March 21, 2019
By Pamela Hammers, independent sales consultant, Miller Heiman Group
When manufacturing sales leaders look around their offices, they’re likely seeing a very different picture from 10 years ago. Millennials officially surpassed baby boomers as the largest generation in the U.S. workplace in 2017, and will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025.
Eighty-five percent of current salespeople say they would recommend a career in sales to a young person. There is plenty of potential for millennials to find fulfilling careers in manufacturing sales—with 4.4 percent growth in sales expected in the next year alone. The challenge for companies lies in attracting and training them for success, then retaining this notoriously turnover-prone generation.
Attracting and recruiting
To effectively attract and recruit millennials to the manufacturing salesforce, leaders need to understand what drives millennial employees. While compensation is the No. 1 factor that affects their assessment of a potential job, they also need to keep a close eye on these attributes:
- Your company story. Flashy tech companies and the benefits that come with them attract millennials’ attention right now. But sales careers in manufacturing arenas afford millennials the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of fascinating, cutting-edge technology. Play up the exciting features behind your company’s robotics program or the new software powering your automated sensors. Tech-savvy millennials passionate about technology will be hooked.
- Your culture. As with your products, your company culture needs to be forward-looking to attract millennials. Are you transparent about your business practices and ethics? Do you encourage employees to maintain a strong work-life balance? How flexible is your work environment? Be prepared with answers to these questions before millennial candidates ask them.
- Your ideal seller profile. Have a solid idea of the characteristics and personality traits that will make a millennial a good fit for your organization and sales team. Apply talent and skills assessments as part of your interview process to help ensure a cultural fit and see where their strengths can serve your company—and where you can provide professional development to grow their skills.
- Your tech tools. Millennials live on their phones. And sellers, especially those with an engineering background, bring strong technological knowledge to their jobs. Companies that provide technology tools to enable sellers are likely to see more success in recruiting and retaining millennials.
Millennial sellers with an engineering background can talk the talk when it comes to the technical aspects of manufacturing sales. But they may initially struggle connecting with customers. Pay close attention to these areas when implementing a training program.
- Treat sales skills as a third pillar. Technical knowledge is critical to success in this industry, as is understanding the ins-and-outs of the product. But companies that blend sales training in with technical and product training see more success—companies whose reps exceed client expectations in providing insights and perspectives have win rates 12.4 percent higher than those who merely meet expectations.
- Blend your sales methodology with skills training. Millennial sellers expect employers to teach them skills that enable them to be successful across the entire sales process – from prospecting to qualifying to presenting to closing. This is the perfect time to impart your company’s proven, successful sales methodologies.
- Teach stakeholder interaction and connection. While in the past, manufacturing sales conversations were transactional, one-on-one conversations, the number of stakeholders involved in the process has vastly multiplied. Young sellers need to identify these stakeholders and speak to the value of solutions based on each person’s interests.
Turnover is a very real fear when hiring millennial manufacturing sellers. One in five (21 percent) millennials changed jobs in the past year, more than three times the turnover rate of other age groups.
But when millennials sense loyalty from their employers, they return the sentiment. Millennials who believe their companies exhibit a high-trust culture are 22 times more likely to want to work there for a long time.
- Figure out what drives them. Don’t know millennials’s motivations or goals? Just ask. Millennials know what they want and aren’t afraid to tell you — whether it’s a job that requires travel, a role that lets them give back through pro bono work or the opportunity to launch a new technology or innovation.
- Help them develop long-term goals and career paths. Help millennials imagine a long-term future with your company by specifically defining career paths and benchmarking them with incremental goals.
- Provide ample opportunities to learn. Millennials are devoted to their employer if they feel like the company is equally devoted to their continued growth — 87 percent say professional development represents an important part of their jobs. This approach shows that the company needs to invest in them as sellers.
- Let them lead. Just because they’re not experienced at your company doesn’t mean millennials don’t have a unique perspective to offer. Millennials can teach manufacturers how to use technology to better enable their sales force, giving them an opportunity to immediately impact the sales organization.
With unemployment rates at historic lows, millennials have choices when it comes to their next employers. Highlight the possibilities available to them as manufacturing sellers, and let them know the value that their unique perspective and technical knowledge bring to your organization.