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3 Keys to Leading the Next-Generation Sales Organization

3 Keys to Leading the Next-Generation Sales Organization

Ryan Estis challenges conventional thinking on corporate culture, communication, client acquisition, brand ambassadorship and change. The former chief strategy officer for the marketing division of McCann Erickson, he helps companies, leaders, and sellers more effectively connect to their two most important audiences: employees and customers. Guiding audiences through the realities of the new economy, Ryan blends interaction, energy, and actionable content to transform and elevate your business outcomes. Below, Ryan shares his tips for attracting and engaging Gen Y sales talent.

“We have to do a much better job of attracting world-class talent. We need to get our talent up to speed and keep them engaged in our business. This is especially important for Millennials.”

I was sitting in the back of the room as 75 sales executives for a world-renowned technology firm moved the conversation to one very clear priority: talent.

More specifically, attracting and engaging Gen Y sales talent.

Their January Sales Leadership Summit was packed with product updates, customer insights, process improvements and a 2020 vision rollout that included more than doubling the size of the business. This a company with incredible momentum in the marketplace and they are well-positioned to grow. However, when the day concluded with open conversation, it was crystal clear that one leadership challenge was top of mind:managing the next generation to drive sales growth.

This isn’t a new concern, but it’s a massively important one. Gen Y is challenging the status quo and forcing employers to rethink traditional work practices. They have a progressive perspective and are coming to work ready to contribute and make an immediate difference.

They’re also the most mobile generation in the history of the modern workplace — “mobile” meaning they love their smartphones, but more importantly for your business, “mobile” meaning they’ll leave and find a new job if they aren’t satisfied. A third of employed millennials are actively looking for a job and are projected to stay with an employer only about two years on average. Two years!

Plenty of sales organizations can barely approach getting a territory up to peak profitability in a two year window. To think about a talent exodus on the other side of that is a massive concern when it comes to growth.

What The Next-Gen Sales Organization Looks Like

If you want to be a success in 2020 (and beyond), it’s time to really think about what your future workforce expects. Research from my partner Modern Survey shows us there are three things we need to know about Gen Y employees:

1. They value career development. If you want to keep top-performing employees on your team, you’ll need to invest in helping them grow and learn. Millennial employees who don’t feel supported and aren’t challenge to grow will look elsewhere, and quickly. The bottom line: People want to work for a company that continues to invest in them and delivers world-class development. Organizations that encourage an environment of continuous learning for employees of every generation are better positioned to win in a marketplace that is changing fast. Customers expect more. So does today’s talented sales professional.

2. They demand flexibility. The nine-to-five mentality is dead. Does work really need to be done in an office? Gen Y is looking for a more flexible work environment that rewards good work, without the rules about when and where it gets done.

Progressive sales organizations are dropping their requirements about getting to your desk by 9am, and rethinking whether activity quotas for sales teams really make sense. When you focus on results, and not activity, production improves and all employees (not just Gen Y ones!) are happier at work.

I subscribe to the philosophy that “in the absence of results, activity deserves a close inspection.” Top producers covet autonomy and are happy to be held accountable to deliver their number.

3. They want feedback every day. Forget the once-a-year performance conversation. Millennials are looking for regular, consistent feedback from their managers. Challenge yourself to give your employees honest, constructive feedback daily. Schedule future-directed check-ins every 30 days. Organize formal mentoring. Coach on how to conduct quality sales audits and ongoing self-assessment.

Organizations in every industry will need to rethink their talent strategy to win in 2020. I recently asked 300 HR professionals what challenges they see coming their way?  They shared concerns about talent, management and our evolving work culture. I added a little of my own personal perspective on the generational differences in our conversation (see the video, above).

To compete and win in 2016 — and prepare for 2020 and beyond — we need to be thinking exactly like those 75 sales executives, who are obsessed with attracting and developing new, world-class sales talent. As the sales role continues to evolve, that is going to be the difference-maker inside most sales organizations.

Ryan Estis/January, 2016