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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Help! How Do I Coach a Millennial With Sales Talent?

coaching millennials with sales talentIf you have hired a salesperson that is younger than 36 years old, you hired a millennial. And you may sometimes feel like many of the other sales managers I talk to every day…

  • “They need lots of handholding.”
  • “They lack the drive of the generations before them.”
  • “They can be overly sensitive and more focused on making friends than making sales.”

As a Talent Analyst, I spend a lot of time identifying people’s innate sales talents and helping managers make smart selection decisions. Once each hire is made, I work with the sales manager to turn talent into ever-increasing performance by maximizing each seller’s strengths and working around their weaknesses.

So my attention is sharply focused on two things: Talent and Fit. 

First, I need to determine exactly what talents a new hire would bring to the table, and then I need to help the sales manager consider whether those talents are the right match for the job and for their management style. When considering fit, we always have to consider the manager’s own talents as well as their available time, resources, and desire to coach each individual in the way they need to be coached.

As you can imagine, when the prospective hire I am discussing is a Millennial, sales managers are especially interested in how their generational characteristics may play into the fit.

Some of the managers I work with are willing to hire younger sellers regardless of the bad rap tied to their generation. They may feel a little anxiety, but once we talk about the behaviors they are likely to see and how they might coach them, they believe it’s worth it. Other sales managers believe that even a highly talented Millennial would be the wrong fit for their style. I spoke with one manager last week who, regardless of how wildly talented the individual might be, will never hire a 20-something because he knows himself and recognizes that he lacks the desire to give a younger seller the kind of support they would need to succeed. Regardless of where the manager falls on that spectrum, it is always important that I provide the talent assessment in the Millennial generation context.

In order to provide top-notch coaching to our clients, I work hard to stay on top of the latest information out there–and I find myself especially fascinated with the Millennials. Not too long ago I had the pleasure of joining a Brad Karsh webinar entitled, “Dude, What’s my job?” If you have the opportunity, I would recommend that you attend one as well.

Karsh opened the webinar by spotlighting a Time magazine article on the frustrations of working with the younger generation. Quoting from the magazine, he read complaints about their inability to make decisions, their lack of desire to take on real responsibility, and their utter laziness.

And then he threw us for a loop when he revealed that the issue of Time that he was sharing with us was from 1990! Over 23 years old, the article was talking about Generation X!

So, clearly there are a couple of things going on here. First, there may be some validity to the differences in the Millennial generation. There is no doubt that they are a bit different than the cohorts that preceded them. But, it also seems pretty likely that as we age and become both more mature and more experienced, we forget what it’s like to be in the shoes of a younger person.

I took tons of notes during the presentation, but here are a few of the facts and takeaways about Millennials.

4 Facts About Millennials You Should Know

(If You Plan On Working With Them)

  1. Fewer teens hold summer jobs now than ever before. Instead of flipping burgers, they are attending soccer camps, going on mission trips to Africa, or getting ahead with summer classes. While they are busy and becoming more worldly, they are not developing the same sense of duty that you get when you are clocking in and out of a tough job for the entire 12 weeks of your school vacation.

  2. Twenty-five years ago, business icons were rich, white, old men. Donald Trump, Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch… The young people of that generation thought that if they worked hard and got lucky, they might achieve that same kind of success in 30 years. Today’s business icons look totally different, though. They are young, smart, wacky millionaires and billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, the Google guys, or the Birchbox creators who built their company during their last semester at Harvard in 2010. Today’s youth has been raised to believe they have every right to be at the top of the food chain. Now.

  3. Teens today are highly scheduled, supervised, and busy. They advanced from highly-supervised play dates as preschoolers to highly-supervised soccer camps, art classes, and teen tours as they got older. Regardless of their age, their norm is for someone to tell them exactly what to do and when to do it – and that kind of structure gives them a sense of security.

  4. Those of us in our mid-thirties or older would agree that when we were growing up, many of our questions were answered by adults telling us, “Go figure it out.” So we did. And that now feels normal to us. Kids today are told, "if you don’t understand, just ask!" And when they do ask a question of their tutor, coach, teacher, or parent, they usually get a pretty thorough explanation – and sometimes even a demonstration, to boot. That’s what they expect from their managers.

It’s pretty easy to see why these four key generational differences might be at the root of the enormous disconnect between many Millennial workers and their managers today. In the second of this two-part blog series, I’ll give you 24 very specific ways to activate a Millennial’s sales talents and turn those talents into performance.

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Editor's Note: This post was originally published on February 17, 2014, and has been updated.