The “Unluckiest Generation” of Sellers

By Warren Shiver on Jun 2, 2020

We’ve been interested in the impacts of the different generations in the workforce and specifically related to sales since our initial research for our book The Multigenerational Sales Team. According to the US Dept of Labor, in 2019 Millennials displaced Gen X as the largest cohort in the American workforce.

Last week, I came across an article in the Washington Post titled “The unluckiest generation in U.S. history,” which is quite a statement given some of the challenges that have confronted prior generations (world wars, pandemics, Great Depression, etc.), but it certainly caught my attention. The reporter Andrew Van Dam notes, “After accounting for the present crisis, the average millennial has experienced slower economic growth since entering the workforce than any other generation in U.S. history.”

What does this misfortune mean for early career sales professionals? What other trends from today's pandemic will impact the next generation of sellers and sales leaders?

The Washington Post article includes interesting graphs – not to mention the comments that follow the article – but the charts showing the impact of job losses and income by generation are especially impactful.

Washington Post - Labor Dept  May2020

In previous recessions, we’ve seen companies eliminate hiring (not to mention layoffs) and further reduce their investments in sales onboarding and training. Long past are the days when firms such as Xerox and IBM would train a new hire for up to 6 months before putting them in front of a customer. What will be the impact of the current recession on our next generation of sales professionals?

One early indication comes from research and surveys on B2B decision-maker response to COVID-19 crisis from McKinsey, where they have found that recent changes in sales models are expected to endure:

  • Remote selling is now the norm and perceived to be effective: 96% of B2B companies have shifted their GTM model during COVID-19; 65% believe the new model is just as effective or more than before (up from 60% in early April)
  • Sales model changes are expected to stay: 32% are “very likely” to sustain these shifts 12+ months after COVID-19 and another 47% are “somewhat likely” to do so

From surveys like these and conversations with our own clients and network, here are a few way-too-early potential trends and implications:

  • Sustained shift to “Inside Sales”– even when we are able to resume to some type of “field” sales, customers will have increasingly dispersed office footprints and many decision makers and influencers may still work remotely at least part time. As one of our Advisory Board members asked me recently, “Are we all now Inside Sales?”
  • Technology-Enabled Selling– this has been a trend and focus for years with tools such as CRM, marketing automation, and demo platforms. Look for much more sophisticated video conference/telepresence systems integrated with virtual collaboration tools such as Concept Board and Miro for visual collaboration and Mentimeter for presentation engagement.
  • Leveraging Millennial and Gen Z Fluency with Tech– these generations having grown up building and maintaining relationships virtually through phones and social media will be well equipped to enter roles where success is based on these skills (an area where your Gen X author is struggling – time for me to hire my daughters)
  • Robust, Virtual Sales Onboarding – we’ve recently worked with a couple of clients to move their new hire onboarding programs fully online (for the fortunate companies and industries able to expand). We’re all learning together to develop and run programs that balance the need to build engagement and connections with “zoom fatigue”. A Roy Maurer provides a good summary of best practices from SHRM.

Obviously, it’s been a great time to be a provider of tools that enable remote work and selling (e.g., Zoom’s stock has increased 184% in the first five months of 2020), let’s hope that we ultimately see a spillover effect for a new generation of sales professionals.

Multigenerational Sales Team Pocket Guide

Warren Shiver

Written by Warren Shiver

Warren Shiver is the founder and managing partner of Symmetrics Group, a management consultancy focused on end to end improvement in sales force effectiveness. Through Warren’s leadership, Symmetrics Group has helped numerous organizations build high-performing sales teams focused on the right go-to-market strategy, disciplined sales process and well-designed enabling tools. Clients and consultants appreciate Warren’s uncompromising focus on quality and measureable impact and how he embodies the firm’s core values.

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