Millennials Killing the Sales Industry

Recent graduates and older millennials are quickly becoming one of the most valuable workforce opportunities for sales-focused firms. In fact, nearly 6.7 million young Americans graduate each year without having a job lined up. The result is a massive untapped pool of talent with some of the most sought-after demographic characteristics for successful sales outcomes, especially as it mirrors the ongoing sea change in consumer behavior.

Not everyone is cut out for sales. So how can a manager capitalize on the energy and momentum of young professionals to produce top-notch business development representatives, or BDRs without compromising their business? Let’s take a closer look at the hiring landscape below:

Why hire younger millennials?

A younger salesforce provides fresh perspectives, and your new hires can develop the complete sales “toolbox” you need for your business under the tutelage of experienced mentors.

Research suggests that millennials are more decisive than previous generations, place an emphasis on entrepreneurship and data-driven selling, and are acutely sensitive to the minute tones and attitudes of interpersonal communication. This hypersensitivity can prove to be an asset in new BDRs. Researching and validating sales prospects, establishing rapport with new leads, and strategizing new opportunities for sales growth are all capabilities that can produce huge results when undertaken by BDRs that bring a data-driven, communicative, and entrepreneurial millennial mindset to the job.

You might naturally be worried about employee retention since voluntary turnover accounts for more than $11 billion in reported U.S. business losses each year. However, comparing 25-year-olds to 40-year-olds won’t accurately represent the possible flightiness of your potential hires. Generation X changed jobs more frequently, not less than millennials when they were the same age. Today’s young workforce is more likely to stick around, provided they’re offered the proper incentives.

How do younger employees want to work?

Millennials are intrinsically motivated to seek opportunities that personally appeal to them in their job hunt. In fact, if a brand or company isn’t in line with their personal values, or if the benefits package isn’t appealing to them, 72 percent won’t even apply for the job. Marketing your company to a younger cohort of employees involves more than listing job qualifications or placing ads on LinkedIn. Today’s young workers want to know their organization’s identity, and they want to know that their work has real-world significance.

Millennials are also notably more informal than their older counterparts. This doesn’t mean they’re impolite — on the contrary, they’re more conflict-averse than older generations — but they typically favor a more casual demeanor and communication style, in stark contrast to the more scripted salespeople of old. This makes them great candidates for sales roles, especially those built around the discovery and development of new business relationships.

Since millennials are now the most populous generation in the American workforce, BDRs that can speak their language, in their preferred communication styles, will be much more likely to form the connections necessary to close new deals. The first millennials were born in 1980, and many older millennials have by now ascended to management and the C-suite.

What can you do to attract younger workers?

The generational divide certainly has the potential to create a clash of cultures. However, the opportunity to learn and grow is appealing to both sides, from both intellectual and financial perspectives. It’s no wonder big-name brands are actively recruiting college graduates to their sales programs in a variety of ways.

Tech giant Oracle is one standout example. CEO Mark Hurd’s groundbreaking “Class Of” program recruits recent college grads and even provides housing in a luxury apartment complex, complete with an on-site fitness facility, sited on Oracle’s Austin campus. Facebook also jumped on the millennial-hiring bandwagon recently by constructing a similar all-inclusive living space for its new hires on its Menlo Park, California campus. Other companies also push the envelope with the perks they offer, which we’ll touch on a bit later. Either way you slice it, recruitment techniques have become as fluidly diverse as the workers they’re attempting to attract.

How can you best manage a younger workforce?

Getting younger workers in the door is half the battle. Making them productive and shaping them into the best BDRs they can be proves to be the more difficult path, but it’s ultimately the most rewarding in terms of revenue and efficiency.

Focus on “hard skills”

Product fluency is critical to the success of the next generation of BDR all-stars. Getting up to speed on the full scope of any and all product offerings a rep needs to sell is easily one of the trickiest aspects of onboarding for any sales job, but it’s crucial to the strength of a compelling sales pitch, especially for BDRs in complex technology verticals or other highly development-driven industries, such as healthcare.

Younger workers tend to be extremely technologically adept, but they often lack experience in channels essential to new client generation. BDR core competencies, such as lead generation via cold calling, cold email outreach, and networking, as well as professional phone etiquette, are finely nuanced skills that take time and quality mentorship to master.

Luckily, the relative ease with which millennials adapt to new software makes them more likely to excel with complex CRMs or more comprehensive sales and marketing platforms that can help build their comfort with cold calling. Few younger people master the tried-and-true methods of business development early on now that where selling is pushed as an “easy” alternative. There’s just no way around it: your team needs to be able to use (and close on) the phone. There’s no one-size-fits-all sales strategy. A more well-rounded sales skill set will serve your BDRs well. That said, the social media acuity of younger generations can also be a powerful sales tool when appropriately utilized.

Provide perks that count

Free lunch is nice, but it doesn’t scream “long-term engagement.” The employee experience is key to retention for sales roles, which are often plagued by stress, burnout, and exhaustion, leading to high turnover. Millennial workers place greater emphasis on their personal affinity with a product, brand, or company, and a comprehensive benefits package that suits where they are in their life and career is a good way to build that connection.

The traditional 9 to 5 job is fading away in favor of flexible work arrangements, telecommuting, and paid time off. Health insurance is a baseline perk, but many companies are even offering student loan repayment and tuition credit benefits. While you don’t have to go as far as shelling out for pet insurance like Microsoft, it’s good to take note of what other companies are offering as various “trendy” perks become standard practice. The corporate world is changing, and in order to keep up, companies must be willing to make short-term financial concessions to build the foundation for long-term employee engagement and retention.

Foster a culture of positive competition

A little healthy competition never hurt anyone. Setting internal team goals, even outside of an established sales quota, is a great way to foster a friendly spirit of competition and camaraderie amongst your younger sales team. Giving your BDRs multiple goals to aim for can serve as great motivation to help them exceed your expectations.

Focus on incentivizing the right things. You don’t want to reward rushed or sloppy work. Establishing clear guidelines, offering group rewards for reaching certain quotas or targets, and recognizing top performers, are all key approaches to building a team of top-notch BDRs.

Offer continuous constructive feedback and a clear path for career growth

Professional development is a continuous process. One of the most important factors impacting employee retention is the feedback, positive reinforcement, and straightforward expectation of growth that you provide.

Millennials might seem like a different species to older generations, but when it comes to work ethic, they’re not all that different from anyone else. We all want the same things: to find fulfilling work, to be recognized for that work, and to know that there’s a path for us to move up in the ranks and positively impact the next generation of workers.

Recruiters are increasingly looking to millennials for top sales talent. But training the next generation of BDR superstars involves more than just a solid first-day speech and a free lunch. It requires a steady hand to shape and manage a talented, ambitious, a passionate, inquisitive workforce that will ultimately positively impact the bottom line.


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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