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What do we mean when we say "Millennial?"

Technically, we're talking about the demographic cohort in the United States that follows "Generation X."  There's some disagreement about the specific birth dates that make a person a Millennial, but in recent years a consensus has emerged for a Millennial start date of around 19822 and an end date of around 2000.  the influential authors William Strauss and Neil Howe assign the following traits to individuals born in this generations:  special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured and achieving.  Those may be stereotypes, of course, but they can be useful in identifying broader trends of self-definition and perspective within the group.  With roughly 87 million members, Millennials are the single largest demographic group in the United States, as compared with the 65 million Gen-Xers and 76 million Baby Boomers.

That's the hard information about this group.  All Too often, though, there's a very different practical definition of the "Millennial" label:  scapegoat. 

Lots of older managers use the "Millennial" label as an excuse not to engage, not to be accountable, not to learn about a given salesperson. Sometimes, it’s almost like we throw up our hands when we run into a problem and simply say, “Oh, well, I don’t know what to do, and how could I? This person is a Millennial.” That’s unacceptable. It’s a cop-out. This is more than a generation gap; it’s a major management blind spot.

No matter what age the person is, he or she is still a member of your team, and it is important as ever to engage. Following are some suggestions on that may make this task a little easier.

Find this person’s unique “Why.”

Meet one on one. Ask questions. Get a clear picture of this particular salesperson’s goals and motivations. What does this person want to do? Learn? Become? Participate in? It’s your job as a manager to find out. Ask for the Millennial’s top two personal goals. You may be surprised at how much information you get back. Often, Millennials have given this topic a whole lot of thought. Remember, they’re likely to be focused on personal achievement – and that’s a good thing! So start this conversation if you haven’t already. Then, when you’ve identified the person’s top two goals, ask how you can help them achieve those goals.

Move beyond “Here’s what I want you to do.”

Give the Millennial a sense of why the task you’re assigning is important to the team as a whole. Share some context. Explain how what he or she is doing fits into larger initiatives. That kind of background important for everyone, but it’s particularly vital for Millennials, given their likely preference for a team-oriented approach to work and a sense of autonomous responsibility. “Just do what you’re told” will not work here.

Give them a structure.

Most Millennials, in my experience, want a very clear sense of what’s expected of them, and want to know exactly what resources are available to them as they pursue the goal they’ve committed themselves to. So give them that. Make sure they know exactly what the steps are, and make sure they have what they need to complete all the steps. Many managers we work with don’t do a good enough job of double-checking that all the pieces are in place. Be prepared to ask questions like, “In order for you to get X, Y, and Z done over the next three weeks, what haven’t I told you that you need to know?”

Roleplay specific selling situations with them during your one-on-one sessions.

This is a great, underutilized tool for all salespeople, but Millennials, I have found, respond particularly well to it. Let the Millennial play the customer first, with you playing the salesperson, then switch roles. They’re likely to learn a lot more from a good one-on-one role play than they would from a long lecture about best practices.

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