shutterstock_405959236.jpgWhat motivates a 52-year-old sales rep might not necessarily be what elicits the best performance from the 29-year-olds in the field, so how can sales compensation plans best incentivize a multigenerational sales force? At ZS’s 2016 Pharma Sales Comp Conference, held in Boston July 20-22, keynote speaker —a researcher and self-proclaimed (and self-aware) millennial at Wayzata, Minn.-based generational consultancy BridgeWorks—discussed the key characteristics of each generation and what sales leaders need to know in order to get the most out of sales reps of all stripes. “When we talk about motivation, it plays so well into the concept of ‘one size does not fit all’ when it comes to incentives and compensation,” Ubl says. “What works for one group is not necessarily going to work for another.”

ZS spoke with Ubl about the intricacies of motivating and managing a multigenerational team.

Q: What are the top motivators for each generation—baby boomers, Generation X and millennials—that’s currently in the work force?

A: A top motivator for baby boomers is public recognition. It’s not going away. They still love public recognition. And the second motivator for boomers is re-engaging with them because not enough people pay attention to their needs, wants and desires just because they’ve been working longer.

A top motivator for Generation Xers is work/life balance. It’s hugely important to them—more so even than other generations—so find ways to give time off, to have flexible schedules, different kinds of vacation plans, things like that. Another motivator for them is just being independent, so having the freedom to do whatever they want, to be given the trust and autonomy to go off and try something that otherwise people might be micromanaging.

A top motivator for millennials is shared experiences, the ability to do something with their peers or their colleagues. That could be a surprise event for them or just part of the [company] culture. Another key piece for millennials is just connecting that what they’re doing has a larger purpose. It’s important to everyone, honestly. A lot of people would take a pay cut for a job with a higher purpose, but for millennials, that’s one of the most important connectors.

Q: A lot of sales comp professionals aren’t yet customizing their incentive plans. They’re trying to find a plan that’s motivational to all generations at once. What’s the best approach here?

A: When you’re approaching any generation about incentives and compensation, it’s important to capture everything. What’s going to appeal to one person in a total rewards package is not going to appeal to another. For example, shared experiences could mean everything to millennials, but to an Xer, they could think: I don’t care. Tell me about balance. Tell me more about how much money I’m going to make.

If you paint the entire picture of what it’s like to work in the company in the interview and when you’re giving the offer, you have a higher likelihood of reaching each generation rather than focusing on “one size fits all.”

Q: Because so many Gen Xers are managing millennials, how should they adapt their messaging style to suit the millennial generation?

A: Gen Xers are [focused on] just the facts: “I’m just going to give you the information, but I don’t need to give you all the fluff because all that matters is the information.” It’s a very Gen X way of doing things. … I don’t think Gen Xers need to change everything about how they communicate because it’s how they communicate. It’s what works for them. … [To successfully give feedback to millennials,] it’s just about framing it up in the first place: “I want to set expectations with you about how I communicate. I’m going to be really direct. I’m direct with heart. I’m not saying anything to hurt your feelings at any point. If you feel like I am, you’ve got to let me know, and I’ll tell you.” Otherwise, people might be reading into it when you’re just giving the information. …

Part of being a good manager is figuring out how people like to be communicated with, so it’s working overtime to understand [things like], if I preface this with two sentences first, then the direct message, criticism or thing that I’m saying is going to be more accepted. Overall, Xers don’t have to change everything that they’re doing, and some millennials need to build thicker skin because that is just the reality of the world.

Q: What question do you get asked the most about appealing to and motivating different generations?

A: A really common question is: “Is this all cyclical? Are we just going to create changes that we shouldn’t make because it’s all just going to change again?” Talking about customization—it’s not one size fits all—is not going away, so I think that the cycle, while it continues to change, that’s not going to stop. Resisting it or saying, “We can only do so much,” [won’t work]. You’ve got to do it. You’ve got to progress. You’ve got to keep going.

While Generation Edgers [BridgeWorks’ term for the generation that comes after millennials] will come on and they’re going to be very different than millennials, and they’re going to be motivated by very different things, that doesn’t mean that certain steps shouldn’t be taken now for millennials and Xers. The cyclical piece is important. You’re never done.  

When it comes to motivating your sales teams according to generational behaviors and preferences, the main challenges are to avoid resorting to stereotypes and to understand that motivations will evolve over time, Ubl says. While millennials—who are poised to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025, according to Ubl—largely seek meaning and fulfillment in their careers, they might reassess their priorities as they enter new life stages. Baby boomers, too, are demonstrating to employers that their priorities are evolving, even as they approach retirement age: “A lot of people were assuming that boomers would retire a certain way, and they’re doing it completely differently. They’re starting new careers, [volunteering] at nonprofits, having encore careers or writing a book,” she says.

But what’s most important, according to Ubl, is understanding that there are both differences and similarities on your multigenerational sales team, and to take advantage of learning opportunities as you continue to tweak your incentive plans. “When we experience the differences, we think there’s a bad way of doing things or a wrong way of doing things, but that’s not the case. … We have to figure out a way to celebrate all of these differences.”


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Topics: sales comp, millennials, 2016 Pharma Sales Comp Conference, hannah ubl, generations, generation X, baby boomers, multigenerational sales force