.) and maximize each other’s capacity to be successful (give each other alley-oops). We’ll never all be the same, but we can definitely be successful despite our differences.”
One way younger generations can help older ones is to show them their vast online network. O’Brien noted that millennials have excellent support networks, online and in person. These networks are something older industry personnel could tap into. “Keep in mind while the world is crazy and chaotic, [millennials tend] to share well and we can help each other grow professionally.”