10 things you can do to sell to Gen Y Millennials

Blatant selling as we know it is dead, i.e. Gen Y consumers are all about pull, not push, to the point that they feel a direct approach – such as a phone call or unsolicited email – is highly intrusive. It will be deleted or ignored; and worse – it’ll put them off future interactions. This leaves many organisations who’ve relied on direct sales and push marketing wondering how to reach what seems like an unreceptive, unreachable audience… but in reality there are more opportunities to reach them than ever before – only it must be on their terms.

Selling in the 21st century is all about educating, entertaining and inspiring. By sharing useful, interesting knowledge, you achieve expert positioning and will be perceived as having value; not to mention becoming familiar (which is all above-the-line TV ads are normally trying to achieve, so when you reach the ‘shelf’, you pick the product that is least likely to be a bad choice, because it is familiar and therefore trusted). You can see this on LinkedIn, when ‘sponsored stores’ by certain organisations or publishers always seem to appear at the top of your feed. These brands understand that interesting articles, videos and other content that is novel, emotional or informative is the new selling. By spraying content across the web, you’re putting feelers out to reach people with something that grabs attention to the point that they’re willing to stop what they’re doing and read / watch on.

Technology enables us to capture people exactly in the buying moment too, so if a consumer spots an interesting piece of content and starts to think about purchasing a product, it’s now easy to see what that individual has clicked on, what they’re interacted with and how frequently – therefore I can spot a ‘warm’ lead and offer them something relevant in the moment that will be perceived as helpful rather than interruptive.

Another interesting element is how business is the new educator. In other words, the pace of change has become so rapid that formal education is no longer enough – we all need to continuously update our skills via self-service education. The fact businesses have a huge amount of knowledge and information to share – and that they’re doing so in order to get, keep and grow relationships with customers online – means they’re playing a hugely valuable role as the educators of the 21st century, constantly updating their fans’ curriculum with up-to-date knowledge and insights.

Generally, Gen Y hate talking to people too! Phone is the last medium they’ll rely on; and they even resist scheduling things, like software demos, for example. They’re rather be ‘in the moment’, so tend to gravitate towards instant-messaging, self-service demos etc. ‘I’ll do it when it suits me’ attitude. This can lead to them becoming irritated by and resistant to a typical sales process that relies on scheduling calls and conversations to pull prospects through a sales cycle. Gen Y can spot this a mile off!

Self-service is also massive and touches lots of areas. For instance, Gen Y would much rather ‘google it’, visit a forum or instant-message for customer support, rather than ring a call centre, if they can possibly help it. Self-education is the new literacy, whereby the challenge is being able to seek and apply new knowledge we can help ourselves to online

Other aspects include the importance of being easy to find and using many channels so you appear in lots of places; and how this demands a test-and-learn approach, given you can’t always predict which kind of content or which channel will be most successful. It’s only when you measure and adapt (the essence of ‘agility’) that you can acquire customers at the lowest cost by fine-tuning your funnel – perhaps learning, say, that guest blog posts work much better for you per £x spend than videos promoted on Facebook through paid ads.

One last point is that Gen Y are more ethics-driven and less trusting of brands and institutions than previous generations. One by-product of this is distrust in communications that seem too ‘corporate’ or polished. Given the prevalence of social media, the truth is out there, so their trust needs to be won through providing value without asking for anything in return (e.g. sharing knowledge), by being more human, by appealing more to the emotional than the logical side etc.

10 things you can do…

  • Get a marketing automation tool so you can easily run and analyse campaigns
  • Set up analytics on your site so you can generate simple reports that enable you to make decisions about how to change the purchase path
  • Invest in great content creators (copywriting and design at a minimum) and be prolific, experimenting with different topics and formats
  • Strive to increase opt-in to build your database, e.g. by enabling blog subscriptions or enabling your audience to sign up to receive updates
  • Invest in promoting your content through paid channels (e.g. sponsoring your posts on LinkedIn)
  • Hire consultative client problem-solvers, not hardened sales sharks
  • Train your people on educating your audience online instead of selling to them
  • Analyse your funnel and customer journey to see where you can add self-service info; and remove barriers or irritations (e.g. triggering outgoing phone calls too readily)
  • Encourage a learning culture in your organisation, e.g. by setting people mini research projects outside their comfort zone or knowledge area, to build their confidence in self-educating online
  • Understand what your customer cares about, worries about and is trying to achieve in their lives – and where they seek info online – then be there answering their concerns, without agenda(ish)

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