What Millennials Will Bring to Sales Leadership Roles

As a millennial working at a company full of other millennials, I wasn’t surprised to hear that our generation will surpass the number of baby boomers AND Generation X in the workforce in 2019.

In sales-focused positions, this means that the number of millennial managers is also increasing. This shift brings some uncertainty for more experienced sales teams as to what millennial sales leaders will excel at and what they will struggle with. This article will discuss a couple of the challenges and opportunities for success millennial leaders in sales will face for 2019 and beyond.

CHALLENGE: Lack of Experience May Impact The Team’s Performance

The average sales and marketing manager is 42 years old.

But as increasing numbers of millennials advance into managerial positions, even the oldest millennials (aged 37 in 2018) are still often less experienced than the typical current sales manager. Combine this with millennials’ tendency to job hop more often than other generations, the likelihood is strong that they’ll be moving into leadership roles with less tenure at that company.

Lack of experience and knowledge can cause a millennial to struggle when it comes to managing an outside sales team.

The typically remote nature of an outside sales team means members aren’t always in the office or easy to reach. As a result, effective communication—one of the hardest “soft skills” to learn for a younger manager—is more difficult.  This can result in millennial managers having difficulty keeping track of their team’s whereabouts, daily deliverables, and progress hitting revenue goals.

While time is often the best teacher and most will find their way after a some experience in a management position, this challenge can can impact your sales team’s morale and professional growth. Company sales growth may falter too.

CHALLENGE: Cultural Differences Between The Generations May Impact Workstyles

If you’ve been on the internet, you’ve almost certainly seen the way baby boomers and millennials feud about “the right way” to do things and how millennials are killing all sorts of industries with their new way of doing things.

As a millennial I can’t confirm that I’ve killed any industries, but I can confirm that the way my generation does things can be a bit disruptive in the traditional workspace.

For baby boomers who tend to prefer established approaches, this can cause personality and workstyle conflicts. This cultural intersection is particularly challenging when a millennial manager brings new or disruptive approaches to selling to the team.

Consider the fact that most decision makers in most companies are baby boomers who have reached the peak of their career.  They most likely enjoy traditional selling tactics, and may have mentored teams of Gen Xers and millennials in their more traditional approach to sales.

But as millennials move in team leadership roles, they may begin to shift key elements of the sales process.  One of the key areas this plays out in is differing views on technology’s role in establishing and maintaining relationships. Where the baby boomer decision maker would probably prefer a phone call or in-person meeting, a millennial may feel comfortable reaching out to prospects or customers with an email or text. Even small stylistic differences like this can disrupt sales and customer relationships.

Cultural issues like this are further extended into the workplace when you have a millennial in a leadership role. As a generation that is more inclined to use technology to communicate, it is important that they exercise its use with caution.

While email, chat or text may be fine tools for discussions between millennial  managers and their teams, discussions about larger issues—progress against goals or professional development—need to be face-to-face discussions.

These may seem obvious but newer or younger managers may not have yet mastered these important distinctions.

Generational differences have always existed in the workplace.  For sales teams of all generations, millennials coming to the helm brings significant opportunities.

Opportunity Number One: Fresh Perspective Can Solve Long-Standing Challenges

It’s easy to dismiss the new ideas that millennials bring to the table, but new methods could give your sales team the opportunity to overcome challenge and penetrate new markets  that they were previously unable to do.

Bold, disruptive ideas are especially crucial in an age dominated by distraction, showrooming, and cut-throat, price-driven competition.

For example, the Marketing Insider Group reports our attention span as consumers is only 8 seconds long. In order to make a decisionmaker listen, sometimes going bold is the most effective way to sell. Of course, this approach must be balanced with the fundamentals of effective selling — (1) proactive communication, (2) relationship management, and (3) flawless follow-through on commitments.

Millennial leaders also bring a new approach to the way that they work within their teams. As a generation, millennials often place a greater emphasis on teamwork than baby boomers. While maintaining a sense of competitiveness in outside sales is necessary for success,  sharing knowledge within your team will drive sales and open up new opportunities. For example, the entire team can collaborate on the best industry types to pitch so they don’t waste time on businesses that aren’t a good fit for your product. A leader who focuses on teamwork brings about a higher level of efficiency and millennials are particularly great at creating this type of culture in the workplace.

Opportunity Number Two: Leaning Into Technology to Increase Efficiency

It really wouldn’t be an article about millennials if we didn’t discuss our use of technology. Taking advantage of technology is one of the greatest time savers and productivity enhancers that millennials bring to the workforce. In outside sales the implementation of technology can help every part of the sales cycle.

  • The use of social media to find new leads and business opportunities that your team may not be aware of.
  • Route optimization software can save your team resources spent on busy work and increase face-to-face time with customers.
  • Mobile CRM applications can assist your sales team and manager with everything from order histories and keeping contacts up to date to functioning as a space to file email conversations with clients.
  • Robust, integrated project management systems can ensure none of your companies’ clients slip through the cracks.

The technology solutions millennials bring with them are game changers for your outside sales team’s time management, organization, sales numbers and more. But technology is just a tool. As long as your sales team’s communication skills are strong you can avoid the tension, ambiguity and potential loss of sales.

Don’t Fight the Generational Shift

Like anyone else transitioning into a leadership role, millennials will have setbacks to focus on, along with many strengths that they bring to their new position. The best thing you can do during this transition is focus on creating a balance of traditional and new age ideals, being open to the learning process and being willing to test out new ideas. Sometimes, a change is exactly what the business world needs.

About the Author: Mackenzie Jones is a writer and project coordinator at TechnologyAdvice. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, currently living in Nashville. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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