Updated: Jun 6, 2018
Gen X, Millennials, just the very beginning of the journey, they were the bunny slopes of the triple black diamond ski slope called 'Enterprise Armageddon'. By 2020, 'Gen Y' will be 35% of the workforce, and the number one lever, the big handle on the side of the corporate 'one armed bandit', the golden 'reason' why everyone thinks sales people get out of bed in the morning, will be well into it's big decline. For this group of terrifying disruptors, Meaning will be more important than money, and for every sales leader who isn't ready to make a big shift in how they engage, welcome to your own personal Waterloo.
Gen Y is completely fascinating, and early demographic studies give us an amazing insight into how they are going to change the world of work. 41% say they expect to stay in a job for less than two years, 40% tell us that they would take a pay cut if they could travel the world whilst working. We are being told, very loudly, that this future workforce will work to live, and NOT live to work. Don't you kind of love them already? Aren't you proud we have created a generation that finally 'gets it'? Whether you admit to it or not, I think you are just a bit proud, because if work doesn't support human existence, then why do we work? The science of public choice tells us that we actually ARE the economy, so if work and the economy isn't helping us, then yeah, let’s be oh so woke! Let's opt out!
However, it isn't even going to be that easy. This is a generation that are 'digital native'. The 'Gig Economy', for all of it's failings, have given them the tools to be a lot more confident about going indie. The quality of life expectations have, if anything, increased, but their willingness to trade happiness for perceived economic power has declined. So we have a group of people who are looking for a sense of purpose. Not one we give them, and not one that's necessarily on our terms either, but one that we must co-create with them. 81% will chose an employer that values open communication over one that offers perks, so that coffee machine, free fruit and monthly pizza bash aren't going to cut it either.
This is a big issue that lots of companies are addressing, but for sales leaders, it's a killer. We have relied on things like sliding comp plans, quarterly bonuses and double dip commission structures to incent our sales teams. Our kick off meetings have all been about 'what are you going to do with that €20,000 bonus Rita? Will you buy a new car, go on holidays?’ Well when Rita turns around and says "Actually, it doesn't really mean that much to me Brad, I've got other priorities this year", Brad is going to be more than a little nervous, isn't he?
The 'meaning revolution' doesn't mean the end of sales, or at least it doesn't have to. We do have to take a step back and think about how we sell and what we reward however, and we need to do it really soon. So what does that mean for you? Potentially quite a lot, but here are some ideas you can try out right now:-
Start by celebrating some different kind of achievements. Instead of focussing on the personal monetary achievement of your sales team, talk about the impact they are having with their customers, how what they have sold has enabled their customer to achieve their goals, and how their relationship has strengthened as a result.
Get your team to start taking about what they are proud of in their day, what brought them joy. Was it a good meeting with a customer? Did they have an internal meeting with someone and they felt a strong connection, a shared purpose? Is there something they would like to do that would instil a greater sense of pride?
Ask someone to start off every meeting with a brief "I work here because" statement. Enthusiasm is infectious, as is disengagement. Watching the team and how they respond, and observing how you respond yourself can give you some great insight.
Have frequent (like weekly) one on one's with you team which are quite consistent both in terms of content and scheduling. Try to keep them punctual, and make sure you cover way more of the 'what matters to you' than 'what's going to close this month'. Sometimes our greatest connections are build in adversity, if someone is struggling, don't push them, support them.
Be fastidious about differentiating between deal coaching, pipeline conversations and dialog about meaning and purpose. All are really important, but they aren't completely compatible with each other and they all need in happen in a balance.
Consider grouping accounts along the lines of what the clients want to achieve and align them with your account teams based on what they care about and are committed to. If you have someone who is really excited about new technology, they will be more excited about working with clients who share that interest. Clients for whom diversity and inclusion is a big part of their lives will work best with an account executive who shares that concern. You can get clients involved in determining what matters to them too, just ask them to prioritise their concerns with you. It's a great place to start.
Perhaps most importantly though, if you're in a company or with people who don't share your values, who aren't committed to the same things as you and with whom you don't share any sense of purpose, be honest with yourself. Brush up your resume, do some analysis of the market and join an organisation that does. Life is just way too short.