March 23

Will Gen Z Make Great Salespeople?


Robert M. Peterson Ph.D. is the Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Sales at Northern Illinois University. He holds degrees from Indiana University, George Washington University and the University of Memphis. He spent his sabbatical studying sales enablement; other interests include improv, negotiation, and training-oriented innovations. Dr. Peterson is the Editor of the Journal of Selling and has completed the Second City Improv curriculum.

Rob created the National Sales Challenge and the Sales Decathlon, both collegiate sales competitions while earning six national teaching awards. He is passionate about winemaking, Boy Scouts, and making a difference in higher ed, yet his teenage twins are convinced he knows nothing.

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[Podcast Transcript Using Artificial Intelligence]

Umar Hameed 0:00
Hey everyone, today I have the privilege of having Dr. Robert Peterson PhD joining me today he's the deans distinguished professor at the Northern Illinois University and the founding member of the sales enablement society. Rob, welcome to the program.

Robert Peterson 0:15
Welcome. Thank you. Great to be here. It's great to be wherever Umar is, you know.

Umar Hameed 0:18
The reason I'm so excited to talk to you is you are grooming the next generation of salespeople coming into the marketplace. I really wanted to get some key insights and you know, what drives their behavior? How can companies manage this new sales force coming in so we can maximize their effectiveness because they are effective?

Robert Peterson 0:35
Right. Yeah. Yeah. Well, here's the cool thing about about the next generation disease or the Zoomers. They're the coolest generation ever. No one's ever done, what we're about what we're doing. yada yada yada. It's the same thing every generation and so on. And the same things that that that we, you know, the millennials were taken out to the woodshed for the the Z's aren't being good. Do they? They don't listen, where's the motivation? They don't take notes, yada, yada. Yeah. And that surprising rumor that that was us to back in the day. Correct.

Umar Hameed 1:12
What's interesting is I have these defining moments in my life. And one of the defining moments was this guy called Mr. higden. He was our English teacher. He was like a radical. So he didn't teach anything into the entire year except we just talked to the students. And it was like, Oh, I need an exam done or something at the end. But one of the things he did was he read a letter explaining the exact same thing that you are talking about. We're going to hell in a handbasket. The Next Generation they are lazy they don't listen, they don't do this is it can you take this and it was like, sure, like not the 1950s the 1940s and it was an ancient letter they found any like, BC era from one file to another father and it was like nothing changes. The Human Condition is the same.

Robert Peterson 1:49
Correct. Correct.

Umar Hameed 1:50
So tell me what you've seen with this next generation, like, Well, the thing that really drives them.

Robert Peterson 1:56
Being a college professor, I'll share some anecdotal stuff, but But certainly, you know, we're numbers, people research people. So I grabbed some stuff from Gartner that showed the difference between at the same age element. They asked millennials, and they asked, Z's, the same question. And the series of questions. And the measures were that 21 they're 21 points. Higher were the Z's on tenacity. Really, once I set my once I set my mind to do something I do not stop or give up regardless of the obstacles versus the millennial generation 21 points higher on that on that measure, and the 17th hire on I always strive to obtain experts skills or knowledge. So it's those I mean, those are different. I mean, those are statistically different between the generations. Now at the same time, they are 43 points less, it is important to me to have fun. And they were 43 343 points less important to have fun and forget about my problems, that is not this this generation. So. So there definitely are differences. Again, these are sweeping generalities. Everybody is slightly different. The Human Condition is different. In fact, if you look at what the Z's have grown up with, and again, the Z's are, as we sit here in 2020, the Z's are generally 20 max will be 24. Generally, the first end is 23. All the way down to they're still in, they're still in middle school, getting out of grade school. So they're they're mean that's the age age bracket. But if you look at those kids, a lot of them came to me Growing up in their households, it was 2008 where people were losing their house people were making sure that they had food to put on the table. So that condition when you're 7-8-9-10, it affects you so the idea you know the parenting skills and and whatnot the...

Umar Hameed 3:58
[Garbled] era people, right? That came through...

Robert Peterson 4:01

Umar Hameed 4:01
...that had a different view on what the world looked like.

Robert Peterson 4:03
Well I'd see that I mean, I'm this measure where it says hey, fun is not is is so much different than my millennial brothers and sisters ahead of me. That is, that is huge. That is okay, I'm just gonna hunker down and do this bunker. I'm going to hide my bunker here and make sure that I'm I am expert, I had the tenacity because I don't think life is as much about fun versus the last generation. Again, you we asked that or whatever. But the survey asked that in 2018, and they asked millennials in 2010 The same age. So that maturation process will will change little. But I think you would say that Yeah, there's a difference that this is coming Z's are a little bit more serious than the previous generation.

Umar Hameed 4:43
Brilliant. So some of these young warriors.

Robert Peterson 4:47
Yep. Yeah. In fact, that's, that was another interesting difference between the generations, in 1979, 60% of us, and I was part of that 60% of teens had a job. Now you fast forward to 2018 20%. So in let's just round it off for for those listening in at 60% of teens had held a job now. It's about 20% in 2020. That's a totally different way to go through your teen years about responsibility paycheck, yada, yada, yada. So that's that'll that will be brought with you. The idea of showing up painting dues, having responsibility? I mean, some of the things I asked the students to give me an annotated resume, what did you learn at each one of these jobs? And they didn't do anything of this and that it's like, did you show up? Yes. Did you do what you were told? Yes. Did you interface with customers and make them happy when there was a problem did I mean these are skills that if you don't have a job, because you're at home, playing sports all day, or playing video games, these are some of the things you're going to have to learn somewhere and it's going to be your first, you know, potentially your first full time job, which is a little bit of a change for the marketplace.

Umar Hameed 5:55
What are you hearing back from your students that are going out to do internships? What are they reporting back, like where are their struggles where don't employers valued them?

Robert Peterson 6:17
I would say that, that it's much more positive than it back in the day, because we would do a lot of clerical stuff. Now. You have to outline what you want this person to do and this person generally gets to do a lot of some some Meteor things then then than we did, but they're, you know, they're learning the same thing. If here's my phone, they they use their phone for this. The idea of doing this is different. And so when they're asked to do that there's learning there's a learning curve, the idea of how to leave a professional voicemail. Not something that they've been schooled in when you and I were grown up, the phone rang. It was attached to the wall, it had a cord. And you answered it, because you answered it because you didn't know who was calling. You didn't know if it was the nurse at the school calling because your kid was sick, or it was aluminum siding guy. So you answered the phone.

Umar Hameed 7:38

Robert Peterson 7:39
And so and we, you know, in my house, we because my dad was a career salesman, we had a regimen and how we were asked to answer the phone and if you answered the phone and didn't take a message, you are no longer allowed to talk on the phone. So some of these things that we've lost because of progress and trust me, progress is is phenomenal. I mean, when I tell stories About the students is like, Yeah, when I left the office, I had a roll of quarters. And I knew what phone booths that I was going to hit in order to call back to the office. And they're like, all right. And in the winter, where, you know, I was north, and so you'd find the phone booths that were inside, they had the door to close. They're like, Where, where are you from? So they have some technological advantages that employers love. In fact, I just heard a story the other day that there was a, from a faculty member at another university, who said her son was asked, he was a finance major, come to our come to our office, we want you to do this and blah, blah, blah. So he's sitting there says, Well, why does everybody you know, get these reports from the stores? Why don't I just make it a, an Excel sheet, and we'd go a lot faster. And we're like, Alright, go ahead. Well, in doing that, he found that for the last 20 years, there was an algorithm mistake, a math mistake. And so It was giving all the store managers more money, a bigger comp bonus, then then a group then the agreement it someone whoever wrote it down did it wrong. So when he put it into Excel he wasn't very popular amongst the store owners because the company from we've been overpaying for for a decade or more. That is, you know, some of the things that the younger generation will bring is like, why do you do it that way? Why don't you use technology? Or just have a different perspective? So excuse me, so it's a it's a trade off between what the employers are doing and where they're starting with the kids and what skill sets I mean, some of you might have seen that, that YouTube video where the kids are on an old rotary phone, they're going to make a call and they can't figure out how to do it. And we all laugh well, you know before this, this this call when I was getting reverb out of my out of my microphone I was good. The sound was too low. I couldn't figure it out. So, you know, I call my 17 year old technical advisor. He came in here within, you know, 18 seconds he fixed it. So, so the differences. I mean, one of the things we've done is we've rubric these kids to death. And I see it in my classes where I was on the bridge before they get out. I teach the senior level business to business, the kids are making phone calls, or they're leaving voicemails talking to gatekeepers, and I give them a wide berth and say, here's the goal. This is what we need to do. What are you going to do? And they're waiting for me to plan everything out the unfortunate part of this generation, and they'll fix it on their own, but it'll have to be fixed as well. Other playdates were scheduled. I mean, if you and I wanted to play with someone, we walked down the street or we rode our bike. We knocked on the door. Hey, what are you doing? We had to talk to mom or dad and they would say You know, Bobby can't come out and play or whatever, or he's at home. But we had an interaction. That's not the as much to today. And the rubrics that my students just want to know what, you know, what did I do? What was exactly like, Look, your customers are not going to give you all the PowerPoint slides for a 16 week sales cycle, because it's not even going to be 16 weeks. It could be one week, it could be a year. And when I tell them like your sales cycle, depending on you know where you are, it could be over a year. They're like, really, it would take a year? Yes, I said in some industries, it could take a couple years and or, you know, large ticket items to build that trust, to run out of the other contract and whatnot. So I think the the creativity, or the ability not to follow somebody rubric who they've handed to you is something that will that will add that employers would have to further further develop. One of the other things you got me thinking? They're definitely a technology, you know, not across the board, but they're definitely technology driven. And their and their brain is fragmented into, you know, in 2020. Now we're doing TikToks, okay?

Umar Hameed 12:13

Robert Peterson 12:14
They want a visual. I mean, they don't want to sit in a room where we talk too much. They need a visual stimulation for their brain. That's how they've been. That's how they grown up. They want it to be a YouTube type experience where, hey, I'm gonna watch this for four minutes. We're gonna do that. And then I got to I got to click on another one. I got to watch something else for three minutes. So our l&d are learning and development and how we how do we, you know, bring these young folks along. It's definitely different. And obviously, a lot of companies get that but some still don't see the multi generational from, you know, boomers and Xers millennials and the Z's. They don't learn the same way. And they don't remember in the same way, so so if Going back to your original question was, what do they need to do is they need to be cognizant of how the young folks chunk in their brain and learn things, which is definitely different. I've got Doc, I mean, I'm looking for anything around my desk, anything with words on it like Dr. P, that's a, that's a lot of words. That's a lot of words. Yes, you're gonna have to read my math in order to make it in this world so.

Umar Hameed 13:27
There was some research done in the past. So they said, okay, people fall into four groups of styles of learning. There are people that are the if you don't tell me why I need to learn this, what's the importance of this, that they'll just shut down and won't participate in that learning? And the second quadrant are people that tell me what to do, what's the process that you want me to do? And that's the most important part. The third part where I live is shut the hell up and let me go play with it and let me experience it. And then you got the fourth group that with the what ifs? Like sure this works in Illinois, but would it work in In California, which you're going, why are you thinking like that? Like, why wouldn't it? But they're the what if kind of people. So is that still true in this generation?

Robert Peterson 14:08
I absolutely agree that there's there's still a natural diffusion or distribution of bell curve of some variety. But I think they they fall more into the into the first quadrant that you mentioned, mentioned up one more time.

Umar Hameed 14:23
So why why should I pay attention to this? They need to know that in order to devote time to it.

Robert Peterson 14:27
They want to know why they, I mean, back in our day, we were just told to do something. We just go did it. And we figured it out. If we didn't, we didn't know. Now. They want to know why. And there's some benefits to that. It's like Hey, why are we doing this? Because it goes back to that same story just told about the Excel spreadsheet like Hey, why are we doing this? Because it goes back to that same story just told about the Excel spreadsheet, like, Hey, why are we doing it this way? Oh, there's a better way. Sometimes I have to convince them of connect the why. And once in a while, and with my own kids, just, I mean, it's I'm sorry, dad. Because I said, so. I mean, at certain point, you're just like, just move your fanny, I'm not going to explain cuz it'll take 10 minutes, I'll explain everything. It's just friggin do it. But this this generation, I think, has moved more into that the why, but also not just because why am I learning this? But why are we doing this? Why do I want to work for this particular this particular company? And how does that, you know, represent my value system? Or meld with my with my value system? And what is my you know, going back to that rubric, I get done with something and they want immediate feedback, which is a different category. But yeah, how'd I do? Like, and after a while, they kind of realized, you know, who I am, and how I work. And I'm old school, I mean, I've worked 100% commission on the phone for years selling stock market quotation systems. Before that, I was commissioned against draw, draw against commission for the business form. So you need to move you need to, you need to go and I will explain, but I want to see some, I want to see some ownership and that just to let me doing what I tell you to do, because you're you're not going to earn very much money. If I tell you what to do. And then you do it, I need you to own it. And come back to me, the manager whatnot, says, Hey, this is not working. Here's two ideas. And the two ideas could be totally wrong or, or unprofitable. But the fact that you at least thought about it, I want to reward that behavior. Because typically, we're we've been telling these and structuring these kids lives. So the why to me, sometimes it's frustrating, and it will be to any company, it's a it's a good question.

Umar Hameed 14:44
How important is it to this generation not to make a mistake or be seen as not good enough? Is it the same as it always was? Or are they more sensitive to it?

Robert Peterson 14:44
I think they, they, they have a level of of perfection that they demand. And it's not perfection, but a level of being right, that is certainly higher than than when we were that age, because they have access, unlimited access to everything, to all answers. I mean, I ask Alexa a million things, you know, I mean, sometimes it's, it's routine. Hey, it's so and so's still alive? Or, Hey, I'm in Chicago, Hey, what are the Blackhawks play? But I know I can get the right answer very easily at my fingertips. Back in our day, it was just kind of vague. I mean, like going back to the, you know, to the to the old days, we used to go pick up my dad at the airport, I tell the students this this as well, it's always good to have someone at one location, because you have a driver, I would hop out to help you know, to go greet him and get his bags and bring him to the car. I knew where the car was. Because, you know, the cops weren't as bad back back in those days, because it's pre 911. I said, yeah, there would be somebody that just in case all heck broke loose. You could call somebody and somebody at home would say call revealed from the other person says, Oh, they're waiting for you at so and so. Or the whole idea of, you know, addressing, you know, umara, please meet your party at lower level carousel for right. I mean, we don't do that anymore. Everybody's perfectly connected with near perfect information. And my wife is going to have a procedure later this week. And she sent me a link. I watched it I heard the another doctor talking about it. I actually watched this a training video or a video on how they were doing this. And I'm like, holy cow. This is just amazing back in the day. So I think the why is more important. I think the asking more questions, but they've grown up in a world where if you really want to know anything, you can get that. And I think I didn't pay the rent. So I think my light just went out here. That's what's helping that to catch shadow. All right, good. We'll continue on.

Umar Hameed 14:44
Rob, thanks so much for shedding light on this the next generation of sales talent coming into the marketplace. We're gonna put all your links and social media and websites and stuff on the show notes. Just before we part company, how can people get a hold of you?

Robert Peterson 14:44
Oh, well, I mean, if you go to Robert Peterson, PhD, Robert M. Peterson. If you go on to LinkedIn, that's a great way to define me. As of 2020 If you want to email me it's pretty easy at peterson@niu, Northern Illinois University, niu.edu were the second oldest sales program in the country. And if I, there's one other thing I wanted to tell you is that these kids are amazing. But they're, they're not without, you know, some, you know, some china doll, China Doll syndrome ad, this was from our university 82% said, they feel overwhelmed. 78% said they're exhausted, 64 said, They're there. They're feeling sad. And that's from the National College Health Assessment at our university. So even with all this resiliency, they have a feeling of like, Oh, I feel overwhelmed and coping skills and whatnot. So I don't think that they're really trying to Dallas that they're going to be broken into pieces, but that's what they're feeling. So bringing them out is what I that's my job and the last speed bump before they head to head to you. And I encourage them, love them, rough them up, give them a kick in that seat, say, let's go out there and do amazing things with, you know, the time we have here on Earth.

Umar Hameed 14:44
Rob, thanks so much for doing that. It was a pleasure chatting with you and I'm looking forward to our next conversation.

Robert Peterson 14:44
Good deal. Thank you.

Umar Hameed 14:44
If you enjoyed this episode, please go to iTunes and leave a five-star rating. And if you're looking for more tools, go to my website at nolimitsselling.com. I've got a free mind training course there, that's going to teach you some insights from the world of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and that is the fastest way to get better results.


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