Is the Generation Gap Gone?

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Keeping your business healthy — and sustaining this industry — requires a deep understanding of how the generations can work together.

Generations are very interesting, and to me, people in general are even more fascinating. It’s really what makes our world spin. There are countless books and presentations by generationalists, offering explorations of the personalities of generations. Although the ranges of years vary (as well as the analysis of behaviors and attributes), the information boils down to this:

Born Between Generation Key Aspects
1925-1945 War (“Silent”) Hard workers, traditional, radio babies
1946-1964 Baby Boomers Long work hours, team players, large population
1965-1976 Generation X Latchkey kids, question everything, not joiners
1977-1998 Millennia (“Gen Y”) Multi-task, civic-minded, value education, technology

For the first time in history we have four generations working sideby- side in the workplace. This dynamic can create substantial issues relating to teamwork, compatibility and productivity due to the varied personalities and their individual needs and wants.

I see this as a huge opportunity to obtain a wonderful cross section of different perspectives and views on life. You need to embrace all generational players of this extremely diverse team, especially in our current situation of rapid change and uncertainty. What better way to target all potential markets and customers!

In the rep world, we often hear that finding, hiring and keeping good salespeople is one of the “biggest challenges facing reps today.” In years past, we used to see many more 2nd and 3rd generation rep companies; this is not so today. My theory on this is twofold: 1) the kids come to mom or dad and say, “Hey, you are always so worried about losing a line, and you are always at some sales meeting, or entertaining customers or principals… Why would I want that?” Or 2) the mom or dad wearily looks the kids in the eye and says, “Go to med school!” We need to help this tradition get back on track. It is possible, and the multi-generational family business does work; there are many successful MANA members who are family businesses.

Moving forward, we have to better understand the upcoming generations and also understand their specific abilities relative to our risk/ reward business. The term “sales” doesn’t always generate great perceptions, but it will continue to be a sound career choice as our society and culture change. We all need to educate industries, associations and academia on manufacturers’ reps.

As part of this effort, MANA is working with the University Sales Education Foundation (USEF, see www.saleseducationfoundation.org), which has helped 37 colleges and universities create formal sales curriculums, so students can earn a degree in sales. The schools are listed on the USEF site. This is a great program that will enhance awareness of sales in academia, while likely improving the perception of what it means to work in sales, especially for future generations.

I invite you to reach across the generational aisle and grab hold of someone one-third your age (or three times your age), set down your laptop and PDA, stop your e-mail and your Twittering and go share a cup of coffee. You might be surprised what you learn — and what you have in common.

Good Selling.

A New Challenge Facing Reps: the Generation Gap!

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It used to be that the standard answer to the question “Why do you do (fill in the blank) that way?” was “Because that’s the way I’ve always done it.” I say “used to be” because times have changed, and they’ve forced the independent manufacturers’ representative to change not only the way he thinks, but the way he does virtually everything.

Among the many drivers of change that reps are coping with today are the different generations populating the workforce. These generational differences are highlighted in this issue of Agency Sales. This is a subject that we’ve looked at before … Read the rest

Salesforce Expertise as Competitive Advantage

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In a shrinking economy, sales leaders face a dilemma: customers still able to invest in new solutions are also demanding discounts and other concessions. At the same time, selling organizations are under great pressure to deliver both sales numbers and profitability to meet their own companies’ expectations.

In this situation, what can sales leaders count on to win? Typically, the sales organization does not control product or market strategy, and pricing and revenue goals are set elsewhere in the organization. Nevertheless, the sales executive has direct influence on a powerful source of competitive advantage: the salesforce and how it interacts … Read the rest

How the Generation Gap Can Hurt Your Business

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The fact that right now we have multiple generations toiling in the workplace — all hustling to find their way and make their mark — will hardly come as a surprise to independent manufacturers’ representatives and the manufacturers and customers they work with.

As if the existence of this phenomenon needs any support, The Washington Post reported earlier this year on a seminar conducted in Fairfax, Virginia, that was attended by business executives all of whom maintained they didn’t understand their younger employees. In her session entitled “Get Wise with Gen Ys,” business coach Anne Loehr emphasized that now, for … Read the rest

Why You Need Strong Millennials in Your Workplace

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One office manager — probably one among many — finds it increasingly frustrating to manage her youngest employees. She complains that the Millennials who work for her, “continually show up late for work, ask to leave early, always turn down overtime requests and wonder why they haven’t been promoted after just one year on the job.” She’s not alone in her concerns.

As the millennial generation begins to enter the workplace they are bringing a new set of skills and a different kind of work ethic than previous generations. They’re already “shaking up” the organizations that have hired them and … Read the rest

Applying Continuous Process Improvement for Managing Customer Loyalty

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Management practices are seldom subjected to process improvement, particularly in small to mid-size companies. The management practices established early in the life of a company often continue with little change as the company grows in size and complexity.

However, it is just as important to improve the process of management as it is to improve the processes used to create products and deliver services.

Some of the benefits of applying process improvement to management practices include:

  • Increased sales, improved cash flow, and enhanced profits.
  • Reduced cost of re-selling to lost or at-risk accounts.
  • Better business decisions because more complete information
  • Read the rest

Retiring Baby Boomers and Dissatisfied Gen Xers Cause Brain Drain

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With the Baby Boomers plodding closer to retirement, much is being said about the impending “brain drain” on American business. The generation of Americans born between 1946 and 1964 has been considered the culprit for all sorts of high points, low points, market gluts, shortages, and concerns about the future of Social Security benefits. Now it’s being blamed for a critical loss of knowledge and experience in the nation’s businesses.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nearly 77-million Americans in this age group, and by the year 2010, half of them will be between the ages … Read the rest

What to Do in an Economic Upswing Before It’s Too Late

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While the economic data continues to send confusing and conflicting messages, the mood of the nation seems to be coming down on the side of increasing optimism. It’s difficult to decide whether we’re guided by hollow hope or well-grounded facts. It may be both or, quite possibly, neither.

But one thing’s for certain. Negative thinking has worn out its welcome. We want to believe that we’re on the verge of an upturn. Then, at the very moment when it seems as if the worst may be behind us, why is it necessary to suggest that there are things we need … Read the rest

Characteristics of Great Salespeople

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When it comes to understanding the role of sales and how to maximize sales performance, not too many business executives “get it.”

Hint: Managing sales is not about dictating control. If your salespeople are totally controllable by you, then what are they like when negotiating on your behalf? Worse yet, if you have total control over them, then do they have to wait for you to tell them to do something before they do it? Two major characteristics of great salespeople are the strength to negotiate value in the face of a buyer’s price pressure and the self-discipline to get … Read the rest

Say Goodby to Voicemail?

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When a rep, who obviously had a good relationship with his principal, started complaining about the number of voice mail messages from manufacturers he had to deal with, the principal nodded knowingly. He quickly offered that “I’m hearing more and more of this from my reps. That’s why I’ve changed the way I communicate with them. I’ve drastically cut back on phone calls, especially when all we’re dealing with is general information and answers to questions—instead I’m using e-mail and text.”

As if this scenario needs any proof, here’s what Piers Fawkes wrote on a website (www.PSFK.com) devoted to … Read the rest

Getting More Out of Retirement

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The Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2006 provides plenty of tax breaks for individual taxpayers and business owners alike. One of the biggest of those breaks is scheduled to happen in 2010: being able to convert traditional (both non-deductible and deductible) IRAs into Roth IRAs and pay the taxes over a two-year period. With the proper planning this can help individuals grow their wealth. They will never again pay taxes on this money.

Roth History and Background

Roth IRAs were created by the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. After-tax dollars are contributed, allowing individuals to receive tax-free distributions … Read the rest

Social Media: Communicate the Important Stuff

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In the midst of a teleconference earlier this year devoted to the importance of using social media, one attendee offered her introduction to the use of Twitter. “I signed up last week and was anxious to get started. Once I completed the profile and introductory steps it was time for my first entry which was ‘I just ate yogurt.’”

After what seemed liked an interminable period of silence, the conference facilitator offered: “You blew it. You just described yourself as being boring. Why would anyone want to follow you or read anything you have to write?”

His point gets at … Read the rest