How Gen X changed the rules for top salespeople

How Gen X changed the rules for top salespeople
How Gen X changed the rules for top salespeople

Angela Bakker Lee
Principal, ZS Associates

Top salespeople in the past were often referred to as “lone wolves,” and an excellent sales team operated like a pack of hunters. The biggest challenge was to motivate them through individual expectations and incentives that were perceived to be fair and objective for all members of the pack. Today, for the top performers from Generation X &Y, it's no longer enough to  hunt with the pack. Top sales talent needs frequent feedback and practical coaching, as well as personalized communications that inspire them and connect them to the larger organization.

Recent business literature has started to address these changes: “Many of these employees set an incredibly high bar for their organizations,” noted the Harvard Business Review last year. “Precisely because they work harder (and often better) than their peers, they expect…stimulating work, lots of recognition, compelling career paths, and the chance to prosper if the organization does.”  In addition, “They want work to afford them the opportunity to make new friends, learn new skills, and connect to a larger purpose.”

Gen X & Y'ers also challenge the axiom that sales people are close to customers but fairly disconnected from the company and the broader business community, relying on their manager for those ties. New hires use blogs, web conferencing and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to build relationships and better align resources with customer opportunities using real-time information, and this is one of the secrets to their success.

As salespeople increasingly use new media, they are also changing how and what they learn about their company. In the new-media world, it may be less important for a company to be rated highly by an industry publication in an annual review issue, and more important for bloggers engaged in topics of interest to your top salespeople (and their customers) to have a positive view of your company.

Although the power of new media to shape perceptions and beliefs, and therefore to help you attract and retain top sales talent, seems obvious, its organic nature raises challenges. It's important for the number and nature of a company's discussions on various websites to be tracked. Despite this, more and more sales organizations realize that advocating a clear point of view about the company, and engaging with both salespeople and customers through these new media, are vital for success today and can be a powerful tool to help attract and retain top salespeople. It will only become more important in the future.