My grandfather was a great salesman. My grandmother used to say that when he walked into a cocktail party he knew everyone by name—and even the names of the girlfriends of married men. He told jokes, he laughed, he pulled people aside to discuss business, he could hold a cigarette and cocktail in the same hand, and he knew everything about a person on a business and personal level.

He was successful in the art of conversation. He understood people. He knew what made them tick. He understood people’s likes and dislikes. He knew how to negotiate without appearing to negotiate. He knew how to please and compliment people in very subtle ways. He could persuade people to his way of thinking, having them believe it was their idea all along. And he knew if you could find three common interests with someone within the first fifteen minutes, they would like you.

Where Did It Go?

Unlike my grandfather and his contemporaries, Generation Xers and Millennials appear to have a hard time expressing themselves verbally beyond their own generation. This affects their ability to sell not only their company’s product or service, but their own identities as competent professionals worthy of career advancement. When it comes to the business environment, many believe if the quality of their product or service is superior, it can sell itself. Presentations have become formal, factual, and bland, and the audience will either like what they have to offer or not.

“When I asked an MBA workshop group to turn off their phones for my session, one participant reacted as if I was contravening his civil liberties. An awareness of professional and even basic social etiquette seems to be at a minimum.”
– Dorothy Dalton,
Talent Management Theory, 2016

Many young professionals seem to think there’s no need to make in-person connections. They believe they can win on quality, price, turnaround, testimonials, or other factors. Creating relationships beyond social media and email campaigns, such as taking clients to events and networking, appears to be passé.

There is a time-tested theory that people buy from whom they like. Rarely does a seller have the most unique product at the best price, ready to go, that the client can’t do without—there will always be competition, and that requires companies to create relationships with buyers. Buyers are people, and they need to be convinced they are going with the right company. Ultimately, buyers need to believe a company will live up to their commitments. This is the basis of trust, and when it comes to working with people, we either “feel it” or we don’t.

“Baby Boomers were established in their careers before personal computers or cell phones came into existence. The most effective communication will be face-to-face, in group meetings, and by email.“

If the situation requires face-to-face communication, a Generation X person will respond better in a one-on-one session, rather than in a group. They communicate best, however, through email, cell, texting, or instant messaging.

“Since computers, Internet, and technology have played a significant role in the life of a Millennial, they easily navigate through all forms of social media and have little patience for face-to-face, whether one-on-one or in a group. Communicate with them via technology.”
– “Baby Boomers, Gen X and Generation Y,” AllianceStaff, LLC, February, 2016

The Business of Business.

Regardless of generation, verbal communication must be mastered, both one-on-one and in group settings. It’s time to put aside generational preferences and embrace cross-generational communication.

People buy based upon emotion and logic. Focusing only on product features evades a chance to gain trust, which leads to candid conversations and is essential for getting the sale. This requires an investment in time to get to know each client’s business and personal situations, challenges, and aspirations.

For clients who need to get out of a hole, bring them a ladder. For those craving the attention, shine a spotlight. For others looking for a quick win, help them claim it.

No matter how unique a product, an ability to build and maintain strong relationships is the only leg up in high-pressure competition, and it will separate mediocre salespeople from great ones in our transaction-focused selling environment.

To the younger generations: start using your words more and your thumbs less.

Tony Streeter is the Chief Marketing Officer, SVP at Y&L Consulting, Inc. in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Streeter has led new product development, Ecommerce marketing, and integrated platform marketing initiatives for major companies such as Harland Clarke, Deluxe Corporation and RR Donnelley. Currently, Mr. Streeter leads marketing and branding initiatives for Y&L Consulting, a comprehensive IT Services & Solutions company specializing in IT Development, Information Management/BI, and Service Desk Services.