Brad Bolino emailed me a link from a recent Wall Street Journal article titled, "Millennials are Changing What it Means to be Successful in Sales."
I read the article three times to make sure I wasn't rushing to judgement, didn't experience an inappropriate knee-jerk reaction, and that I correctly interpreted what the article implied: The journal relied on anecdotal evidence from a handful of millennial salespeople and buyers to suggest that millennials are transforming the sales profession.
I agreed with only one sentence in the article and it was the opening sentence which said, "Drop the hard sell." That's certainly not new as the hard sell was never a welcome component of professional selling!
I'm not anti-Wall Street Journal - at least I wasn't. I haven't written about their articles before. After all, they aren't known for writing the kind of crap that the Harvard Business Review writes with regard to sales and selling.
While reviewing the article, I identified two themes - how much harder it is to sell today versus years ago and how millennials have adapted to changing times.
There is no doubt that selling has changed - a lot - but while selling in general has not become more difficult, it is very difficult for those who suck at it, as well as those who must find new business because they don't get repeat and/or residual business from existing accounts.
While it is more difficult to reach decision makers today (it takes 10-15 attempts and most salespeople give up after 4 attempts) than ten years ago, there are multiple tools and methods for reaching out that were not available to past generations of salespeople.
If the recession deepens in 2023 it will be harder for prospects to get funding but this isn't new either. It was true during the Covid lockdowns of 2020, the financial crisis of 2008-2010, the aftermath of 9/11, the dot com bust that occurred earlier in 2001, the recessions of the early 90's and 80's and the oil shortage of 1973-1974. Recessions are not only cyclical, you could argue that we are in a recession every 10 years or so!
There are more decision makers involved in the buying process at larger companies but there have always been multiple decision makers in larger companies.
Those interviewed for the article said that sales cycles are longer too. Boo hoo. Getting business closed at the largest companies has always required a very long sales cycle. Millennials have adapted by using texting to communicate with their millennial prospects and customers. Texts instead of emails. Remember when emails replaced the phone? Email is a great tool for exchanging information but up until now there was nothing worse than email for having actual conversations. If email was bad for conversations, can you imagine how much worse text messages are for having conversations? Of course sales cycles will take longer if you're running sales cycles via text!
Reverting back to the article, I had several problems with it:
- The sample size was minuscule - it was not representative of anything except a handful of opinions. For example, let's pretend that a reporter talks with five female millennials in Florida and reports that "Female millennials love Ron DeSantis." However, the data shows that as a general rule, female millennials align with Democrats.
- The salespeople interviewed claimed to be successful but there were no standards on which they were measured or compared. Successful compared to who? Compared to what? Selling what? Selling to who? At what price points? Against which competitors? For example, let's pretend a resume states that the sales candidate was consistently the #1 salesperson in the company for 2 of the last 3 years. We ask how many salespeople there were and find out there were only two and the other one was brand new.
- The salespeople in the article are clearly facilitating sales cycles, not leading them; And they weren't facilitating because today's millennial prospects demand it, they were adapting and waiting out long sales cycles as a consequence of facilitating. They're basically admitting that they aren't following a sales process, they're following a buying process. They don't push back and ask the right questions, they play Simon Says and - sorry millennials from the article - you aren't Simon!
- The salespeople interviewed were selling only to large companies which is not representative of selling to small, medium and mid-sized companies.
- One sales leader said the profile of what it takes to be successful in sales has changed. Not true. Her perception may have changed now that she is more experienced and wiser. While the criteria required for success differs by selling role, it is still based on 21 Sales Core Competencies.
- The millennials they interviewed on the buyer side were in procurement. There isn't a single professional sales development expert or trainer that instructs salespeople to call on procurement!
In summary, this article was no better than the dozens upon dozens of articles from non-sales experts sharing their anecdotal knowledge about the traits required for sales success. They are almost always personality based, are not predictive of anything, are not backed by science, and are pure click-bait.
Image copyright 123RF