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How Do You Connect to Sell Across the Generational Gap?

What salespeople can learn from managing cultural diversity in the workplace

Examine your workplace, and it may mirror your customer base. At one end of the spectrum you have the silent generation: people with years of experience, and a more traditional upbringing. Then there are the millennials: brought up with a cell phone in one hand and wearing virtual reality goggles.

Younger customers see older people as staid, boring, and intransigent to new ideas and the modern way of living. Older customers think the younger generation has misspent their youth, lack social skills and good manners, and cannot communicate unless it is via some on-screen social media app.

To ignite sales across the generational gap, you should take guidance from how you manage cultural diversity in the workplace. In this article, you’ll find tips to help you ignite your sales across different generations by using appropriate communication styles and methods.

Understand the cultural differences that exist

Millennials are the most diverse generation we have had. A 2015 Deloitte study found that 44.2% of millennials in the United States are considered to be in a minority group (other than non-Hispanic white). The generation is better educated than previous generations, and more indebted, too. They are more likely to live with their parents, less likely to own their own home, and have poorer job prospects (despite the better education). They are very different to previous generations.

Other studies have found that, in the culture of communication, there are some striking differences between successive generations. For example:

  • Baby boomers like a clearly defined life, with work and personal life kept separate. The distinction between work and personal life is blurred for millennials: social media has seen to that. Generation X is more likely to work independently, though do communicate using the latest technology.
  • The silent generation prefers to be commanded, following orders to the letter. Baby boomers prefer to work in groups to solve problems. Generation X prefers to make decisions without unnecessary debate. Millennials engage and work with others, but are happy to do so digitally – through video, voice, or text channels.
  • The silent generation responds best to letters, memos, and telephone conversations. Baby boomers are more likely to use the telephone to communicate, whereas millennials prefer social media, texting, and instant messaging. Generation X enjoys face-to-face communication, but prefers email to messengers.

I suspect that you have noticed such differences in your workplace. Thus, to manage across generations, you first must learn to communicate effectively to each generation. Herein lies the secret to maximizing sales across the generational gap. Here are some tips on how to communicate (and therefore sell) best to people of different generations:

The Silent Generation (those born before 1946)

Preferring more formal communication, ensure that your sales meetings are impeccably planned. Lead the customer through a structured presentation, using eye contact to form a deep sense of meaning. Ensure that you listen closely to what they say, for they won’t say much, but will expect you to take notice.

The Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)

This generation has experienced huge technological change and are therefore more flexible communicators. They are also much more adept at free thinking, and so welcome a range of solutions to their problem, from which you should guide them to the most suitable. They will want to see that you understand their issues, and that you have considered all the options.

Generation X (born between 1964 and 1981)

Make sure you ask their opinions, demonstrate your service or product effectively, and conduct sales meetings face to face. They generally prefer written communication to be made via email. Sales meetings are best made brief, and to the point.

They operate best independently or in small groups, and will expect a concise, but detailed and interactive conversation.

The Millennials (born between 1981 and 2001)

This generation will become the mainstay of your sales focus over the next two decades.

They will use Google to search for solutions to problems, and interact with others via social media. They do not like using the telephone. They prefer texting and instant messaging. Because their work and personal life are so blurred, be prepared to conduct sales pitches and answer queries in a variety of ways. They will probably add you to their social media contacts very quickly and expect fast responses to their questions and concerns.

The generation gap is a cultural division

When we discuss the generation gap today, we are often describing the cultural differences between the generations. These differences may never be eliminated, but by understanding how each generation differs in their preferred communication style we can more easily learn to respect each other’s culture. When a salesperson uses effective communication techniques, the respect becomes mutual and selling becomes a formality.

Of course, the above are generalizations. Within each generation you will find a wide diversity of communication styles. Contact us today, and discover how we could help salespeople understand how people communicate and learn more effective communication by knowing their own natural communication styles.

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