It’s no secret that millennials hate to be sold to. But many businesses are having a hard time finding millennials to fill their sales positions. And professional firms are really facing an uphill battle when they require new associates to spend part of their time focused on marketing and business development efforts.
A director at a large accounting firm recently shared with my business partner that he was meeting with an associate and asking about his business development efforts. This millennial employee was rather emphatic that he wasn’t doing anything for business development and didn’t see why he needed to “sell” because he went to school to be an accountant, not a salesperson.
That short response by the associate is a telltale sign of big trouble. At the very least, it indicates that there is a lack of understanding and buy-in from the associate for his goals, as well as a potentially defiant attitude that “it’s not part of my job.” There’s likely a host of other common challenges below the surface as well.
If you have a business model that requires young associates to eventually move into rainmaker positions, you could be in a world of hurt if you don’t stem the tide of discontent that is currently brewing with many millennials. The future of your firm depends on what you do now. Here are some of the ways that you can get your millennials on-board:
Millennials are soured on the idea and concept of selling. Consequently, they don’t want to have any part of it. There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that they seek authenticity and in their minds there is a conflict between “selling” and their personal values. I see this with many of my millennial clients. The solution is providing an integrity-based sales process and the proper training to get buy-in and acceptance. (That’s not to say that this is easily done…I am not adverse to pulling out whatever Jedi-mind tricks I need to get my millennial clients to embrace their sales roles.)
Related to the training, it’s critical to provide a deep dive into building skill sets and a way to integrate the application of their training into their daily/weekly sales activities. This means that a two-day program on selling is not going to hack it. Ongoing training provided by a skilled facilitator, application exercises, proper reinforcement and accountability, coupled with the appropriate mentoring, are necessary to change behavior and move your millennials out of their comfort zone.
Millennials love to learn and are looking for mentoring opportunities. There is no doubt that your millennial team members want to build their own expertise to become more valuable to the firm and their clients (not to mention the obvious value that learning has on their own career advancement). There is a direct link between building subject matter expertise and being a great salesperson and the dots have to be connected by the manager/mentor and trainer/facilitator with their millennial employees. Part of being a good salesperson using an integrity-based approach is being an expert that guides and counsels clients. In fact, the research by CEB is convincing in this area. Client loyalty starts with the sales process and hinges on salespeople who are subject matter experts who can properly advise and provide ongoing consultation. For more on this, check out my article, Is Customer Loyalty Dead?
Relating effective sales with professional growth can also be facilitated with millennials through different assessments or instruments as well. I use an Emotional Intelligence Assessment with my clients which becomes a great tool for not only the employee, but for their manager and/or mentor. The assessment looks at specific attributes that are necessary to be a good leader, as well as a good salesperson. Attributes like interpersonal relationships, problem solving, empathy and self-regard matter and participants can quickly understand how taking strategic action can make them more successful. The real value of the assessment, however, is that it opens up the door for some really insightful and meaningful conversations between a facilitator, manager and/or mentor and the employee. I find that employees are much more engaged in focusing on making improvements when they aren’t being told they “need” to work on some skill set or attribute, but when they get a copy of a report that puts it in black and white for them and they are engaged in deciding how they want to use the knowledge to grow professionally and personally.
Millennials also need to fully understand how what they are doing relates to the big picture. So as a firm, you must be able to connect the dots between their sales responsibilities and the success of the firm. In addition, they have to see that their professional growth is tied to sales and their ability to best serve their clients. This is not a one-time conversation, but a compelling message that is reinforced and is ingrained in the culture.
In fact, the recruitment and hiring practice of the firm needs to find the right candidates who share similar values, which includes understanding the role that all employees play in the customer experience and the firm’s revenue and growth goals. Expectations must be clearly communicated and discussed throughout the process and again once on-boarding begins.
Within the next two to three years, millennials are expected to represent 50% of the workforce. So this is not an issue that is going to go away. Bottom-line, if you want to grow your firm, you have to have the right strategies to engage your millennial employees to be part of the solution.