Managing Generational Divide Within a Sales Team

Today’s diverse workforce will often see people of vastly disparate ages working side by side on a daily basis. Effectively managing a sales force means not only understanding generational differences, but viewing them as an asset and an opportunity. Of course no individual can be completely defined by their generation, but certain traits, life experiences and skill sets are common to each. Previously we looked at ways of recruiting and retaining Gen Z. Today we’ll examine ways that sales force managers can harness the aptitudes and qualities of various generations, utilizing them for the good of the team.

Generational Overview

Baby boomers and pre-baby boomers bring with them a wealth of experience and a strong work ethic. Boomers were instrumental in developing social change, but they also broke into the workplace during an era where a more traditional top-down chain of command was commonplace. They view hard work and paying dues as the path to success. In exchange for their hard work, they often desire formal recognition, such as awards, promotions and titles.

Generation X values a strong work-life balance. Creative and independent, they are currently in their prime working years. As such, they are understandably interested in financial compensation, but also value the big picture and are looking for a way forward. They seek flexibility and do not wish to be micromanaged. Their position in the middle of the generational divide make them uniquely suited to collaborations with both younger and older co-workers.

Millennials and More! The younger generation in today’s workplace are adept at technology and are, in some cases, ‘digital natives’, having never known a non-connected period. They are plugged into social change and very hands on. As they embark upon their careers, many millennials are looking for structured feedback and a clear path forward, but also value autonomy, preferring facilitation to teaching.

Utilizing Generational Strengths

A big part of a sales force’s success comes from developing and maintaining a presence in the marketplace. Your younger salespeople will be able to stay connected to potential clients due to their strong digital presence. They will also have their finger on the pulse of many industries, providing valuable insight into shifting sands and consumer habits. Meanwhile, more experienced members of the sales force will bring the wisdom to establish a proper strategic response to ongoing developments. This big picture thinking will be a great tool in weathering sudden changes or even thriving on them.

Another ingredient in a winning sales force is passion. Any individual will be better equipped to sell something if they truly believe in it, whether that be rooted in practicality, ethics or both.

For all of their differences, Baby Boomers and Millennials have significant commonalities. Both came of age during periods of great social movements. Neither are afraid to get their hands dirty when it comes to promoting something they value and, if they bring that commitment to their career, the results can be amazing.

Managing a schedule, being on time and focussing on detail are important traits in sales and both young and old personnel can accomplish this, although potentially in slightly different ways. More experienced salespeople will utilize their interpersonal skills to foster and maintain relationships, sell their product based on expertise and knowledge and meticulously manage their schedule based on good old fashioned etiquette. Younger workers can inform clients about products and offers using various digital platforms and will manage their schedule by effectively employing task management systems, such as Asana.

Mentoring is a Two Way Street

Generation X are looking to kick their careers into overdrive and will thus look to those more senior to provide them with wisdom on navigating their way forward. In exchange GXers can offer great creativity.  Baby Boomers have much knowledge to share and are willing to do so in exchange for the implied respect of an attentive audience. Younger sales force members possess an obvious ability to provide technological assistance to their older co-workers, but they also bring various insights into collaboration and ‘outside the box thinking’. Hungry for structure, they value feedback and guidance but are aware of their value and don’t wish to be condescended to.

Flexibility and Motivation

It goes without saying that people of all generations are interested in earning a good living and receiving the respect of their co-workers. As Baby Boomers enter a new phase in life, many are looking for balance; wanting an escape from the full time grind but remaining leery of full retirement. They can be utilized for high leverage situations while providing them with a certain degree of freedom. Generation X wants a hand in creating their job description and are also looking for a work life balance. Millennials seek fulfilling, meaningful work and, due to their connectedness, often see a lesser degree of distinction between work and play. Each can be motivated accordingly.

Every individual will bring a combination of personal traits to the table and nobody can be perfectly boxed in with generational generalities. By knowing what often makes salespeople of a certain vintage tick, an effective manager can truly lead a sales force that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.