In consulting, we have the pleasure of working with clients across a variety of industries who share interesting stories. Every once in a while you hear a story that makes you stop and think about the traditional ways we try and advance a sale. Here is one of those such stories…
A digital advertising client of ours, focused on serving large healthcare companies and providers, was gearing up for the always anticipated chaos associated with the end of the quarter. Virtually all sales organizations have some degree of quarter-close chaos with Sales Management working day and night to make sure that the deals in the funnel, at least those deals with a fighting chance, get closed.
This client was no different and one day, at the end of the quarter, I found myself talking with a seller who was grappling with a gap-to-goal he was unsure he’d be able to close. He was working very hard to wrestle in any deal that had a fighting chance. One such stalled opportunity, looming at the tail end of his pipeline, caught his attention. The opportunity was with a national advertising agency that was acting as an intermediary with some very prominent healthcare providers. In such a capacity, the agency holds the majority of decision-making and budgetary authority and often recommends certain products and service, digital or otherwise. The potential value this relationship could have was immense.
This [Millennial] sales rep, based in Chicago, had been working with a NY agency for several months. Recently, the agency and their decision makers had gone non-responsive over a pending opportunity. It’s important to note, Advertising Agencies have changed a great deal over the last 10-15 years as digital advertising has become more akin to mainstream media. Millennials have gained a foothold in many of these environments and are quickly rising up the ranks, making big budget decisions for huge clients. Selling to this new generation requires unique approaches and outside the box thinking. As a Millennial selling to Millennials, he knew he needed to think outside the box. What transpired next was born either out of pure genius, total desperation, or a combination of the two:
The sales rep calls his sales manager:
Sales Rep – “If I can finagle an opportunity to engage X agency directly, do you mind if I hop a flight from Chicago to NY….today?”
Sales Manager – “How do you expect to get them engaged given how non-responsive they have been?”
Sales Rep – “I have a unique idea that might just get me the facetime I need to find out where the deal stands.”
Sales Manager – “I’m listening.”
Sales Rep – “I reserved spots for a very cool and exclusive NYC spin class, and I’m planning on inviting my decision makers. This group has in the past expressed their interest and excitement about these classes, and I find that they tend to blur the lines between work and social time. If it gets me an audience, I have no shame following up on the deal specs. I think they will be stoked about going to the class, and I can get there by 4:30 if they say yes. They don’t need to know that I am still in Chicago.”
Sales Manager – “Go for it. If they agree then get yourself on a plane and go find out why this deal is not moving forward as quickly as we would like.”
Now, for anyone looking for a creative way to unstick a deal, this is surely a great story. It also requires us to challenge some of the more traditional approaches for how we have engaged decision makers in the past.
What could have been offered that may not have worked? Older sellers often feel like fine wine and big steaks at a swanky restaurant would be an absolutely appropriate approach for engaging with prospective clients they are looking to impress. While these types of interactions have been a mainstay for decades, they may not be the most advantageous when it comes to swaying the hearts and minds of Millennial decision makers. To Millennials, time is of the utmost importance, yet they have no issue with melding their personal and professional lives. They would rather be offered a spot in a spin class or a lesson in cold press coffee brewing instead of being “schmoozed” and “sold to,” albeit at a fancy restaurant. Melding fun and social experiences with work provides a multi-tasking environment in which these young decision makers find utility and value in the experience while Sellers are provided with an opportunity for valuable face time.
I have been around professional B2B sellers for close to 25 years. Contemplating my Rolodex, I can’t imagine a single person not looking at me like I had three heads if I invited them to a spin class, especially if that invite was for a class that same day. However, picturing each one of these individuals, I realize that none of them are Millennials. There is a good deal to learn and consider here if we are selling to and working with Millennial decision makers. The things we may be comfortable doing with older generations of decision makers are falling flat with Millennials. It’s time to challenge ourselves to think more like them and be willing to try new things in order to create some degree of a social setting. Listen closely to what they do outside of the office and take an interest.