There is often a lot of fuss--and even a season of Survivor--made about the generational gap between millennials and baby boomers (no shame if you need a quick reminder on where to draw the lines.) But while historical events will inevitably influence any generation, it is typically tedious to objectively make generalizations about an entire generation of people.
However, that hasn’t stopped marketing research firms from assembling an abundance of data on trends behind generational spending differences and more. Coincidentally, many of the distinctions made between these two age groups also have great consequence for selling ability. So, when it comes to the skills most necessary for a sales person to be successful: sales prospecting and closing deals, which generation is better suited for the job?
There are many skills that can be connected with success in sales prospecting. For this discussion, prospecting includes the entire process of figuring out the right people to call and then ultimately scheduling/holding a meeting with that prospect. After our own extensive field research, we concluded that two factors ultimately make the biggest difference in prospecting:
- pre-call research
- the ability to execute an effective conversation over the phone
This is where things get a bit subjective, but let’s stick with the facts as much as possible. Millennials grew up with the internet and using social media. Using multimedia platforms to connect with people and learn information about them is native to millennials. This gives millennials the edge when it comes to gathering information about their prospects.
I don’t doubt there are some baby boomers shaking their head at me right now. There are still many baby boomers capable of doing excellent pre-call research! However, it is undeniable that millennials have been exposed to more technology growing up than baby boomers. Hence, it’s reasonable to assume that millennials will be naturally more comfortable using social media, and the internet in general, to learn about prospects.
The second biggest factor that creates prospecting success is the ability to execute an effective introductory conversation over the phone. Here, baby boomers take the win. Millennials are notorious for avoiding phone conversations. They prefer to text or email. While texting, email, and social media messages are perfectly fine mediums for prospecting, they can’t rival the efficacy of the phone. A series of blogs and/or email touches may prompt a prospect to dig around the website. Then after a month or so, maybe they will request a meeting. By comparison, a well-planned and professionally executed call to a prospect can result in a meeting in less than 3 minutes.
In summation, millennials in general should be better at learning about their prospects while baby boomers will be more inclined to use the phone while prospecting. No one has a clear edge but one thing is for sure: if you want to be great at prospecting, master both of these skills.
Closing a deal means that you have been able to convince a buyer or a group of buyers that there is value in your product, and that it is more than the cost incurred. This requires skills in professional persuasion.
There are many skills and factors associated with professional persuasion as well, but there are two methods in particular that are paramount:
- Sellers must be able to understand the complex decision journey the prospect is going through and provide insights to guide them through that process.
- Sellers also need to be nimble and adapt their selling techniques to accommodate ever-changing buyer personas, markets and preferences.
When it comes to understanding complex decision journeys, baby boomers have a clear advantage for few reasons. Number one is the fact that they are older hence have more experience. Research and educating yourself can do a lot but there is no replacement for real experience in the field helping decision makers. This experience allows baby boomers to view the sale being made from a holistic standpoint. Consequently, baby boomers will be able to provide robust business cases for their proposed solution.
While millennials are occupying more decision making positions than ever, the average age of C-Level executives is still 58 and rising. Therefore, sales people still need to get final approval from C-Level executives, so baby boomers have an advantage on this front.
Persuasive communication however, can be learned. There are also plethora of technology and software solutions to make sales people more efficient. The seller needs to be nimble in order to continuously learn new techniques and adapt to new technology. In this front, millennials take home the trophy.
Baby boomers are more prone to be loyal to a company and climb up the corporate ladder. While this loyalty is certainly appreciated by organizations, it also limits the amount of new knowledge you need to learn. Millennials on the other hand have no qualms about switching companies or even career fields, and in some cases even prefer it. Their average tenure at a company is much lower than their predecessors. Therefore, millennials are forced to adapt quickly. As a result, Millennials tend to have valuable experience selling to multiple verticals across different business segments.
Overall, millennials are quick to adapt, but baby boomers’ experience allows them to navigate complex customer journeys. Both are very important and must be mastered in order to effectively persuade someone to make a decision.
Who is The Winner?
You can accuse me of being anticlimactic, but It wouldn’t be fair to say one group of people is definitively better than another at selling. A person’s ability to sell is dependent on the individual and the work they are willing to put into their profession. While certain characteristics about these two distinct generations will influence outcomes, both hold characteristics that can propel them to sales success, with the right training.
Want to train your team in proven prospecting techniques? Check out our comprehensive guide to sales prospecting, based on an analysis of 100,000 sales calls.