As published on Forbes.com

Karen has been running a successful company for more than 20 years. She knew what made her employees tick, and knew just which messages would capture the attention of her ideal customer. Over the past several years she noticed with more employees and customers coming from the Millennial Generation (also known as Generation Y), things have changed. What used to motivate her employees doesn’t seem to be working anymore. And, her customers now have different expectations. Karen commented that if she doesn’t figure out how to adapt, she could be in trouble. If this sounds familiar, you might be interested in how to sell your ideas to Millennials.

Who Are Millennials

Millennials are not a separate species. They are loosely defined as the generation that approached adulthood around the year 2000. They might be described as a bit irreverent, arrogant, and independent. They might not dress respectfully – the same terms that were used to describe baby boomers 30+ years ago. You can bury your head in the sand and hope that the Millennial Generation will start acting like the prior generation. That approach, however, didn’t work so well in the past, and is not going to work for this generation, either.

Millennials are the fastest-growing generation of customers in the marketplace, bringing the greatest lifetime value. Source: The Center for Generational Kinetics

Millennials are the fastest-growing generation of customers in the marketplace, bringing the greatest lifetime value. Source: The Center for Generational Kinetics

Just like any other generation, Millennials base their behavior on past experience and what influenced them while growing up. Prior generations would work in an industrial-age company for decades before retiring. The new generation is the offspring of those who were victims of downsized companies and eliminated pensions. Whereas the prior generation experienced the emergence of technology, the Millennials don’t remember the world without a tablet or smartphone. As Jay Baer of ConvinceAndConvert.com says, “The smartphone is a silly name. Anyone younger than me seems to use it for ANYTHING but a phone conversation.”

How Millennials Are Wired 

If you want to sell your ideas to any audience, you need to understand how they think. I spoke with some of the most respected minds when it comes to Millennials to try and uncover how they are wired, and how to capture their hearts and minds.

“By 2017, Millennials will outspend baby boomers.” Said Jason Dorsey, Lead Millennials Researcher at the Center for Generational Kinetics. “Millennials are completely outcome driven. You can’t ask them to start at step one of a seven step process. They need to see the result. So, start at the end, and share how your steps help them reach the desired outcome. They are not tech-savvy. In fact, our generational research center discovered that Millennials are not tech savvy but tech-dependent. This is a huge distinction everyone from managers to marketers needs to know.”

“Because of technology, businesses are forced to evolve and adapt rapidly – Millennials do this well –“ Says Rayanne Thorn, – VP of Marketing for HR Technology company, Dovetail Software, and editor for intrepidHR. “They like to adapt and adopt, they have grown up with technology. Engage with them appropriately and organizations will reap the rewards…”

“Baby boomers were taught to shut up, listen, and follow the rules. Boomers had a need and desire to look busy to their bosses.” Said Brad Szollose – Author of Liquid Leadership, and a workforce performance strategist based in New York. “Millennials are attuned to results and efficiency. When the task is done, they are not going to give the appearance of being busy. They want to find the best way to get something accomplished, and are not willing to blindly accept the way others did things in the past.” When it comes to brand loyalty, Szollose explains, “Whereas boomers were loyal to brands based on advertising, Millennials are attracted to brands who think and act like they do. If you are hip enough, Millennials are willing to pay more to be associated with you than with others.”

The Bottom Line For Millennials

Millennials are not crazy or lazy. They are not high maintenance. They, like prior generations, have their own experiences and perspectives that differ from how others might see the world. Your business does not expect all of its older generation customers or employees to embrace web self-service and texting. Similarly, Millennials do not expect to have to conform to old-ways of doing things. As Jason Dorsey says, “Don’t send us a handwritten note to win us over. We can’t even READ cursive!

Millennials Demand

  • Technology and self-service across any device they choose
  • Their experience must be tailored to what THEY want right now (like they experience on Amazon every day)
  • Free overnight shipping… because that’s all they know
  • Being treated uniquely not in a group or category
  • Identifying with a broader purpose or vision. They see the big picture, even if their pants are riding lower than past generations

Millennials Will

  • Pay extra if your values align with their values
  • Tell everyone they know if they like what you are doing
  • Tell everyone including people they DON’T know if you disappoint them and fail to make it right
  • Be loyal to brands and businesses who deliver what they want
  • Do their own research and will not reach out to you until they’ve formed their own opinion
  • Leave your brand or employment if they don’t feel they are aligned with your big picture (which can easily happen if you don’t share a big picture view of your mission)

Conclusion

Just like every generation before them and after them, this generation wants to be recognized and appreciated. However, as Szollose points out, “Millennials have skills and resources we need. They are tomorrow’s buyers. You need to stop expecting them to revert to old ways of buying and working.” So if you want to sell your ideas to Millennial employees and customers, you might want to approach them the way they want to be engaged.

It’s Your Turn

What’s your experience with Millennials either as customers or coworkers? If you are a Millennial do you agree with these assessments? Submit your comment below or take the conversation to Twitter or LinkedIn.