By Rick Mullen
Maintenance Sales News Associate Editor
In a recent seminar for cleaning industry professionals, Sales and Cleaning Consultant David Corker, president of Corker Consulting LLC, contrasted the differences between millennials and their older counterparts in the workplace.
In addition, during his presentation titled, “The Profit Margin Squeeze: Millennials and the Internet,” Corker offered tips on training salespeople to increase sales to younger buyers in the changing marketplace.
“As some of you know, it is tough to sell to millennials,” said Corker, who has been in the cleaning industry for about 30 years, both on the manufacturer’s side and in distribution. “Millennials buy differently and we are not sure how to sell to them. The Internet makes it easy to price shop. We are also having a hard time when it comes to making cold calls. How do we combat these issues?”
While the percentage of cold calls that result in new business has never been great, the success rate is even lower today, as it has become more and more difficult for salespeople to get face-to-face with decision-makers.
“When I started out in the business, we called them ‘gate-keepers,’” Corker said. “They were the ones salespeople would see when they walked through the door of a potential customer. He or she was the one to keep you from getting to purchasing, or to the guy in the back doing the cleaning.
“The success rate for cold calls from 1940 to 1985 was about 18 percent. About two out of every 10 customers would open the door to salespeople for new business. Today, you walk into a building and there’s a phone sitting there. If you don’t know who to talk to, you are not going to make a cold call that day.
“As a result, today’s success rate for cold calls is 1.9 percent, which means a salesperson will be successful in two out of every 100 places he or she visits. That makes it kind of tough to get new business.”
The Generations In The Workplace
Before discussing the best way to reach and sell to millennial buyers, Corker outlined some of the traits of the different age groups working in today’s marketplace, and how they are best approached by salespeople.
He explained that determining the time span for each generation varies somewhat, depending on the source.
Baby boomers: The baby boomer generation was born from 1947 to 1964.
“Baby boomers thought they were grown up at 18 years old or when they graduated from high school,” Corker said. “They were eager to live on their own and do their own thing.”
Baby boomers tend to be hard workers and they are very loyal. Indeed, their loyalty extends to the workplace, as they typically will work for just one or two companies their entire careers, Corker said.
“They like ‘high touch’ over ‘high tech,’” Corker said. “For example, if a baby boomer wants a new pair of pants, he will go to the store, find a pair of Dockers, try them on to make sure they fit, and then he will wear them for a little while. He wants to know how they feel and if they are the right size. The next time he wants to buy pants, he will go online and see if he can get a better price.”
Baby boomers also thrive on social interaction. They grew up in the old neighborhoods where everyone knew and interacted with their neighbors. They worked and played together and held such events as block parties, Corker explained.
“Because of baby boomers’ desire for social interaction, a salesperson better be prepared to ask good questions and be social with them,” Corker said. “If salespeople are not social with baby boomers, they will not get their business.”
Baby Boomers are also not in to multitasking. To illustrate this point, Corker told of a sales call he made early in his career that was an eye-opener for him.
“I went out to make a sales call and I was running behind. While I was talking to the customer, I glanced at my watch. He said to me, ‘Are you in a hurry? Do you really want to talk to me?’” Corker remembered. “I walked out of the account, took my watch off, and I haven’t worn one since. After that incident, I didn’t want to be distracted in front of a customer or be rude.
“Baby boomers tend to have and appreciate good manners. Don’t multitask in front of them. Don’t look at your notes or your watch. Focus on them.”
Corker said a little empathy from a salesperson directed toward a baby boomer can go a long way in establishing a relationship, which leads to more sales.
“Empathize with them. When baby boomer purchasers started in the business, their only job was to buy jan/san products,” Corker said. “With all the downsizing today, they are ‘crushed and rushed.’ Today a purchaser will buy in multiple segments, such as jan/san, office supplies, etc.
“A salesperson might say to a purchaser, ‘I understand. Everybody needs help.’”
Alluding to his illustration of a baby boomer taking his time trying on new pants to make sure they look and feel right, Corker said salespeople must be able to effectively demonstrate products.
“Salespeople need to know what the product is about and how it works, because when they get in front of a baby boomer, they will only get one chance,” Corker said. “In addition, following the demonstration, don’t try to sell them. Remember, baby boomers are social people. They want you to interact with them. They want you to ask their opinion of the product just demonstrated. Salespeople should take their time and think of good questions such as, ‘Does this work in your facility? Can we try it in that area?’”
After being successful in making a baby boomer a new customer, it is essential to be able to train him or her in an “old school” classroom-type setting, Corker said.
Generation X: Generation Xers were born from 1965 to 1980. Typically, this demographic considers themselves “grown up” when they graduate from college, Corker said.
“Most of them will work for three or four companies during their lifetime, as they still have some of the loyalty traits that they learned from their parents and grandparents,” Corker said.
When it comes to their buying habits, Corker said generation Xers want a “Cadillac at Chevy prices.”
He added: “They want to buy the best quality products, but they the want the best price they can get. Therefore, the salesperson better be prepared to make a cost benefit proposition.”
For example, a cost benefit proposition could involve a salesperson showing a customer why the quality of a particular product he or she is selling is better than what the customer is currently using, and why it is worth the extra money, Corker said.
“Generation Xers don’t want a canned pitch. You must be fluid and prepared to talk to them on many levels,” Corker said. “They like new and exciting products. Salespeople must grab their attention.”
Corker said salespeople are well-advised to keep in mind that generation Xers especially like environmentally friendly products. Therefore, salespeople should be well-versed in explaining to a generation Xer why a product is eco-friendly.
“Remember, generation Xers are the ones who started the green movement,” Corker said.
Millennials are often said to be more “tech savvy” than the older generations. Corker disagrees with that common assessment.
“Everybody thinks the millennials are the tech savvy ones. They are not. Generation Xers are the tech savvy people. They are the ones who have developed the newer technologies. They know how things work. They are the ones writing the apps, etc.,” Corker said.
Because they are tech savvy, Corker said generation Xers realize that information disseminated on the Internet is not always true. As a result, they tend to be on the cynical and skeptical side. They will test a salesperson’s product knowledge.
“Because they are cynical and skeptical, it is imperative salespeople know what they are talking about when dealing with generation Xers,” Corker said. “The minute the salesperson walks out, an Xer will be on the Internet to check out the product. Salespeople must earn their trust. Therefore, if you tell them something, stick to it. Don’t change the sales plan.”
Like their baby boomer counterparts, Xers also like to be trained.
“Even though they paid a ‘Chevy’ price for their ‘Cadillac,’ they still want to be taught,” Corker said.
Millennials: Millennials (also known as generation Y) were born from 1981 to 2000. They consider they have reached full adulthood at a later age than baby boomers and generation Xers.
“They feel like they are grown up by the time they are 30,” Corker said.
Corker said millennials’ penchant for living with their parents until age 30, which often has baby boomers and generation Xers shaking their heads in disbelief, has its benefits. For example, many baby boomers and generation Xers, at about age 26 or 27, realized their parents weren’t as dumb as they thought, and, as they got older, they relied more heavily on their parents’ advice and knowledge about life.
In contrast, millennials remain under the influence and guidance of their parents throughout their 20s, which has its benefits, Corker said.
“By living at home until they are 30, millennials can afford such things as a downpayment on a home, which helps them get off on the right track,” Corker said. “Therefore, it is easier if a salesperson tries to be a ‘guiding light’ for millennials, like their parents. Do not hard sell them — ‘If you buy today, I will give it to you $20 cheaper.’ The minute you do that, you lose them.”
Corker said salespeople should be aware that millennials tend to have short attention spans. Therefore, a salesperson should shorten his or her sales pitch.
“When in front of millennials, salespeople should make sure their presentation is short and precise,” Corker said. “Furthermore, don’t guess, fluff or exaggerate. When making a sales pitch to them, salespeople must be accurate, because the minute they walk out the door, millennials are going to Google the product. They know how to Google things faster than any of us baby boomers ever thought about doing. They are going to ask Siri, ‘What about this machine. Tell me all about it.’
“Product information is at their fingertips. Millennials are going to look at product reviews. They will try to connect with someone at another facility that bought the same item to see how that company puts it to use.”
Another trait of millennials is they tend to not carry cash.
“Millennials will use a debit or credit card to pay for a $1.25 item,” Corker said. “Ask a baby boomer and most of them have somewhere between $100 to $200 in their pocket everyday.”
Unlike their parents, millennials will work for multiple companies during their lifetime.
“The reason for that is, Mom and Dad worked for a company for 30 years, and when the downsize came, they were let go,” Corker said. “So, there’s that trust factor. Millennials don’t want to work for a company all those years and then end up like their parents. As a result, they have no loyalty toward their employer. They will change jobs regularly and often.”
Corker said when dealing with millennials as buyers, it behooves salespeople to respect their individuality.
“A millennial may have several tattoos and pink hair — how do I connect with him or her?” Corker asked. “Accept the color of a millennial’s hair, and realize that many times tattoos have a serious meaning. A tattoo might commemorate a friend or relative who has died, or some kind of stress or crisis in the millennial’s life. Therefore, an easy way to start talking to millennials is to ask them about their tattoos, or ask them about their lives. It will make it easier to connect with them, and it will show respect, because you are not downplaying their tattoos, or what they do with their hair.”
As he said earlier, millennials are not “tech savvy,” but they are, however, what Corker calls “digitally dependent.” This is evidenced by millennials constant need to text their friends.
“They want to connect with their friends everyday,” Corker said. “When my daughter gets up in the morning, she texts her friends. I looked at the texts. They don’t say anything.”
Like baby boomers and gen Xers, millennials also like to be trained.
“They want to be trained because their parents have pounded into their heads they must get a college degree,” Corker said. “Therefore, training is important to them. If a salesperson doesn’t know what he or she is talking about when doing a training seminar, the millennial customer will no longer do business with that company.”
Common Threads For Generational Buyers
While each generation differs from the one that came before or after, salespeople should be aware there are some common threads to be found. Below are some common threads Corker touched upon:
■ Problem solving solutions;
■ Demonstration of new products and procedures;
■ Knowledgeable sales force; and,
■ Train, train, train.
Sales and Cleaning Consultant David Corker
“Let’s talk about the Internet and social media,” Corker said. “Facebook and LinkedIn help gain new customers. From 1980 to about 2000, less than 1 percent of new customers were from Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. In 2016, it was up to nearly 80 percent, and it is growing rapidly. If you don’t have an Internet presence, you are not growing, you are not following up and you are going to lose customers.
“Millennials are going to go to a company’s website to research a product before they call a salesman. They will read about it, and when they call the company, they’re going to check to see if the salesperson knows what he or she is talking about concerning that item.”
Corker said millennials also read blogs, which can be another way a company can gain new business. If a millennial likes a company’s blog, he or she will likely tell other millennials, including buyers, about it.
“A company’s blog can build credibility,” Corker said. “It lets people know you are a leader.”
Corker said many salespeople in today’s business environment lack presentation skills, training and creative demos.
“I was talking with a friend who is a regional rep for a big box mover. I said to her, ‘What kind of training program do you have for your sales team?’ She said, ‘Our sales people learn on the fly.’ The customer will train them,” Corker said. “That’s a problem, because what it does is create a situation called ‘match and quote.’ For example, a salesperson goes out and gets a list of all the products a customer is buying and takes it back to the boss. The company quotes a price because that is the only way it is going to get business — it is all based on price, and price is ‘hope.’ The company is hoping to get that business. Hope is not a strategy.”
In talking about conducting sales demonstrations, Corker said, “Presentation without demonstration is merely conversation.” He talked about how he learned about presentation skills early in his sales career.
When Corker first started out as a distributor salesman, he worked for a company in Detroit, MI. When he came to work on his first day, he noticed a toilet bowl swab sitting behind the boss’s desk.
“He said to me, ‘Dave, when you sell 100 of these you can go out and sell anything else in my company.’ I was 22 or 23 at that time,” Corker said. “I took that bowl swab and I went from place to place to place to place, and I didn’t sell any.
“About 3 p.m. on the second day, I ran into a gatekeeper. She looked at me and said, ‘It looks like you are having a bad day.’ I said, ‘I’m supposed to sell 100 of these before I can sell anything else, and I haven’t been able to sell any,’ She said, ‘Hang on for a second.’ She opened her desk drawer, took her purse out from the desk, and handed me a dollar. She said, ‘How much are they?’ I said, ‘75 cents.’ She said, ‘I’ll take one. I hope your day gets better.’ I started to give her a quarter back and she said, ‘Keep it. You’re having a bad day.’”
Puzzled as to why he was having such a hard time selling the toilet bowl swabs, Corker went back to his boss and asked for help.
“My boss said, ‘Dave, you’re just trying to take orders — you are not selling,’” Corker remembered.
Corker’s boss told him to get a bowl swab, a pair of gloves and some toilet bowl cleaner.
“He said, ‘When you go into a facility, ask if you can clean the toilet.' Back in those days, there were a lot of smelly toilets,” Corker said. “He said, ‘As you start your sales pitch, explain all the products.’”
With the boss’s instructions in mind, Corker hit the streets again. While he cleaned potential customers’ toilets, he told them how the nitrile gloves are chemical resistant. He showed them how the bowl swab holds the cleaning chemical, as opposed to a brush that would let the chemical flow through. He demonstrated how the bowl swab could protect the user from getting chemical splashed in his or her face. He also pointed out how well the toilet bowl cleaner worked and its pleasant fragrance.
“A day and a half later, I had sold 100 bowl swabs, 50 cases of toilet bowl cleaner, and a number of pairs of gloves,” Corker said.
Salespeople and manufacturers also need to know where to sell a product and how it should be presented, Corker said. He related an incident while he was a rep for a company that sold a product designed to clean flooring tile in kitchens.
“The company had a sales contest and I sold 10,000 gallons in the first three months,” Corker said. “I sold more than some of the company’s regions did with all their salespeople.”
Corker’s boss was pleased and commented that he must have visited a large number of restaurants to sell that much floor tile cleaner, and was surprised when Corker said he had not called on any restaurants.
“I went to General Motors and cleaned a kitchen floor and the gentleman who was with me said, ‘Do you think that product would clean the paint room floor?’” Corker said.
As it turned out, not only did the product work on the paint room floor, it was also effective in cleaning drains that caught oil coming off machines.
“That facility bought 55-gallon drums of the cleaner,” Corker said. “Furthermore, other (General Motors) plants heard about it and I sold over 250 drums the first month.”
Corker said manufacturers and distribution companies must do a better job in training their reps on how to conduct effective demos. He emphasized the importance of salespeople knowing what they are talking about when showing products. He suggested a training program that focuses on core products.
“Focus on five core products. Change them quarterly or semi-annually. Make sure salespeople are getting out there and showing them and that they have a good demo,” Corker said. “If they don’t have a good demo, your salespeople are going to be lost.”
Corker shared one way he has trained salespeople during his career.
“Split your sales force into groups,” he said. “Give them the features and benefits of a product, and ask them what else belongs in the ‘package.’”
The package would be the product and related items, such as in the example of the toilet bowl swab — the swab, gloves and cleaning chemical.
“Have a little competition between your sales groups. The group that performs the best gets a night out at the movies with their wives, boyfriends, girlfriends or whoever,” Corker said. “Salespeople, by nature, are very competitive.”
Having the sales groups give their demonstrations in front of each other allows an individual salesperson to see how others conduct a presentation. The end result is taking the best parts of each group’s presentations to develop an effective demonstration to be used by all the salespeople.
“Having your whole sales force presenting products the same way will make a difference in your sales,” Corker said. “When a salesperson can effectively demonstrate a product, price becomes inconsequential.”
Corker also offered some suggestions on how to break in newly hired salespeople.
“Some of you have a sales training program. You might give new hires a day in the warehouse, a day on a delivery truck and a day in the office. Afterwards, the sales manager gives the new salesperson a territory and a price page,” Corker said. “It is survival of the fittest. You send them out and say ‘good luck.’”
Corker suggested the following training program for new salespeople:
■ Strip and lay finish with contractors (min 2 days w/2 different);
■ Clean carpet with carpet cleaners (min 2 days w/2 different);
■ General cleaning contractor (restrooms and offices w/ 2 different);
■ Hospital contractor with housekeeper (min 2 days);
■ Factory cleaning (min 2 days);
■ Ride with delivery truck (list what they should focus on);
■ IT to learn the company’s software capabilities (order entry, backorders, etc.);
■ Warehouse and logistics (min 1 day);
■ Ride with best salesperson (make sure he or she is presenting products);
■ Ride with average salesperson (make sure he or she is presenting products);
■ Set up new hires with 10-20 accounts (put in a position to succeed);
■ Create selling opportunities and ride with them; and,
■ Help them set the next appointment (2-3 weeks out).
“Give new hires a couple of days with a contractor, stripping and laying finish on floors. Let them learn how to strip and rewax floors. Let them see all the products the contractors use,” Corker said. “Do the same with carpet cleaners and a general contractor. Have the salesperson shadow a housekeeper in a hospital. Let him or her do some factory cleaning. Have the salesperson ride on a truck. Explain the importance of delivery drivers, who are extensions of the sales force. Don’t just send the new hire out to ride along with the truck driver to help with deliveries. Teach the salesperson to notice what products are in a customer’s facility and how they are being used.
“Have him or her spend a day with the IT people to learn how to put orders on a computer and how to backtrack an order. Tell the new salesperson about the capabilities of the software your company uses.
“The new salesperson needs to spend time in the warehouse learning about logistics — how products come in and how they go out.”
Corker also suggested having a new hire ride along with the company’s best salesperson and, on another day, go with an average salesperson while he or she is presenting products. This will give the new hire the opportunity to compare the way the two veteran salespeople go about their business.
“Set new salespeople up with 10 to 20 accounts,” Corker said. “Sometimes, we bring in a new hires and send them out to make cold calls. They are going to fail. Help them out. Take some small churches and schools from your better salespeople. They will come up with more accounts.
“Teach new hires how to set that next appointment. In addition, have a manufacturer rep come in and teach about one new product a week.”
Corker reiterated the importance of making sure sales reps know what they are talking about, especially when training customers. He told of a recent visit he made to a hospital to visit a sick relative.
“I walked in and happened to recognize a salesman from another company who was teaching the hospital staff how to strip and rewax the floor,” Corker said. “Surprisingly, he didn’t know how to run a floor machine. I know this person has been in the business almost 20 years. He ran the machine into a wall while I was standing there.
“Who is training your customers? Are they good at talking in front of people? Are they good at engaging customers? Make sure whoever you have conducting training is qualified. Make sure seminars are designed to sell the whole package.”
The goal is for the customer to retain what he or she has been taught, Corker said.
“If you say something three times during a presentation, the likelihood of a person remembering what you said is about 90 percent,” Corker said.
He also suggested a sales rep could ask the customer if he or she would like to be tested on what was presented, to make sure the information has been retained.
In closing, Corker offered the following summary:
■ Constantly work on an Internet presence;
■ Learn to sell across generations;
■ Manufacturers need to create problem solving products;
■ Train — Reps to make fluid presentations on core products;
■ Train — New salespeople. Make the investment; and,
■ Train — Customers.
Contact: Corker Consulting LLC,
15535 Austin, Clinton Township, MI 48305.