Managing the Millennial Sales Team

In less than 10 years, the global workforce will be about 50% millennials. As Baby Boomers begin to leave the workforce, and Generation Xers take on new roles in leadership, the front line of the global salesforce will be filled to the brim with millennial account executives and development reps. Asa Hochhauser, Director of Account Development at Ion Interactive, realizes this more than most. As the leader of a team of ten sales reps, he identifies as a Xennial—the generation born on the border between Generation X and millennials. His team, however, is full of millennials, and that means cultivating a management style that matches his team’s unique needs.
Millennial Sales Team Graphic
After his first promotion into management years ago, Hochhauser was forced to reflect upon his leadership style. This came with its own challenges, “As I continued to grow into more responsibility, one challenge was managing my peers. You’re just friends one day. They’re reporting to you the next.” This common challenge for many young managers was a growth opportunity for Hochhauser, who cited effective communication with his team and the mentorship of a senior leader as keys to success. He’s enjoyed the continued personal development that has accompanied each of his shifts in job function—and managing a team of millennials was no exception.

First and foremost, Hochhauser recognizes the individuality of each salesperson. He notes, “You’ve really got to tune in and be attentive to each individual need—then adjust your style from employee to employee.” As an empathetic manager, who wants his all employees to succeed, Hochhauser recognized that a cookie-cutter approach to management wasn’t good enough, he needed more intentionality. “I used to do my 1-on-1s back to back, but I realized that was a mistake. If you really want to be mentally present for your employees, you have to be able to shift gears and take some time to plan for that interaction.” Recognizing the high need for personalized attention on his team has been a theme through his management of millennial workers.

The generational difference between Hochhauser and his team is always at play in his sales management dynamics. As part of a generation that grew up without the internet, Hochhauser jokes, “You never think you’re gonna say, ‘I was walking through the snow when you were just a kid,’ but it naturally starts to happen.” He sees the stark difference that the few years between generations reflects and has a few suggestions for how to best engage millennial employees, help them grow, and deliver powerful results:

Free the team to fail

Millennials are stereotypically known for being overly-reliant upon their managers for approval and guidance. But Hochhauser has found that sometimes pushing employees out of the proverbial nest is the best approach. While every team member will have moments of failure or inhibiting their own development, he sees value in “letting go a little bit,” and customizing his coaching from person to person to help them grow through challenging behaviors or seasons. This personalized approach to management, rather than a one-size-fits-all strategy, is absolutely essential to the success of Hochhauser’s team.

Open the door to feedback

As corporate culture continues to be a focus for millennial job hunters, Hochhauser wants to ensure his team feels free to offer feedback to him, just like he does to them. “We have a genuine, open culture of communication. So employees can walk into my office and tell me I’m doing a bad job any day of the week—and they know I’ll be okay with it.” Those personal connections, cultivated primarily through 1-on-1s, create opportunities to hear from his team, learn what’s going well, and discuss opportunities for improvement.

Match skills with job function

At Ion, getting promoted in the sales department isn’t just a matter of consistently meeting quota—it’s important to match personality with job function. “If an SDR is hitting quota, it doesn’t mean that they’ll necessarily be good for the ADM role.  There’s a much deeper level of business acumen that’s required, and a lot of soft skills that you have to have as well.” Hochhauser wants his people to grow and develop—but if their skills don’t fit the next step in the sales org, he works to help them find a place where they can succeed in the long-run.

Onboard with flexibility and excellence

While older employees might want to print out their training materials, Hochhauser has noticed that millennial employees gobble up online resources. He encourages this kind of ongoing learning for his team. “We really focus on self-propelling. So we lead you to the water, but we don’t make you drink it. It’s a good indicator for us who is truly committed and who can pick what we do up effectively.” Online training software like Lessonly provides a central hub like this, where employees can access the material they need—at their own pace. This style of training gives managers the tools to track and measure their team’s learning, leading to more productive, more empowered team members.

Prioritize personal development

Hochhauser recognizes that most every salesperson wants to grow personally and professionally in their job. To ensure a culture of learning and growth, his sales team reads a book together about once a quarter. This book club flavors their Monday morning team meetings with avid discussion in the spirit of helping one another improve. For sales leaders looking to start their own book club, Hochhauser always recommends books that have been personally impactful—he often suggests Jim Keenan’s Not Taught, Anthony Iannarino’s The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, and Adamson & Dixon’s The Challenger Customer.

Hochhauser has had the opportunity to learn and grow as a manager throughout his time at Ion. Managing a millennial workforce—or any team—comes with unique challenges and opportunities. In the end, a radical focus on people and their personal development continues to pay overwhelming dividends in better individual performance, team cohesion, and market success.

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