Jan 8, 2020 • Podcast

How do I sell to Millennial buyers? with Ryan Jenkins

Paul chats with keynote speaker and author Ryan Jenkins, the leading voice on Millennials and Generation Z, about why you’re not connecting with them and what you can do about it.

Show Notes:

The beginning of a fresh decade is a great time to address stale sales techniques. With more than 11 million Millennial global decision-makers in the marketplace (and counting), it’s also imperative that you do so.

Old ways of doing business won’t build bridges across the generational sales divide. Luckily, Ryan has some suggestions:

A substantial online presence is key. Millennials and GenZ decision-makers self-educate well before seeking out a salesperson. If they can’t find you online or, worse, discover an anemic website or social presence, they won’t be interested in engaging with you. 

Understand that their buying is heavily socially influenced. A salesperson is no longer the first line of introduction to a product or service. Millennials read online reviews and get personal network recommendations well before contacting you/your brand. 

Take your high-touch high tech. Millennial not returning your calls? Like everyone else, Millennials appreciate high-touch relationships. They just prefer engaging via platforms that don’t predate the laptop. So, ask them: How do you like to connect? Text, FaceTime, Skype, even Snapchat can be employed to nurture a sales relationship.

Let go of generational biases. Quit holding on to the lazy Millennial trope. This generation has grown up in an increasingly effortless and seamless world. “They’re going to expect more effortless and seamless experiences from salespeople they do business with,” says Ryan. “That doesn’t make them entitled. That just makes them this next generation of workers or employees or customers.”


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The Q and A Sales Podcast is edited by The Creative Impostor Studios.

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Check out this episode!

How do I sell to Millennial buyers?

(Transcribed from podcast interview)

Today, we have a special show. We are actually going to have a guest on today’s show. The reason we’re bringing in a guest… this guy is the expert on the topic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in training seminars, keynote presentations, and I will get salespeople that come up to me afterwards and say, “Paul, how do I sell to the Millennial buyer?” They say, “The new Millennial buyers that I’m interacting with don’t want to meet me face to face. They don’t want to have a demonstration. They seem to be more knowledgeable. I have trouble connecting with them, getting them to return my call. How do I sell to the Millennial buyer?”

So based on that question, I reached out to a friend of mine, Ryan Jenkins. He is the leading voice on Millennials, Generation Z, and how they can work across different generations. Ryan and I first met several years ago—I’m thinking like probably seven years ago—I heard him speak at a conference and was really impressed with his content. So, Ryan agreed to join us today. And we’re going to dive deep into all things Millennials. Generation Z might come up too. But Ryan’s going to share his expertise. So I look forward to having him on the show.

Paul: Ryan, thanks for joining the show, man.

Ryan: My pleasure, Paul. Thanks for having me.

Paul: You know, it’s nice to actually have someone to talk to. I’m usually just talking to myself [laughter] when we answer these questions, so I appreciate you being here today. I thought it’d be great to have you come in because we really get these challenging questions in our trainings and keynotes about Millennial buyers, and I thought, who else would be a better person than Ryan to come in and talk about this. To help out our audience here, would you mind just telling us a little bit about yourself—your background and your area of expertise?

Ryan: Sure. Thing. So my name is Ryan Jenkins. I’m a Generations keynote speaker. My specific expertise is around emerging generations, so that consists of Millennials and now Generation Z. As of 2020, Generation Z years are those that are 22 years old and younger. So they’re now inching into the workforce. And I’m sure many of your listeners will start hearing that term more and more. I spend most of my time traveling the world, speaking to audiences, and I try and help them unpack this next generation—how to better work across generations in the future of work.

I also have a digital training company. We actually offer digital courses to our clients on the same topics. They’re very micro learning, digestible content that are anywhere from eight to twelve minutes of content.

And then, I’ve written a couple of books on the topic of the emerging generations. I’ve got a book on Millennials and one on Gen Z that just came out. I’ve also got a blog and podcast. On the podcast we cover similar ideas on the future of work and emerging generations called Next Generation Catalyst.

And then lastly, I write for Inc. Magazine. So, I share a lot of my insights and research on Inc.com. So folks just search my name and Inc. They can usually find my column. All that stuff is out there. I’m easy to find online and always eager to connect with folks that are interested in this topic.

So again, thanks for having me, Paul.

Paul: Of course. Absolutely. I thought we’d jump right in. As I mentioned, a lot of times in our training seminars and keynotes, people are asking me, “How do I sell to this new Millennial buyer?” That’s a pretty broad question. So the first thing I wanted to look at… From a decision-making standpoint, how are Millennials different from previous generations when they’re making decisions—business decisions, or deciding how to purchase? Could you shed a little light on that?

Ryan: Yeah. I think the biggest thing that stands out to me is Millennial buyers are influenced by consumer behavior. So let me give you an interesting data point. Seventy-five percent of Millennials believe the technologies they purchase for personal use influence the technologies they purchase for their organization. Seventy-five percent of Millennials said that. But, then also, you contrast that with 55 percent of Gen X and 57 percent of Baby Boomers. So it’s very clear that, more than previous generations of buyers, Millennials are bringing their consumer buying behavior and expectations into the decision making roles.

Social proof, online reviews, self-education, self-service, personal network recommendations, etc., are all influencing the buying decision of the Millennial buyer. It’s becoming such a hot topic, and I think the listeners (whoever) are struggling with this idea of connecting and selling to Millennials. You’re not alone because every “(inaudible)” of the planet is trying to figure this demographic out. Because, not only are they stepping into decision-making roles now (so many of them), they’re also stepping into their prime spending years. So every industry on the planet is trying to figure out, how do we connect and influence Millennials, because we’re about to see one of the most massive shifts in wealth that the world’s ever seen.

And I think, too, just on LinkedIn alone, there are more than 11 million Millennial, global decision makers that have self-identified, “Hey, this is my role and I make decisions for my organization.” So the dynamics are shifting, and certainly, Millennial buyers are influenced by consumer behavior. And if we zoom out, really all of our behaviors and expectations are changing due to the high-tech world that we live in. But, more so than ever, these emerging generations… new technology, the hypertext world we live in, is imprinting these generations and thus are making decisions in a very different way. So, it’s important to have the conversation.

Paul: That’s interesting. That data you mentioned about the Millennial and the fact that how much their consumer behaviors influencing their role in the B2B context. That’s great to know. And I think that’s going to present some unique challenges for companies as they’re trying to figure out how to connect and, not just connect, but also how to influence this group as well.

You know, kind of related to this I guess… When you’re looking at Millennial buyers and how they decide… When they’re choosing to partner with one company versus another company, or if they’re looking at all of their options, what do you think is important to them from a company perspective?

Ryan: I think, first and foremost, what folks have got to understand is that really all of the emerging generations… it’s really a digital-first generation. So, if you want to even be in the conversation of partnering with the Millennial buyer, or just Millennials in general, you have to have a substantial online presence. Bottom line, Millennial buyers are self-educating.

Let me give you another data point that will give a little context here. Seventy percent of buyers fully define their needs on their own before engaging with a sales representative. And 44 percent identify specific solutions before reaching out to a seller. So again, it’s very clear and the data’s clear that this generation’s going online. They’re leveraging their digital assets, their digital networks, before they ever pick up a phone, before they ever send an email, before they ever hit click, submit or send. If folks really want to start influencing this generation and connecting with them, you’ve got to have that social presence locked down.

I recently did some work with a famous auto dealership. I was working with Toyota, and we were working with some of their various dealerships where they’re trying to sell to this next generation. They were having a struggle around connecting with this next generation buyer. And what they were finding is these Millennials were coming inside the door of these dealerships so much more educated than any other generation of buyers before them. And, too often, the sales folks would cover specs or details that that Millennial buyer had already checked the box on by going online and figuring out exactly what, and how, and when they needed certain things. So if you start covering specs that a buyer has already decided in their mind, they’re going to get frustrated and probably go somewhere else. Right? And so it really changes the dynamic of how we present ourselves and how we connect with someone, knowing that this next generation is leveraging their digital assets and going digital first before ever considering a partnership or doing business with an organization.

Paul: That’s a great point. And you think about it—the progression of the role of salespeople over the years—the salesperson kind of used to be that primary hub of information. Obviously, in the advent of the technology world we live in, consumers—especially Millennials—they’re going online, they’re researching your digital footprint and gathering that information. It’s amazing to me, especially when I work with some companies that are maybe a little hesitant to, not to have a stronger online presence, but even offering things like online ordering options. It’s clear to me that that is the direction things are going. But people are hesitant to adopt that idea, that concept, or whatever it is. And I always use the analogy, I say, “You know, it wasn’t too long ago where people sat around and said, ‘I think this whole internet thing is going to take off. Maybe we should get a company website.’” You know? [Laughing] It’s fundamentally the same thing looking at how they can enhance that overall online experience. Interesting. That’s a great point. I mean, you’ve got to have that digital presence.

Now, one thing that I hear in our training—and this is especially coming from the Gen Xers, maybe the Baby Boomers who are selling to a Millennial buyer. They say, “I just can’t get this Millennial buyer to meet with me face to face. They’re less likely to schedule appointments. They don’t want to meet with me. I can’t get them to call me back. It just turns into a bunch of empty messages and voicemails.” Things are just not coming back to them. I’m curious, from your perspective, do you get a sense that Millennial buyers are less likely to meet with salespeople face to face?

Ryan: Yes. This is a big topic to tackle, but I would say the overall short answer to this is, yes, Millennials are less likely to meet with sales folks. And how they make decisions, how they want to build a relationship with a salesperson, or a brand, or an employer is very different.

So here’s how I like to kind of position it. High tech is a must for this next generation, but high touch is also extremely important. But if you don’t have the high tech part down, you’re missing them and they’re going somewhere else. We’re even seeing this with Generation Z as well. So often, my audiences and clients are thinking, “Oh my gosh, Gen Z. They’re going to be even more digitally dependent than Millennials. And gosh, they’re going to be lacking in so many interpersonal skills. It’s going to be scary.”

But, actually the research—my research and so much other research out there—all aligns with this, that over 70 percent of Generation Z, when they step into their place of work, they actually want to communicate via face to face. Now, what’s not exactly clear yet is how does Gen Z defines face to face. Because, for you and me, Paul, and many others, face to face is in real time—eyeball to eyeball. But if you’ve got to think about this emerging generation, face to face might be via FaceTime or Skype or you know, Snap Chat or some other platform where it’s in real time and they’re face to face, but it’s virtual.

And so we have to just start challenging our own thinking and our own legacy thoughts on what is effective and what’s not. And really when it comes down to it, we just need to be open and agile in our communications. But certainly when it comes to Millennials and communication, I would say we’ve got to be more open and flexible. And you know, how the salesperson wants to communicate is not the priority. It’s how the person you’re trying to communicate with [wants to communicate], that’s the priority.

I deal with this a lot in my business. A lot of my buyers are Gen Xers, but more and more now are becoming Millennials. I’m a Millennial myself and I’ve made it a point now, anytime I gather intel on leads or potential clients, I’m constantly asking them, “How do you want to communicate? Do you want to communicate via text, or email, or phone call?” I’m trying to be as flexible as I can. Whereas for me, I would prefer text or email as a Millennial, but I want to be open and considerate of all the different communication channels.

So again, if it’s a salesperson trying to connect with the Millennial, you know, face to face might be something that they want. But the individual, the salesperson, should be as open as they can to accommodating how that person wants to connect.

I want to address the phone call thing, because I think that’s really important. And in fact, one of the most viewed articles I ever wrote for Inc., the title was “Five Reasons Millennials Aren’t Answering Your Phone Call.” And it hit a nerve and went semi-viral I guess you could say. And really what I was arguing there was that phone calls are actually highly disruptive and highly unproductive in most cases—in most cases. Because, if you think about a phone call… a phone call is highly intrusive and disruptive, right? If you’re at your desk working and you get a phone call, well that’s someone else’s agenda interrupting your work. So that person has to actually now disengage from the work they’re doing to now entertain a phone call. And what could be a five-minute phone call could actually turn into 10-15 minutes. And actually research tells that it takes anywhere from— According to Microsoft, it can take us up to 23 minutes to reengage fully in the work that we were doing before a distraction.

So, if you’re just trying to do a quick five-minute phone call, that can actually turn into a 25 minute loss in productivity of someone else that you’ve called. I think if we started thinking in those terms, phone calls can be highly intrusive and highly disruptive. And certainly, if you’re calling Millennials and, no doubt, Generation Z, that can get under their skin and it can position you as an irrelevant and outdated salesperson or brand.

So these are all things that we’ve got to think about. And again, just erring on the side of how you believe that the individual wants to communicate should be what you want to do. Does that make sense?

Paul: Absolutely. And something to build on that… Our company, we’ve been around [since] early 1980s. Started by Tom Reilly, who’s my dad. But it’s funny, we’ve studied calling habits since the 1980s. And, you could imagine, the progression has been— Back in the early eighties, salespeople on average from our research were spending 25 to 30 hours per week, face to face with customers. As you get into the nineties, it starts to slow down a little bit. It’s less and less. In our most recent study, we found that salespeople only spend about six to eight hours face to face per week with buyers, customers.

And it’s funny hearing the debate. Okay, so I’m talking to my dad about this. I said, “I’ve got an idea of why this is happening. I want to hear your thoughts though.” And here’s what he said. You know, typical Millennial bashing, he said “Millennial salespeople are too lazy. They’re not making enough sales calls.” I’m sure you can get a kick out of that knowing some of the stereotypes of Millennials. But I said, “That’s not it.” I said, “I think today’s buyers are just less likely to meet face to face, or we just don’t need to.” So yeah, I thought you’d get a kick out of that. Surely. I know you’ve heard every stereotype there is with the Millennial side of it.

Speaking of our next piece, I wanted to just get your thoughts. You know, everyone has their own ideas about Millennials, Gen Z, and everyone always bashes the previous generation. I think that’s been going on forever. But what are some of the common misperceptions about Millennials?

Ryan: Yeah, no, you’re absolutely right, Paul. I mean, you can go back as far as Socrates. Socrates is quoted as stating that the emerging generation is lazy and disrespectful. So, this has been a cycle. And I think there’s always some truth to that because every young generation, there’s always a maturity that needs to happen as they age. But, now more than ever, the big X factor here is technology and the internet. That’s changed everything. It’s changed how everyone listening to today’s episode. It’s changed how they live and work. It just so happens that the largest generation on planet earth, the Millennials, came of age during the most highly disruptive time in human history with technology and the internet converging.

And so it’s changed. It’s fundamentally changed behaviors for good. And now, more than ever, we see these behaviors rippling up generations. Sometimes if I’m feeling ornery, I’ll ask a live audience to raise their hands if they’re on Facebook. Most of the room will raise their hand, and then I’ll ask them, I’ll say, “You know, keep your hand raised if you told yourself or someone else that you would never join Facebook because it was for the kids.” And most of the hands will stay shamefully raised like, “Yeah, I told myself or someone that.” And yet, here we are. One-out-of-seven people on the planet use Facebook. Actually, I’m sorry, two-out-of-seven people on the planet use Facebook now.

Also, something more playful is, I’ll ask an audience, “How many of you have sent an emoji to a colleague in the last week?” Usually, I would say, 80, 90 percent of people will raise their hand. And if we asked that same group of people two or three years ago if they’ve sent an emoji to a colleague, they’d be like, “You’re crazy. That’s so unprofessional. I would never do that.” Yet, here we are.

And so I think, now more than ever, the minute we find ourselves pointing to this next generation and thinking, “Uh, they need to shape up,” or, “That’s not how we do it around here,” that should be a huge red flag to that individual. You should pause and start thinking. The “this is always how I’ve done it” mindset is a slippery slope to irrelevance.

I don’t think I’m answering your question here [chuckles], but I think it’s important for folks to grasp. I think all that to say, coming back to your question, a lot of Millennials’ behaviors are very different, but they’re rippling up generations. So we just need to be a little bit more open minded and, as humans… This is how I like to think about Paul. This will probably be helpful for listeners. As humans, our brain loves shortcuts. The easier and more effortless that the world gets—and it’s becoming more and more effortless all the time. You know, I can order a vehicle with the push of a button on my phone, which is crazy. Right? And so, as this next generation is growing up in a more effortless and seamless world, they’re going to expect more effortless and seamless experiences from the salespeople they do business with, from the brands that they choose to part with their money with, from their employers, etc.

That doesn’t make them entitled. That just makes them this next generation of workers, or employees, or customers. And so we’ve got to start getting our head around this: that the technology in life is not going to slow down; it’s only going to accelerate. We’ve got to be good stewards of all the technology and tools around us, but we also need to be open with how our own behaviors are changing, how our industry’s changing, and also, of course, how our customers and behaviors and expectations are shifting as well.

Paul: That’s great, Ryan. Great insight. And you know, I think that you’ve answered a lot of questions salespeople are thinking about when interacting with Millennials, and also some great tips.

One last question. How can our audience get ahold of you, connect with you?

Ryan: You can find me at ryan-jenkins.com. That’s kind of the mothership. You can find my blog and podcast, any books that I’ve written there. And [I] would love to connect with anyone there. So visit ryan-jenkins.com.

Paul: Awesome. All right, Ryan. Thanks for your time today. And thanks for helping out the sales community with your insights and your ideas to our audience.

Make it a big day.

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