Five Secrets Of Selling To Millennial Customers (Plus: How Old-School Sales Training Turns Them Off)
Micah Solomon , December 2017
There’s widespread panic afloat about how to successfully sell to millennials. This makes sense, because the majority of sales training and sales documentation in circulation is painfully dated, and guaranteed to get you off on the wrong foot with almost any millennial customer you’ll encounter. So if you’re feeling this fear yourself (which I've found brewing among retailers, service businesses, professionals, and B2B companies alike) let me give you the bad news, straight up: You’re probably right that you don’t know how to sell to millennial customers.
Before I help out with my five secrets of successfully selling to millennial customers, let's first review why millennials are so important to the success of almost any business–and to any sales professional who wants to keep earning a good living. Millennials matter because of their sheer number and the amount of spending power they represent. Millennial customers–born between 1980 and 2000, give or take–are a generation that’s even larger than the baby boom at its height. And they will soon be bringing to your business the greatest spending power of any generation in history.
You can easily miss out on this generational windfall if you don’t adapt to how millennials see the world. Millennials’ expectations as customers have been shaped by a lifetime’s immersion in the fast-evolving worlds of online commerce, search engines and on-the-go connectivity. The phones these young people use have always been smart. The Internet has always been on. These are customers who’ve likely never waited in line at the bank, who’ve rarely waited for letters to arrive by mail, who’ve seldom had their musical choices limited to the radio or to what can fit on a mass-marketed CD. Millennials have grown up at a time when it’s possible to align their shopping with their values—the chance to choose humane, green, fair trade, organic, employee owned and so forth, or not. [This paragraph is a paraphrase from my Forbes book on the subject, Your Customer is the Star: How To Make Millennials, Boomers and Everyone Else Love Your Business, where you can find more on the subject.]
These factors and others–some broad, some nuanced–affect the kind of service and sales approach that millennial customers expect from a business, and lead to my five selling tips to help you win over millennials and have them open their wallets, or tap their Apple Pay, for you. (If, as you read these, you find that these sound like sensible sales approaches for working with any customer, regardless of age, I confess to sharing that opinion as well. The norms and expectations that millennial customers bring to the sales experience are rapidly spreading to other generations as well, both because millennials themselves interact with and have an impact on the older generations–millennials' older siblings, parents, and grandparents–and because older generations more and more are being exposed to the same influences that previously had only affected millennials. My favorite quote on this subject comes from Christopher Hunsberger of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts: “Millennials are an important group of guests in their own right. But their significance is more than that. They’re a unique group in terms of their impact on the rest of our customer base. The behaviors and expectations of the millennial group tend to shape the thinking of the rest of us.”)
1. Strive for unscripted authenticity. Millennials want to deal with a human being, not a chip off the corporate block of permissible responses. As a sales professional, bring your own personality, or at least the best of your own personality, to the selling process, and millennials will respond positively. (Needless to say, though I’m going to say it anyway: canned approaches and tricks–“Shall we use my pen or yours?”–are a guaranteed turnoff to this generation.)
2. Display an attitude of “You [the customer] have a lot of knowledge, and I respect you for it.” Millennials don’t like to be talked down to. Plus, the reality is that your customers probably do know a lot, because of the Web’s offerings of expert, as well as crowdsourced, knowledge. I’ve run into many professionals, from automotive retailing to those in the medical profession, who have a hard time accepting to this reality, but it’s essential that you do, if you want to succeed with customers today.
3. Drop your insistence that a sale has to be made today (the “What’s it going to take to put you in this baby today?” approach). Your stance should be more along the lines of “Take all the time you need; I’ll be ready whenever you are.” False-urgency techniques that may have worked for you in the past actually work against you with millennials. This generation of customers were born with excellent baloney detectors, and they’re used to an almost infinite availability of products and suppliers. So if you take a “this offer is only available today; don’t walk out of the store and miss out” approach, a millennial is going to say “whatever,” and walk over to your competitor, or just find what they’re looking for online.
4. It’s fine, if you’re a commissioned salesperson, to make it clear that this sale matters to you, but this needs to be coupled with an attitude of “what matters to me most is your happiness and the excitement of this phase in your life.” Strive to honor concerns that go beyond the sale as a transaction. Show that you’re interested in the emotions – positive and negative – of this buying decision, which is likely both an exciting and a stressful moment in your customer’s life.
5. Be savvy about technology. Millennials hate when lack of technology or poorly-used technology gums up the works. Sometimes being savvy about technology is as simple as letting the customer do the data entry rather than you; why should a customer have to sit there watching you labor over typing their difficult-to-spell last name when you could hand them the POS tablet and they could take care of it themselves? Sometimes, being savvy about technology is of course much more involved, as it was for the automotive retailer, featured in my article, that developed its own software with the goal of creating a more millennial friendly sales process and customer experience.
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