Chatbots vs. Networking Luncheons: How to Develop Your Millennials’ Communication Skills for the Sales Workplace

Chatbots and automatic sales funnels are all the rage in online marketing. You may have had a Millennial or Gen Z employee mention a new website widget in last week’s team meeting. Eyes beaming, they gushed about how their widget will warm leads while cutting down on work hours.

But doesn’t this miss the whole point of sales?

I hear many older managers lament the decline of person-to-person relationship building: “My millennial new hires have not been taking my advice in client relationship building. Instead of focusing on relationship development, sales and ongoing personal and professional development, Millennials seem entirely fixated on creating efficient systems for moving leads down a pipeline.”

Despite the benefits and popularity of online sales tools, the best salespeople, from real estate to enterprise software, know that sales is about people. Technology is important, but it can’t entirely replace relationships of trust.

Here is how to best train younger salespeople in these “soft,” relational sales skills without losing out on their technological contributions.

Demonstrate Interpersonal Skills

Early on in my career, I interned for a small nonprofit. My job was to answer phones and then take messages or connect the calls to the appropriate colleague. Eventually, I began to take on some fundraising responsibility as well.

How did the executive director train me for this role?

She told me that you couldn’t learn fundraising from a book. Instead, she had me sit in her office for hours a day listening to her make call after call to potential donors. I’m so grateful for that experience because I saw how she dealt with different types of personalities, questions, pushback and probing. 

As the saying goes, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If your Millennial employees lack “soft” sales skills, then demonstrate what it means to truly foster a relationship with prospects. Invite them to listen in on conference calls. BCC them on your emails to build up their writing skills. It’s old-fashioned apprenticeship, and it still works.

Avoid Micromanaging and Give Millennials Real Responsibility

After sitting in on my boss’s calls, I started to make my own fundraising calls. Like anyone in my position, I had some successes and I had plenty of failures. But what I most appreciated about my boss’s approach was that once she modeled the calls for me, she let me apply my own style to my own calls. She didn’t micromanage.

Giving Millennials real responsibility and not micromanaging can be hard for managers and executives. You want to control the interactions between prospects and your brand. You know your younger staff aren’t quite up to par. But they will never learn the required skills if you don’t allow them to engage in practical experiences, and to make–and learn from–mistakes. Try to adopt a growth mindset to remember your employees aren’t up to par yet.

Start small, of course. Have your Millennial employees write the weekly interoffice memo or have them act as a host when clients come to the office for a meeting. They’ll gain confidence in themselves (and you’ll start trusting them, too). 

Praise Good Work

This is not an either/or situation. Your Millennial employees can develop effective online systems while improving their relationship-building skills. So, make sure you offer praise and acknowledgment for work done well, such as when Millennials create automated sales funnels and other technology solutions. Ignoring one area because another area is lacking – reducing their entire contribution to the skill you value most – will inevitably breed resentment.

I sometimes get pushback when I tell managers to give more praise to Millennial employees. I remember one sales manager who said, “Are you saying I should give these kids trophies for participation? No one praised me when I was starting out.”

Let me be clear: I never advocate giving trophies for participation or mediocre work. But I strongly advocate for praising good work, acknowledging meaningful contributions of any kind and making people feel that their work is valued. Everyone wants to feel that they matter. 

Having trouble aligning expectations with your Millennial employees? Access more of my workplace tips and advice in Episode 7 of The Work Remix Podcast.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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