Calling an Audible: Sales Communication Today

By Joe Webb, National Sales Manager

Since COVID-19 has grounded sales personnel everywhere, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the most effective ways we can serve customers. Even before the pandemic struck, distributors were emphasizing that while relationships are still very important, there is a general sense that more is expected from today’s sales professionals. In this competitive climate, we need to be especially responsive and deliver added value: how do we help the distributor execute, what expertise do we bring to the table, how does our logistics team simplify matters for our customers?

In today’s environment, despite the fact that relationships remain important, digital communication is replacing the in-person interactions. While digital communication is often simpler and therefore more frequent, sales personnel must maintain a focus on quality over quantity.  There is no point in emailing customers daily if the content of the emails is unimportant; I receive many trivial emails daily which I delete without even opening.  Rather, a measured use of email, text, and phone calls for thoughtful, effective, relevant communication can foster a productive, mutually beneficial relationship. Each communication or touch point must deliver some value so that the recipient is not inclined to delete and disregard it.

As we navigate these changing modes of business communication, we must also consider the diversity of the current work force, particularly with regard to generational differences.  It is crucial to understand and embrace the strengths, challenges, preferences, and dislikes of coworkers and customers in order to optimize a team’s performance, and many of these fall along generational lines.

I had the opportunity to hear Matthew Beaudreau of the Center for Generational Kinetics speak at this year’s WASDA conference, and he shared some fascinating insights. My key takeaways:

  • Workforce demographics are changing and millennials now comprise the largest working generation with 83.5 million employed; this also is the fastest-growing generation of customers.
  • Sales professionals must understand the differences between the generations to work with them successfully. These are not steadfast rules, but they do provide powerful clues on how to connect with people of different ages.
    • Gen Z, born after 1996, will, over the next 5 years, be the fastest growing sector of employees and consumers. They are tech-savvy, tend to be fiscally conservative and eschew debt, may leapfrog millennials professionally due to their work ethic and expectations, and they prefer email to phone communication.
    • Millennials (Gen Y), born 1977-1995, are currently driving every major workplace and market trend. They are not as tech-savvy as Gen Z, but are very tech-reliant, which drives their communication, marketing, and learning styles. They are multi-taskers, bring valuable new skills to the workplace and are willing to challenge the status quo.  They prefer email to phone or in-person communication.
    • Gen X, born 1965-1976, are generally skeptical; their position is “trust, but verify”. They value loyalty to individuals, dislike surprises at work, and are detail oriented so they tend to make great managers and leaders. Email communication is preferred over phone or meetings, and if a meeting is required, ideally it is short and informal.
    • Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964, value onsite working hours; they are not in favor of working remotely. They are policy and procedure driven, and prefer face-to-face meetings or phone calls, believing that back and forth emails are incomplete and inefficient when a 5-minute conversation can clarify all.
    • Traditionalists, born before 1945, are the generation most trusted by millennials. They are formal in their communication style, preferring written or face-to-face interactions, and they are comfortable with delayed gratification.

The most important lesson for us as sales professionals is to communicate effectively with our customers, and to do that we must meet them where they are—whether that is via email, phone, in person (when it is safe to do so) or via text. By remaining mindful of customers’ comfort levels and preferences, which may be driven by generational trends, we can deliver more effective, value-added service. This, in turn, brings satisfaction to the customer and growth to our business.