Redefining Selling for a New Generation

May 1, 2016
Sales expert Jim Pancero discusses how to tweak your selling process for the millennial generation

The millennial generation is now in a major buying- and decision-making position, says sales management trainer and expert Jim Pancero, and that means the way your team sells needs to be adjusted to best connect to and win business from this increasingly important generation of customers. Pancero has spent his career in sales and founded his advanced sales training and consulting company in 1982. Since then, he has conducted extensive research to provide usable, advanced ideas to help businesses enhance their selling processes. Pancero explains how the traditional relationship selling model needs to change with this new generation of customers.

What are the generations that shop owners need to be aware of that may affect their selling process?
The big issue today is that there are three generations in the workforce: the boomers that tend to be identified as 55 years and older; the Gen X, which is mid 30s to early 50s; and the millennials, which are under 35. Every other generation tends to be a dominant generation and the ones in between tend to be adjusting generations. For example, Gen X has been identified as an adjustment generation. [Millennials are] completely redefining the way we communicate and what we value as important. The challenge in the workforce today is that the majority of companies have two distinct customer sets that they have to be appeasing and satisfying.

When it comes to those two distinct customer sets, how do those differences in values affect the selling process?
First, let’s tackle the boomer buyers. They are still heavily influenced by the order taker, their peers and your references as the salesperson. Although they may do simple online research, they want an expert included as soon as possible and they are influenced by the sales rep and their recommendations.

The millennial buyer, on the other hand, loves doing research online and wants to conduct as much research online and decide what they want or need before talking with a sales rep. While they prefer finding answers on their own, they want immediate support for questions. They are influenced by peers and social media, but they still want the best support and pricing compared to other customers. They are cautious when seeking advice and suggestions from a sales rep, feeling their answers might be biased. What that means is that the customer will start talking to sales reps much later in the selling process, after they have done their homework and selected what they feel will best solve their problem, as well as what they expect to pay.

How can you analyze your selling process to define which steps need to be changed for millennial buyers?
You have to first identify where your customers are now. If you’re selling to older people, you probably don’t have to change for a while. The younger your average customer is, the more critical it is you’re aware of and participating in the communication.

The first suggestion is to ask them how they would like to be communicated with. We can talk about what a millennial wants or a boomer wants, but it still comes down to the uniqueness of some individuals. Instead of just guessing what they think they need to do to reach a customer, ask them.

The second suggestion is that one of the concepts of selling is called “mirroring.” It’s the idea that if you look really stiff and fold your arms all the time, I’ll be more persuasive if I stand really stiff next to you and fold my arms as I talk to you.

Mirror the communications to fit your customers. If we look at the millennials, they tend to be affirmed by the chatter communications, which is an ongoing, updated process communications. If you were working on my car, send me a text message when you started working on it or finished it. Some kind of communication of progress is viewed by millennials as connection.

However, you still have to position yourself as an advisor. One of my clients was selling running lawn mowers. What they found was that 50 percent of the people coming in were bringing in a computer printout where they had already decided what model they needed and what price they expected to pay. It was their way to prepare and defend themselves against the pushy sales rep. But the problem that we found was that 50 percent of those configurations were for the wrong piece of equipment because the customer didn’t know what they were talking about. The challenge in selling today is that they have to take control and challenge the customer’s preconceived notions of what they think they need to ensure it is what will solve their problem.

You mentioned that millennial customers are weary of taking advice from a sales person. How can you still become an advisor they trust and enjoy interacting with?
This sounds so simplistic, but first, show respect. If you’re much older than the millennial customer, you want to be helpful but you can’t talk down to them. I hear a lot of complaints from customers who are 25 and want to spend money on their cars but aren’t treated as a regular customer. We saw this 20 years ago with the problems of selling to females in this industry, who were intimidated and uncomfortable going into shops. That was the hot topic in sales: How do you sell to women? We have the same scenario happening all over again, just with the young people. A lot of the same attributes of customer service comes into play, which is treat them with respect, give them options with explanations. My definition of success is when I can take complex ideas and explain them with simple concepts without talking down to people. That’s going to be the key to persuasion in this business.

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