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You’re 45 and the Evaluation Committee averages 30. What now?

June 21, 2013

You sell Enterprise insurance technology, classic B2B.  In reality, as far as Millennials are concerned, you’re in consumer electronics, B2C.  To them, technology is integrated into their work and personal lives with little to no compartmentalization.  They hold you to the same level of user friendliness and intuitiveness.  Think you’re not selling to Millennials, but selling to the 40+ CIO and CFO’s, or the SVP Ops?  Evaluation committee members are getting younger and want to be sold differently than Boomers and even Gen X’ers.

The demographics are clear – many sales reps are remaining in the field well past the time when they would have been managers in times past. Now, instead of selling to peers, the hands-on evaluators are Millennials and the going ain’t pretty. Many sales methodologies are geared towards Boomers and Gen X, as are our collateral and demos.  During a demo, we once heard an evaluator whisper to their co-worker, “I hate this meeting, they don’t get it”, and then start texting. No amount of sweet deals will overcome that. The good news for vendors is Millennials, as a cohort, are straightforward, openly transactional and we can all do without those people we’ve met over the years who are game-players, gatekeepers and information distorters. For all the good people we met, there were an almost equal number of ‘the others’.

Is this new wave of prospects that different? How do Millennials buy? 

  1. They require your product and their experience to be perfect from Day 1, actually from Day 0.
  2. We value features and scope; they value the user experience.  Functionality is table-stakes.
  3. They see each product standing on its own merits.  Don’t try to sell on the implied value of a family of products, unless that is their selection criteria, not yours.
  4. Opportunistic premium pricing is dead – your business model has to make sense from Day 0.
  5. Per Pew Research, 75% of Millennials have Social Media accounts and use Social Media to research peer reviews.  They move as a herd based on these reviews and are risk avoiders.
  6. Brands, to Millennials, are not static promises to stand behind your products.  Millennials see brands as being members of a group, sharing their experiences and opinions.
  7. They connect with vendors and user communities through a variety of channels in any order.  User Groups were perhaps the forerunners community identity – now, think Global and constantly in contact, not via the annual User Group meeting and exhibition, where the show is orchestrated by the vendor.

Do we sell them, or sell with them? What do we do?

  1. Build a new method to control the sale cycle, with guidance and a series of predefined steps for them to perform; let them customize your checklist/process map to their company and situation, but obviously be aware they may not see the larger picture to the extent you do. Your years of experience can be used to guide them appropriately (and to your benefit).
  2. They multi-task well, but research has proven multi-tasking takes away from critical thinking and complex decision making.  Don’t assume they see the detail level fit and benefits from your product – show it to them again and again until it becomes their insight.
  3. Provide avenues for self-research.  Have configurators, pricing engines, case studies, financial projection tools all available for them to use, on their own timing.
  4. Account control will be interesting.  Millennials are extremely straightforward and transactional.  Be open about what you need at each step, and specify what they receive for each task.
  5. They are loyal only to those who can help them succeed, not to companies.  They won’t “do the right thing for the company” automatically. Become their coach and mentor, not their friend.
  6. Since they are focused on personal advancement and growth, show how using your product not only makes today better, but provides a future strategy for advancement.

How do we create and manage this new sales process?

As we can see, we start to walk a delicate line between missionary work and genuine, make your numbers and stay employed, selling.  At the end of a Quarter, it will be hard to convince an investor, CEO or CRO of the value you’ve created building coach like relationships when all Management and the Board want are deals. What’s the Roadmap?

First, we have to examine our own sales culture (and company culture when you have the spare time).  Are we stuck in a 90’s culture, with a strict hierarchy, from Sales Rep to Regional Manager to VP Sales, with a similar approval structure?  Or, is our Sales organization flat and transparent so our employees, prospects and customers are culturally aligned, or do we wear golf shirts and play at it?  Do we use email because it is self-documenting and convenient for CYA or can we walk over or call or text anyone and get an answer that sticks? Marketing messaging also applies here, as Millennials are not interested in buying from a company focused solely on CAGR metrics, and which does not endorse and actively support an aim to make society better.  Your marketing cannot say one thing and your culture another as Millennials will sniff out the lack of authenticity in a minute.

Next, we have to ensure our sales reps are the right type, and we do that by hiring differently than the conventional phone screen followed by interviews approach.  The best companies actively collect sales specific behavior patterns through surveys and discussions on how their most successful and least successful (former) sales reps respond to specific sales cycle situations, particularly relating to Millennials.  From there, a ‘secret sauce’ recipe is developed and going forward, rather than a phone screen as the initial contact, you can test potential sales reps and compare their patterns to your proven blueprint.  Those candidates who are the best fit can then be interviewed for industry knowledge and role-playing.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, comes sales methodology, radically different than the rote methods previously used, we encourage developing a playbook with a range of potential actions at each step. As stated above, this Playbook is then shared with the prospect’s evaluation team, allowing for the creation of a unique opportunity sales strategy, but within the boundaries of proven actions.  Acting as a coach, the sales rep paces the sale, ensuring a feeling of a safe community decision, but without an overabundance of demos and presentations.  We recommend building a Model Office, where evaluation committee members can bring their typical transactions and watch as your personnel process it for them, perhaps followed by their own limited hands-on experience. Another salient point is to orient their selecting your product as not being ‘best for the company’, but as being equally (if not more than equally) ‘best for them’.

In the long run, Millennials, once we get used to selling to them, will be easier prospects and customers, with less game playing than some of us have seen over the years. We just need to adopt the right sales methodology and systems designs to accommodate their unique orientation.

Richard Eichen is the Founder and Managing Principal of Return on Efficiency, LLC , focusing on companies, initiatives and products where technology is the primary means of delivery and revenue. He is one of their senior turnaround, transformation, Program Rescue and Process Rescue leaders.  As a Change Agent, Trusted Advisor, Program Leader and Interim Executive, Rich has over 25 years hands-on experience reshaping companies, Operations, IT/Systems Integration and strategic initiatives.  He can be reached at richard.eichen@growroe.com, and followed on Twitter, @RDEgrowroe, or their website,  http://www.growroe.com .

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