Thu, Jan

Playing the generation game

Playing the generation game

Successful selling has always been predicated on an accurate understanding of the customer and his needs but are your sales professionals in step with the new buyers? Consultants Peter Lancaster and Jacky Morgan explain what you need to do to attract them.

If you remember Yuppies, are still mourning the retirement of the nation's favourite Irishman, are putting off the adoption of reading glasses and regularly use phrases such as "mustn't grumble" and "is it me?" - you're not alone. Across the whole of the print industry the average sales executive is a 49 year old 'Baby Boomer' who comes from a generation that saw the industry prosper and flourish while enjoying reasonable margins from customers who were print-savvy, demanding but loyal, and for whom the printer was still their only marketing service provider (MSP). That print buyer of old is now extinct. With some exceptions, the typical 'orderer' of print is now far more likely to be a 27-year-old 'Generation Y' (born after 1982) or 'Generation X' female marketer. Measured less on unit costs and more on return on investment they manage a budget for on- and offline campaigns, of which print in all its formats and guises is likely only to be a small element.
The disconnect between two such individuals is obvious; whilst gravitas and experience is one thing, acting like your customer's Dad is quite another! So, how can your marketing and sales efforts convince these daughters (and sons!) of boomers that we empathise with them and are equipped to offer real solutions to their large-format challenges?
One of the major hurdles is that for them - unlike with their predecessors - print is not the only medium in the mix. In short, the business landscape is changing and to survive print providers need to recognise the differences between the 49 year-olds' and 27 year-olds' technological knowledge, values, expectations and life experiences and be prepared to walk in the younger person's shoes.


1.    Be aware that the differences exist. Sales training in the 1980's taught us to "Know your enemy". It likened successful selling to waging war and advocated the planning of sales strategies with military precision and determination. In these more enlightened times we distance ourselves from such analogies and talk of partnering with a customer to create a relationship of benefit to both parties, but knowing exactly who we're dealing is still the correct methodology. The marketing tactics and sales approaches we've used in the past, tried and trusted as they may be, simply won't cut the mustard with these young digital natives. Recognising that we're dealing with a different animal forces us to re-evaluate our existing modus operandi and review how effective it's likely to be.

2.    Don't ignore Generations X and Y. As a group, the combination of the younger end of Generation X and the older end of Generation Y is simply too big to ignore. Almost as large as the baby boomer generation they already make up an increasing part of the workforce, and that shouldn't be just the workforce of your customers but, of course, your own. When recruiting for new members of your sales/marketing team actively seek out candidates that fit this demographic, ensure they're represented within your organisation and that you capture their full value. It's widely accepted that "people like people like them". Your marketing audience will respond better to and have more in common with a sales team whose needs, drivers and life experiences mirror their own. Less salary driven and more focussed on the whole work experience you may find though that managing a Generation Y recruit is a little different! Studies have found that up to 85% expect to spend a significant amount of time working from home and more than half are looking for flexible working arrangements.

3.    Generation Y'ers have a lot to offer. They're said to be confident, connected, optimistic and entrepreneurial and are far and away more tech-savvy than their predecessors; even those Generation X'ers we've grown accustomed to dealing with and that are now climbing the corporate ladder. Additionally, they see the world as truly global which makes them far less likely to remain with a single source if they're not getting what they want. For you as a supplier, or prospective supplier, this means keeping on your toes and avoiding complacency by constantly monitoring and measuring the service levels you're delivering to avoid lapsed customers - or "churn" as it's become known.

4.    Don't expect longevity. Recent research indicates that more than 30% of Generation Y employees express little loyalty to their current employer and expect to leave within two years so bare that in mind when building customer relationships - and when recruiting from this age group yourself. A new broom not only sweeps clean but may bring with it a favoured supplier, who might replace you. Making yourself more indispensable and firmly embedded in the customers' business processes (and Web-to-print is the prime example) minimises the risk of this.

5.    Get wired into the matrix. Gen Y has never experienced a working environment which didn't rely heavily on technology. Brace yourself - they may not even be familiar with the fax machine as their lives, both personal and work, exist online. And this means they can, and do, research organisations and individuals carefully and thoroughly. A static brochureware website won't impress them; their expectation is of a presence that is not only current but altogether more dynamic, interactive and layered.

Web 2.0, which is an approach rather than any new technology, means that websites are now less about reference and more about resource; so video, downloadable content in the form of tools, research and white papers are the order of the day. Think LinkedIn for personal profiles of any of your reps they may come into contact with, a company Facebook page, Twitter for updates and information, a blog for news and comment and, of course, Web-to-print for online ordering.

6.    Deliver immediate gratification. Thriving on immediate feedback Generation Y is characterised by an impatience and inability to wait. The multi-tasking that comes so naturally to them means they assume the same skills from those they deal with. Where in times past a buyer would wait for a quotation or response to a query, Generation Y'ers won't. A failure to recognise this and adopt your processes accordingly (or at least set realistic expectations) is dangerous.

7.    Beware patronising behaviour. Having grown up in a society where the individual's rights are respected and youth is prized, they expect to be valued as both an individual and an equal, irrespective of any lack of experience. Ensure that you communicate honestly with them and that your dealings are transparent and non-patronising; at the same time being conscious that they may know less about what they're buying than they would have you believe!

8.    Take a holistic approach. Tending to be idealistic and well-versed in issues such as work/life balance,  corporate social responsibility (CSR)and the environment these Millennials look for value alignments before they affiliate with a company (whether as an employer or supplier). So your environmental impact and performance, though not necessarily the deciding factor, is definitely on their radar and needs to be part of your approach.

9.    Network to the max. Don't be fooled into thinking though that the digital route is their only form of interaction. Face-to-face communication remains important; Generation Y'ers embrace diversity and team working, and informal networking opportunities and social relations are appreciated by them. So, by all means use email, SMS, etc. but don't be limited by this and ensure that personal contact is maintained.

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