What millennials want: how to sell well without being a mind reader

Talking about millennials is like drinking port wine, or taking an old family heirloom to the Antiques Roadshow: it instantly ages you. They are “selfish” and “altruistic”; they’re simultaneously tech-obsessed and driven by sensory experience; they work for “purpose, not paycheck” – except when they work for paycheck.

This manifest lack of definition makes the topic of selling to the younger demographic trickier than you might expect. But while “millennial” might not have any single, concrete meaning, statistics (happily) do. If we don’t know what they are exactly, we at least know how they’re buying – and they are buying rapidly indeed.

In fact, most will be between 60-90% done with the sales process before they engage with a member of your team, according to Jon Miller, former VP at Marketo. They’ve done their research, they know what they want, and it’s rather hard to convince them to buy anything else. If they’ve mostly made up their minds, you can’t very well tell them they’re wrong.

Still, the enterprising marketing or sales professional has options. Technology has empowered millennials, and it can also empower your company. Netflix, Amazon, and many other organisations use predictive analytics to direct the behaviour of their users and customers – but it’s not reserved exclusively for them. If you’re a smaller entity, you can use this technology to improve your sales performance in the following ways.

  1. Interpreting Big Data

Many conversations around Big Data have a rather lopsided hype: substance ratio. Yes, it’s potentially revolutionary – but the operative word is “potentially”. Having a lot of information in your system isn’t the same as having a lot of valuable information.

Millennials, as I’ve mentioned, can’t be effectively pigeonholed: their wants and desires vary, and so do their buying histories. Every time they purchase something (either online or in-store), you accumulate data – but this data is not, on its own, very useful. Modern technology facilitates the interpretation and analysis of this information to highly identifiable patterns.

You can then use these to customise your communication with each customer: if they buy a particular item on a regular basis, you can pre-empt them with special offers – saving them the work of having to “shop around” and preventing you from losing potential revenue. If you’re going to store a lot of information, you may as well put it to work!

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024
  1. Perfecting cross- and upselling

Of course, data helps you to perpetuate an established buying pattern. But if you really want to get in your millennial customers’ good books, you’ll find ways to address their other needs at the same time. If this demographic definitively loves anything, it’s the personal touch.

What does this entail? Essentially, you should leverage technology’s ability to forecast these purchases – and use it to anticipate their other needs. You can use certain software to avoid approaching at a bad time (or without the relevant information), but not inconveniencing your target audience isn’t going to be enough.

The basic principle is this: certain items have relationships to other items. Computer mice are often bought with keyboards; tyres sell with hubcaps, and so on, and so forth. Your sales team will already know this. Other associations will be less obvious, and will vary with each individual customer: if you’re a meat and produce wholesaler, they might buy blood oranges and blood sausages in bulk – but at different times.

The right technology will highlight and systematise these preferences, alerting you to potential up or cross-selling opportunities as they arise. You’ll make more money and your millennial customers will think of you as their one-stop shop.

  1. Building a long-term campaign

It bears repeating that millennials are hard to effectively categorise. But like any other subsection of the population, they do demonstrate certain behaviours en masse. Sometimes these behaviours are driven by events, sometimes these behaviours are driven by trends. Your sales guys probably don’t need to be told that alcohol consumption, for example, is going to increase in late December.

The key to maximising sales is to spot the widespread trends that aren’t quite as obvious – and here, predictive technologies come to the rescue once again. Using the collective purchase history of your customers, you can spot trends well in advance of your competitors: maybe blood sausages (or blutwurst) are en vogue in the run up to Oktoberfest; if you’re selling alcoholic beverages, you’ll be well aware that every year will always bring some new, massively popular cocktail. Whatever patterns emerge, you’ll be able to change your strategy to accommodate it – and ride the wave before it crashes.

This last principle, more than anything, appropriately encapsulates an effective millennial sales strategy. They’re changeable, inconsistent, and idiosyncratic – just like everyone else. Millennials are highly individualistic. Audaciously, they want to be treated as such. Altogether, they don’t want any one thing: they want different things, at different times. Technology can help you compensate for this, but being willing to personalise your service – and change gears at a moment’s notice is what will bring in serious profits.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024