The B2B workforce is changing with the arrival and promotion of millennials, but how does that affect how your company approaches sales. In the following interview, Dustin Grosse, Chief Operating Officer of ClearSlide, a sales engagement platform that empowers sales teams to engage customers, shares his thoughts about the changing dynamics of buying, selling and managing the generation that is out to save the world.
1. As more millennials continue to join B2B companies, what is their role in the buying process? How are the roles of researcher, recommender and buyer changing as a result of this new generation’s involvement?
Millennials are an increasingly important — by 2020, it is estimated that they will make up more than 50% of the workforce. They are fast becoming decision makers in their respective companies and have a fundamentally different approach to the way they research, recommend and buy. Millennials were born with cell phones and computers in hand – with 87 percent of millennials saying that their smartphone never leaves their side. Competition for millennials’ business is only a click away.
Traditional sales processes have been linear in nature, from qualification to educating the buyer to creating interest to close. That approach is dramatically changing in part because of millennial buyers — they do research and learn about products on their own, through consuming content and consulting social networks and blogs. In fact, buyers are now as much as 57% of the way through the buying process before actually engaging with a seller.
2. How does a B2B sales team adapt to selling to an organization populated, or even dominated, by millennials?
It is critical for modern sales organizations to learn to sell where buyers are, and most importantly by engaging buyers where they do their research. Social communities like LinkedIn and Twitter allow buyers to understand your value proposition while doing their own online research, and they readily consume valuable information like videos, blog posts, how-tos, testimonials, and more to form their impressions.
In fact, millennials are more likely to trust information found in these social communities because they believe they provide more accurate, authentic information — 62% of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. In order to remain competitive in this changing landscape, sales teams must make a strong effort to represent their brand positively across these platforms.
Since most of the information gathering happens before any direct interaction with a company, sellers have to learn how to adapt to where buyers are in the selling process. Linear sales pitches end up frustrating millennial buyers and risk lengthening the sales process. Sellers today need to ask questions, listen, and demonstrate value that aligns to what the buyer already knows and what they need to know to move the sale forward.
According to a study by the Alexander Group, salespeople spend as little as 15% of their time actually engaging with customers. With so little time in front of the customer, it is imperative that every interaction is optimized for success. One of the best investments that organizations can make is in tools that help sellers read buyers’ digital body language, respond and sell when buyers are ready to be engaged, and tailor the conversation around their needs. Sales engagement platforms like ClearSlide can give sellers an edge by notifying and tracking what and when content is resonating, as well as helping them more successfully engage throughout the buying process.
Implementing sales mobility is also key. Because millennials are digital natives, they expect to be able to work from anywhere, anytime – and they expect sellers to engage with them similarly. Eighty-seven percent of millennials use between 2 and 3 devices at least once on a daily basis. Making information and engagement throughout the sales cycle available on mobile devices is already important and will continue to grow as more millennials enter the workforce and mobile tools continue to develop in sophistication.
3. Since many in the millennial generation are digital savvy, does the educational approach of content marketing provide ways to connect and build initial relationships?
Content marketing is an important part of driving awareness and consideration for those buyers who are doing more research before engaging with a seller. It is important for companies to engage them before a person-to-person interaction through educational materials demonstrating thought leadership and expertise. This is an opportunity to educate buyers on what they should be thinking about when they are going to buy and position the value your product or service will deliver.
4. This same shift is also happening on the sales side. How does a B2B company hire and train millennials as salespeople, when their motivations are different from traditional salespeople?
Millennial sellers still have an underlying desire to win and be successful. However, they have different motivations and preferences. If you hand your millennial sales team a training manual, they’ll likely hand it right back. A better strategy is to encourage your millennial reps to learn from their peers – and specifically from leading reps. Use technology to make this possible – a homepage of all sales activity (like a social network), daily update emails, or the ability to listen to how top reps pitch via calls or videos, are all great learning opportunities. Social learning and collaboration is far more impactful than the traditional “coffee is for closers” sales environment.
In addition, millennials thrive on competition and want to feel part of a team. They want to know that they are having an impact on their company (and the world) and that their contributions are recognized. Gamification can help introduce competitive spirit and foster teamwork, and can be as simple as a competition between reps or teams. You can also spark millennial salespeoples’ desire to over-achieve by making recognition visible. Leaderboards and simple recognition like balloons tied to chairs for top performers can serve as public reminders and motivators to succeed.
Encouraging peer learning and healthy competition requires transparency throughout the entire sales process. By tracking engagement in a platform that enables every sales person to see what others are doing, you create learning opportunities and engender competition at the same time. Savvy salespeople will be able to see what top performers are doing and incorporate that into their own selling practice. This higher level of visibility will also benefit sales leaders, because they will have more specific information on what works and what doesn’t.
5. Is there something millennials should do to more easily adapt to traditional workplaces, or should they embrace their differences and push workplaces in a new direction?
I think this requires a balance of both. New blood in an organization forces everyone to learn new and modern ways of doing things, which is good. Buyers are changing, so you need sellers to change along with them. Millennials can push their workplace in new directions by advocating for openness and transparency, peer-to-peer learning, modern tools, mobility, and by engaging customers through social media. At the same time, millennials should recognize that they have plenty to learn from other, more experienced colleagues as well.
6. Is this overall shift good for B2B companies?
I think it is. Millennials joining the workforce are helping B2B sales organizations evaluate new ways of approaching their sales process. The reality is everyone in business is being asked to do more with less – less time and less money – so the key is to be hyper-efficient and maximize every interaction between buyers and sellers.
The reality is that it’s increasingly difficult to get buyers’ attention, let alone a face-to-face meeting, and your company is just one of the many that are competing for business. It’s not personal, but a reflection that time is precious resource. Technology is helping salespeople adapt by providing access to data and insights that weren’t previously available to them. With the right tools, salespeople can prioritize their outreach based on their buyer’s digital body language, ultimately making them more efficient. An added benefit is that they may actually get more time with the buyer by making interactions easier and more efficient, helping them win more.
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