Millennials in the C-Suite

By Hope Eyre on Mar 28, 2014

3 Minute Estimated Read Time

There are an estimated 82 million Millennials and some are just a few short years away from entering into executive management. What makes them different?  What are they looking for in a buying process?  

Prepare yourself to start selling to them now.

In the spring of 2000, when the dot-com era was at its peak, and everyone in Silicon Valley was having such a good time that it was easy to ignore the tug of impending economic gravity, I was working as a business developer for SAP, the German ERP software giant.

SAP, in business since the ‘70s and thoroughly impossible to mistake for a, was nevertheless eager to enable business transactions via the web. And since everyone else within 50 miles of Sand Hill Road was forming a start-up with stock options, we thought we would too. 

So we remodeled our Palo Alto office with glass and chrome, installed enough espresso machines to ensure the German developers could sustain a caffeine high well past midnight and told them to ditch their skinny jeans and square-toed loafers for cargo shorts and Birkenstocks (ponytails optional).

Our small, stock-optioned spin-off had already been staffed with seasoned professionals (read 30s +) from inside. All we had left to do was hire some recent college grads for manual spreadsheet labor and we could go out and start launching e-business applications.

HR set up an interview day for the college grads and assigned us candidates.  My first arrived at 10 a.m. or rather 10:15-ish. (The Starbucks line must have been long that morning.) He wore a button-down shirt open at the collar, untucked from his corduroys, sleeves rolled up – and sandals. With socks.

Taking a seat across from me, he popped an ankle up onto the opposite knee, ran a hand through his hair and after finishing a narrative about his years at Brown and a recent travel adventure with his Diplomat parents said, “Gee I was surprised to see the parking lot so full at this hour; where I work the lot doesn’t fill up until noon.”

He clearly hadn’t had much exposure to either Germans or their train schedules. 

At the time, I didn’t dwell much on my first workplace encounter with a Millennial. I simply walked outside to borrow a cigarette lighter from one of the dozen or so developers smoking in the courtyard and set fire to his resume.

There is an old 60 Minutes piece from 2007 that describes the entré of the Millennial generation into the workplace. “Their priorities are simple: they come first. [They] want to roll into work with their iPods and flip-flops around noon, and still be CEO by Friday.”

Generation Y, however, has started aging and the older among them are maturing into business executives.  Mr. Diplomat Brown is now 34. He is almost certainly a mid-level manager if not already in possession of a vice president title and may possibly be on his way to the C-suite.  If you’re not trying to sell him a complex business solution today, you will be in the very near future and this is what you, the seller, can expect.

He isn’t going to need to see you in person.  At least not right away. He’s happy to make contact via Twitter, LinkedIn, text, phone, virtual online meeting or video chat (which he will consider a face-to-face encounter). You will only meet him when he actually requires your physical presence for the buying process. If you’re not active on social media, remedy the situation immediately.

If you’re selling technology, he’s going to want to start evaluating it online himself before he’s willing to allow you to compete as a vendor, much less have your pre-sales team do a demo. Understand that having this capability is rapidly becoming a standard part of the B2B sales process.

If he is the decision maker, he won’t make it alone. He’ll want opinions, discussion and consensus from a trusted group of colleagues. You’ll have to determine that group’s membership and spend as much effort selling to them as to him. Prepare to work harder to understand who has the real influence, regardless of title, and become more adept at understanding personal motivations and desires, while adjusting your sales strategy to accommodate them.

Finally, he’ll want your solution to inspire. Somehow, whatever you’re selling will need to help him and his team do even greater things in the future than they are already accomplishing today. Frame the value of your solution in these terms in addition to articulating traditional business benefits related to revenue and cost. 

Want to know what characteristics you share with the Millennial generation, regardless of your age?  Take the Pew Research “How Millennial Are You” quiz at:

Hope Eyre

Written by Hope Eyre

Hope Eyre is a sales effectiveness expert who takes a roll-up-the-sleeves approach to building winning sales organizations. She regularly works side by side with sales teams around account segmentation and planning and has helped numerous complex organizations rethink they way they serve their largest accounts. Hope’s specialties include sales transformation, sales capability development, leadership development/coaching and performance management. If “sticky” could be a word to describe a consultant, it would be a perfect descriptor for Hope, as clients like to keep her around.

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