LinkedOut – How to Teach Millennials the Right Way to Prospect

Becoming a better sales coach and sales manager

Do you have millennial salespeople on your team? Do they refuse to do anything except use social media and LinkedIn for business development? Here’s how to help them execute a comprehensive prospecting strategy—both offline and online.

Millennials Don’t Cold Call

I’ve heard this from many frustrated sales managers. “I hired this new salesperson with great potential but she refuses to do anything other than prospect through social media. I know it works but they need to be engaging in other activities as well. Otherwise, they’ll never hit their sales quota.”

As much as I don’t like to brand people, (I even wrote an article about the dangers of branding and judging people), the new workforce (i.e. Millennials) is more connected to social media than any other generation. While social media, especially LinkedIn, is a great tool to connect and uncover new business opportunities, it’s only one spoke of the proverbial wheel when it comes to executing a holistic and comprehensive business development strategy. And let me be clear, I’m a huge fan and user of LinkedIn. It has helped me generate a great deal of new business for my company. But new business development efforts don’t stop there.

Managers are stuck in this conundrum, as they come to me and complain, that, “While some are open to trying other ways to generate new business, most of these Millennials come to work, spend the day online, and believe that making a “phone call” means sending a text, email, or an Inmail message to a prospect on LinkedIn! Since when does, “calling someone” mean anything other than picking up the phone?”

Truth be told, this phenomenon doesn’t just apply to Millennials but to other salespeople as well, who may want to hide behind using social media as their main vehicle to generate new sales opportunities in order to justify why they don’t have to engage in other prospecting activities.

LinkedIn and LinkedOut

As someone who gets hundreds of LinkedIn invitations that simply read, “I’d like to add you to my professional network,” I’m getting to the point where I have as many pending invitations as I do in my network. Mainly, it’s because I’m pretty adept at seeing through their profile and recognizing them as another bottom feeder looking to shamelessly pitch their products or services to me. Yet, as good as I may be at doing so, there are still some that slip through the cracks. How do I know? Because immediately after I accept their invitation, inevitably, I get an Inmail from them about wanting me to “schedule a call” or “try out this cool, new tool to help grow your business.” Next step; they are officially removed from my network.

Honor Traditional Sales Wisdom

Traditional sales principles still apply, even when it comes to prospecting online. You can’t ask for something until you uncover a need or want, deliver value as well as a targeted message, and have built some baseline of a relationship, while getting permission to do so each step of the way. Personally, connecting with me and then pitching me immediately after I’ve allowed someone into my network is the red flag to remove them from my network and a surefire way to destroy what could have been a valued relationship.

While LinkedIn and other social media platforms are great vehicles to connect with people you may not normally have access to, I’m noticing how it’s quickly becoming a roadblock to new business development as well. Reluctant salespeople are using  social media as an excuse as to why they don’t need to prospect in more traditional ways, such as cold calling, networking, delivering workshops and webinars, writing an article or creating a newsletter where they would actually have to deliver something of value that would contribute to the success of their target audience. While I’m a fan of all approaches, they need to be balanced out with a holistic and carefully crafted business development strategy to generate more leads and ultimately new business.

So, what can us old-timers do about this growing phenomenon and break through the social media minefield?

Create the Coaching Moment

While this is becoming a global epidemic, it’s also a great coaching opportunity. Unfortunately, most managers aren’t prepared to facilitate a coaching conversation that would lead to a change in behavior. And let’s be clear, if you’re already charged up and irritated by this person’s reluctance to expand their prospecting mindset and strategy, it’s probably not the best time to approach them and have this conversation.

First, you, as the manager, need to take a step back, embrace calmness and demonstrate patience and unconditional support.

Then, sit the person down and most important, avoid getting on your soapbox. Instead of talking at them and telling them all the reasons why they need to do more than just prospect via social media, or what other salespeople do to be successful, or how they are never going to hit their sales goals if they don’t do something other than focus on social media for new opportunities, seek to understand the why behind their thinking so you can better understand their position. After all, in their world, they believe in what they’re doing. So, if you want to stimulate the law of reciprocity and have them listen to you, it’s important to respect their position and listen to them. Now, they will be more open to respecting and listening to your position and point of view.

Once you have a better understanding of their strategy and the why behind it, you can then create a new possibility in that conversation by enrolling them around exploring other strategies they can engage in to generate new business and achieve their goals, while assessing their comfort level in doing so.

Create Collaboration—Not Confrontation

Setting your intentions around this conversation doesn’t have to be difficult. Here’s an example of how to do so.

“Gina, what I want for you is to be able to achieve your goals and the success you want in the most effective and efficient way possible. I know how good you are at making connections and generating new leads through social media, and I certainly applaud you for doing so. That’s why I’d love to collaborate with you around other ways to prospect that would complement what you are already doing to accelerate your success. So, are you open to exploring and uncovering additional strategies you could try out that would help you uncover even more prospects and selling opportunities?”

Once they’re open to discussing this, it’s time to leverage the right coaching questions that would allow that person to self-assess and reflect upon what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, how effective their current strategy is in producing the results they want and need and what else they could be doing to complement their current efforts.

Ten Questions to Shift the Millennial Mindset

Here is a list of ten questions you can use to facilitate this conversation.

  1. What’s your perception or definition of effective business development?
  2. If we could expand upon your definition of business development, what could it sound like?
  3. Can you share with me your approach around generating leads through social media?
  4. How has it been working for you?
  5. How would you rate the effectiveness of your strategy in terms of enabling you to achieve your sales targets?
  6. What else could you be doing that would complement your current business development efforts, while creating an opportunity for you to grow and learn so that you’re prepared for your next role within the company?
  7. What reluctance might you have around communicating and connecting with prospects in other ways, such as email, cold calling, asking for referrals, networking, writing and delivering webinars or workshops? Can we look at each of these activities together so that I can better understand how you feel about each one?
  8. How could you leverage these other strategies in a way that would make you comfortable and work for you?
  9. How much do you know about what your peers are doing to generate new business opportunities?
  10. If you keep focusing solely on social media and don’t incorporate other prospecting strategies, how could this impact you and your performance? What can this potentially cost you by not leveraging other strategies?

Getting people to take a step out of their comfort zone may not be easy. But pushing them to do something they don’t want to do, nor understand how and why to do it will result in failure, strained relationships, and distrust.

Instead, take the first step to uncover their point of view and challenge their thinking around what it would take to become a master at prospecting in an encouraging and supportive way that’s aligned around their goals. By challenging their belief system and helping them expand their peripheral view so they can embrace a new way of thinking, only then will a change in behavior take place.

Keep in mind, what motivated me to write this article in the first place were the conversations I continually had with managers across the world around this being one one of their greater challenges when developing a sales team; whether they’re dealing with Millennials or other people on their team. I simply wanted to provide a more effective approach and some talk tracks for managers to use during this conversation with their salespeople so that, rather than getting on your soapbox and telling them what to do, managers can successfully create more buy in and alignment around expanding their sales team’s prospecting efforts to include other activities as well.

Besides, if you generate even just a few good selling opportunities from each distinct prospecting activity, it would lead to greater success. So, be patient. After all, there’s a reason why they call it a generational gap. Rather than fight it, here’s your opportunity to embrace it. Only then can you create a new and better possibility.


Photo Credit: Keith Nerdin