I’m a Baby Boomer who has been in the industry for a while now. I’ve seen sales evolve alongside new technology and adapt to changing customer expectations. I’ve also seen some of the same challenges come up over and over again.
In an earlier part of my career, I ran an ad agency for building materials companies. Like every good company leader, I was always on the lookout for fresh talent with bold new approaches to sales and marketing.
One of those people was a young man whose application and interview really impressed me. I gave him his first assignment and couldn’t wait to see what he would do with it.
A few days passed without a word from him, so I called to see how things were going. I left a voicemail but I didn’t hear back. So, I followed up with an email and the same thing happened – I waited for a response and never got one.
My assistant could tell I was getting frustrated, so she suggested I try texting him. This is the part of the story where I show my age, because up until that point I had never sent a text. She had to show me how to do it.
Moments after my text went through, I got a response. The new hire I thought was M.I.A. told me that he had completed the assignment and was ready to meet with me.
The whole situation left me with conflicting feelings. I was smack dab in the middle of a generational divide and I was being pulled in two directions.
On the one hand, I thought of how my father would have handled this. He, and almost everyone from his generation, would have insisted that all employees use his preferred methods of communication. After all, he’s the boss so everyone else needs to follow suit.
On the other hand, I realized that texting was simply the way younger people kept in touch with each other. I may have been new to it, but this was the most natural way for them to share information, even with their employers.
I decided not to let the way my generation did things call the shots. As long as my team did good work, they could communicate it to me however they wanted – even if I’d have to learn a new skill or two to keep up.
That happened a long time ago, but it’s still very much a problem these days. In fact, I recently had a company come to me with a similar problem. Half their sales team happens to be made up of younger salespeople who resist phone calls and in-person meetings. The other half are older and resist texting and social media.
The company felt that both halves of their sales team could learn something from the other, and rightly so. They just couldn’t didn’t know how to bridge that generational divide.
That’s something every building materials company needs to think about. Even if your entire sales team is on the same page, some of your customers won’t be. Sales is all about communication and if your salespeople have a hard time reaching customers from different generations, their chances of getting a sale or keeping an existing customer satisfied will be much lower.
To help you overcome that problem and grow your sales, here’s a quick guide on how to improve communication across generations.
“Young People Are All Addicted to Their Phones” vs. “These Boomers Are Completely Out of Touch”
Generations are fuzzy concepts. Sociologists will have competing timelines and the boundaries can change over time. But by and large, we can all agree roughly on these categories:
- Baby Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964 (currently 59 to 77 years old)
- Generation X: born between 1965 and 1980 (currently 43 to 58 years old)
- Millennials: born between 1981 and 1996 (currently 27 to 42 years old)
- Generation Z: born between 1997 and 2012 (currently 11 to 26 years old)
With those numbers in mind, let’s get a quick refresher on the history of digital communication.
The internet hit the scene in the 1970s, but mainly as a tool for governments and researchers. Email didn’t take off until the late 1990s, when most homes had a personal computer and many of them had dial-up internet.
That means Baby Boomers like myself were already in their 30s and 40s by the time we first logged onto the internet. While most of us now use email frequently, it’s not a form of communication we grew up with and it’s rarely our go-to method for getting in touch with people.
Fast forward a decade or so to 2006 and social media is taking off in a big way. Facebook has opened to the public and even though it wasn’t technically the first major social media platform (Myspace beat it by a few years), it’s the first one that felt like it had everyone on it.
By this point, the Baby Boomers were well into their 40s and 50s. Almost all of us would eventually create Facebook accounts, but very few of us used it as a primary form of communication. Even Gen Xers were too set in their ways to see Facebook as a place where you could talk to potential customers.
Millennials were quicker to adopt social media, but they also tended to see it only as a social platform. Business was something they did over email and by text, not in the same place where they posted their selfies from karaoke night.
That leaves Generation Z. By the time they were old enough to use a laptop, social media had taken over the internet. They never had to look through a phonebook for someone’s number or walk to the library to do research because they always had smartphones in reach. They didn’t need to learn how to communicate online – they were accustomed to it from the very beginning.
As a result of all this, these are the preferred communication methods across the different generations:
- Baby Boomers: face-to-face meetings and phone calls
- Generation X: emails and phone calls
- Millennials: texting
- Generation Z: social media and texting
Not only does each generation have its own preference, but they also tend to have a distaste for the way other generations communicate.
Many Boomers feel disoriented by the lack of context in texting. They’re used to interpreting another person’s tone of voice, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues – all of which are absent in a text message.
Meanwhile, Millennials and Gen Z dislike how inefficient phone calls can be. And these are the generations that turned “this meeting could’ve been an email” into a workplace mantra.
Using the Right Tool for the Job
I don’t want to make it sound like this is some hard and fast rule. The communication method you use shouldn’t always be dictated by the age of the person you’re trying to reach. Instead, you should think of them as a set of tools, each suited for different purposes.
In-person meetings might seem old fashioned, but they’re the superior choice when you’re trying to establish a long-term relationship with a customer. It’s far better at building trust than texting and email exchanges. It also gives you the opportunity to present samples and give big picture explanations, which can make a much stronger case for your product.
Phone calls are great for making sure your point is getting across or when you need a definitive answer from someone. It’s easy to misinterpret a text message, but you can get a clear sense of what someone is saying when you’re on a call with them.
Email is great for sharing lots of information. You can give precise details, send links for additional context, and include attachments.
Texting’s strength is its immediacy. If you need an answer right away, you’re more likely to get it quickly if you send a text.
Social media is ideal when you’re trying to reach as many people as you can. It’s not about building a close relationship with a customer – it’s about putting your message out there for all to see.
Bridging the Generational Gap
If you think of communication methods as different tools, you’ll see that there’s no right or wrong way to reach customers. Every generation has a reason to prefer their way of doing things and each has its own advantage.
That’s why it’s important to meet in the middle instead of mandating one approach over another.
Instead of simply telling your older salespeople to start texting and using social media, show them the purpose behind them. Don’t tell them that texting is just the way things are done now, but encourage them to use it when they need a fast response or a simple yes-or-no answer.
Likewise, urge your younger salespeople to consider setting up meetings and phone calls when they need to seal the deal, especially with bigger clients. It may not be their favorite way to reach out to a customer, but they won’t shy away from using it if it will help them hit higher sales numbers.
Mainly, be sure to remind your entire team that they should be flexible. Sales is all about meeting the customer’s needs. And whether a customer wants to speak to a sales rep on the phone or shoot emails back and forth throughout the week, your salespeople should be ready to accommodate them – no matter when they were born.
Every generation of salespeople has grown up with different technologies, but there’s one thing they all have in common. All of them want to help customers and make sure they have the right products for their next project. That shared goal is all the common ground you need to bridge those communication divides.
Want more help improving communication and increasing your sales? Reach out to us! The Whizard Strategy is always here to help!