Why Your Millennial Sellers Aren’t Prospecting

Dan Smaida – October 1, 2016

Have you noticed any of these phenomena when reviewing the pipelines of your millennial sellers?

Not enough opportunities
Not enough early-stage opportunities
Companies who should be in the pipeline aren’t
Now, the easy (and lazy) conclusion is that millennials are entitled, don’t know how to work, etc. But I think that’s bull – I know plenty of young sellers with plenty of work ethic, and I’ve met plenty of older sellers who don’t try hard.

In my experience, a major part of the problem lies with the culture we live in today, and how it’s influencing millennial sales behaviors. In short, today’s dating and internet culture is hurting millennials’ ability to prospect. Let me explain.

Too Much Research, Not Enough Contact

A University of Chicago study by John Cacioppo estimates that one third of US couples who got married between 2005 and 2012 met online. And that number is only going up.

In the book “Love and Selling,” I point out that today’s technology means there are no more blind dates, in love or in business. I see at least two problems with the rise of business intelligence (and Google): First, prospects don’t need to call sellers nearly as much or as early – they can find what they need online. So the natural flow of incoming calls and leads has decreased in almost every complex sale I see today. Second, as anyone who has ever ended up 40 clicks into YouTube knows, research is a trap. It’s easy to spend too much time researching a prospect, trying to learn everything you can about them. In reality, the things that make your prospect a prospect are often only found through actual contact with people.

Swiping Culture = Premature Disqualification

What’s worse, too much research also gives sellers too many opportunities to disqualify a prospect. And in today’s swiping culture, that leads to a lot of unnecessary disqualifying.

Most people reading this article have an app on your phone that allows you to quickly swipe through your options, whether it’s a potential mate or takeout food. I’ve looked over shoulders as people on Tinder swiped through dozens of profiles, saying ‘no’ based on the thinnest of slices. As Malcolm Gladwell points out in “Blink,” this is excellent strategy when trying to avoid predators.

This swiping mentality is super-harmful to prospecting, though, because it encourages premature qualification based on demographics, and don’t take the opportunity to find the needs that make true prospects. I’ve been in plenty of coaching sessions where young sellers could tell me exactly why they thought somebody wasn’t a prospect, but had never actually validated their hypothesis through actual human contact. Veteran sellers know this: Sometimes your best prospects don’t look like it on paper.

Love analogy: Many of your parents would never have gone out in the first place if they knew as much about each other before they met as we know today.

Oh Yeah, the Screen Thing

In a previous post, I decried young peoples’ reliance on screen-based communication as a means of pursuing relationships and gaining commitment (or not). That also makes research seductive – it’s just easier to look things up about someone than it is to pick up the phone and ask someone a question. The problem is that it’s not more effective in prospecting.

Helping Millennials Prospect More

The good news: There are a few simple strategies to help your millennial sellers develop their prospecting muscles:

Expect and inspect the quantity of semi-qualified prospects. Of course quality matters, but at the very top of the funnel, it’s about having enough prospects. Your closing rates should tell you the suspect-to-deal ratio that determines the minimum number of prospects needed.
Limit research time to non-selling time. I define “selling time” as the hours when customers are available to talk or meet. I never want to see someone Googling a prospect during those hours! Be relentless about kicking your sellers off their screens. (Inside sales managers, this also means streamlining systems to reduce time between dials.)
Make sure research is commensurate with opportunity. Your biggest and best prospects get more research investment. Your smaller or B-prospects get less. Teach your sellers to differentiate and budget their research time accordingly.
Measure the number of live, human-to-human contacts. Although this is an activity metric (as opposed to a results metric), it’s a necessary input. When my clients aren’t seeing the inputs, that’s when I encourage them to start micromanaging the details.
Help sellers build their calling confidence. Practice with feedback can help your sellers get more competent and thus more confident and less reluctant to dial. There is no substitute for role play and simulation!
Notice that I’m not saying anything about the capabilities or work ethic of millennial sellers – I’m pointing out cultural and environmental influences that impede prospecting. These challenges affect sellers of all ages, but are more pronounced in millennial sellers. Fortunately, good sales coaching and management can unlock the prospecting potential in sellers of any age.