Think that salespeople are immune to disruption? Think again.
Nearly every industry has undergone a major digital transformation, and it has impacted nearly every function in today’s business structure. Businesses have had to innovate every aspect of their organization to keep pace with fast-growth companies and meet heightened customer expectations just to survive. But enterprise sellers who still lean heavily on traditional analogue tactics and don’t embrace the changes in today’s disruptive communication, digital, generational/demographic and global forces risk being left behind.
I’m not making an apocalyptic prediction that a new start-up will soon replace B2B sales account executives. Rather, sales will become even more important as business competition intensifies. However, we can’t ignore two basic facts — sales is still about the human connection, trust and helping customers solve challenges, and Millennials now make up the largest generation of the nation’s workforce. Hence, the rules of the game have changed and we as sales professionals must also re-orient ourselves to win. We must adapt to the modern buyer — the digital-native who prefers to chat over Slack instead of a meal and self-educates online rather than from a sales call.
Recent research by Forrester’s Mary Shea sheds new light on this growing challenge — 73% of Millennials in B2B companies are involved in purchasing decisions, yet a majority of B2B sellers aren’t developing specific strategies to engage them. Rather than address the problem by hiring an army of 20-something sellers, instead re-focus your sellers’ expertise and people skills in a Millennial-friendly way.
Relationships will always matter, but how you build them in today’s world will change. I offer you three ways to accomplish that:
Advise, Don’t Advertise
Younger generations simply aren’t persuaded by a brand’s flashy tagline or pitch. A study by Elite Daily found that only 1% of Millennials admit to being influenced in any way by advertising. Millennials prefer for salespeople to act as strategic advisors says Forrester’s Shea, and an ideal salesperson tries to understand their specific pain point, then reaches out over email or a social channel with an offer to help them navigate that challenge.
Before engaging a Millennial buyer, review your CRM and marketing automation tools for the content that prospects have read, downloaded or viewed on your website. Scan their social media accounts for any clues about frustrations or complaints about a competitor. Investigate your prospect’s interactions on any webinars, identify questions they’ve asked, content downloaded or survey responses to complete the picture.
Use your hypothesis about their challenges to select relevant company content to start a conversation. Send a personalized invite to a future webinar or suggest a specific online training video that offers solutions geared to their specific needs. Millennials will appreciate having a no-pressure environment to learn more about your company and will see you as a genuine partner rather than a sales vendor looking for a commission.
Show, Don’t Tell
Facebook CEO/Founder Mark Zuckerberg is perhaps the most influential Millennial on the planet, so when he says, “Video is a mega-trend,” we should understand that the “Netflix and chill” applies to the buying experience as well.
A study by MarketingProfs found that Millennials prefer video content over any other format to learn about B2B software. Hubspot’s “State of the Inbound” found that 60% of the generation would rather watch a company video than read their newsletter. Once you have a prospect interested, peruse your company’s video assets and put together a thoughtful, themed “playlist” based upon their industry, use case and company size. Share it with the prospect so they can binge-watch content relevant to their challenges, not necessarily your products. Don’t forget to include video assets in your emails, across social posts and invite prospects to live-streamed and on-demand webinars.
Match, Then Meet
Look no further than the growing popularity of online dating among Generation Y and Z to understand the way they prefer to build relationships. When finding a match, whether for their next date or for a business partner, Millennials want to begin that search online. We explored the correlation between online dating and our own customers’ buying behavior and interestingly found that 82% of our core customers, B2B marketers, wanted to research vendors in a similar format as online dating.
More than 85% of Millennials are members of a social networking site, so think of LinkedIn as your own version of Match.com. It’s a rich source of information to make an authentic, personal connection. If you find that your Millennial prospect shares a similar background, knows a mutual contact or is passionate about a certain interest, send a message on social media or over a more traditional channel that touches on that aspect. Forming an emotional bond over a commonality helps break through the noise, and makes it easier to set up a phone conversation or in-person meeting.
Without a doubt, digital has disrupted sales just as it has every other discipline. However, selling to the Millennial audience can be as simple as building a relationship with your prospect as a human being rather than a data point. After all, being salespeople is what it takes to win Millennial hearts and minds.