Understanding and Selling to Millennials

Two flooring store execs, who are millennials themselves, provide insight on how to reach young-adult customers.

The year 2016 marked an American milestone: Millennials edged out baby boomers as the largest living generation. Who are the millennials, and why should sales associates care? Born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, they’re buying homes, starting families, and shopping for flooring.

So how can sales associates appeal to and close sales with a group of potential customers who may not remember life before the Internet? Read about the traits that distinguish this young generation, and advice for selling to floor-shopping millennials."

Authenticity is important when selling to millennials

"Millennials have been living in a world of 24-hour news since they were born, and they’ve grown up watching established American institutions undergo intense scrutiny. It’s enough to make anyone pause. So, many younger shoppers have highly developed radar and are on the alert for dubious claims.

“We’ve always been told, ‘If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,’” says Palmer Johnson, director of merchandising for Carpet One Floor & Home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “We’re skeptical.”

Johnson is a member of Nex<40, an initiative to engage the younger generation of Carpet One storeowners and managers.

“I think there’s a preference for a more straightforward type of sale,” he says. “Even if there is an offer, it just needs to be simple. … It doesn’t need to have some gimmick associated with it about something that’s free, when we all know that nothing is free.”

Johnson has noticed another distinguishing trait among millennials. “I have found from talking to my salespeople that younger customers tend not to negotiate,” he says. So if young shoppers assume that “the price is the price,” quoting a higher price and expecting to be talked down may result in the customer simply assuming that’s the best offer and leaving the store."

If you’re not online, you’re not in the game.

"This point may seem obvious, but a digital presence is crucial to selling to millennials."

“We are the generation that goes into a brick-and-mortar store, sees an item on sale and quickly Googles it to see if it really is a deal,” says Lauren Allwein-Andrews, co-owner of Allwein Carpet One in Annville, Pennsylvania. “This makes having a web presence more important than ever before.”

Allwein-Andrews says that sales associates have to learn to use technology to reach out to this new generation of buyers.

“Those who feel like phone calls and person-to-person contact are the only ways to conduct business will truly be left behind,” she says. And this is as true after the sale as it is before and during. “I’ve already had to track down customers via Facebook to send a nice (private) message regarding a past-due bill when they’ve failed to pay after numerous letters and phone calls. It works!”

Personal attention remains key

"Marketing and messaging online, as important as it is, does not take the place of personal attention. In fact, digital and personal approaches can powerfully complement each other. Allwein-Andrews notes that most younger shoppers will already have found products and pricing online before they enter your store, but that basic knowledge can present an opportunity.

“If you know your products and, more importantly, can tell a millennial why they need it and how it will outperform other products, you will be more likely to close a sale,” she says.

But just as millennials may go online to check what you’re saying, sales associates must check and supplement their customers’ online research.

“Most millennials like to educate themselves, which can be a blessing and a curse,” Allwein-Andrews says. “This is where qualifying questions become so important. You have to ask customers what they have seen, what they liked, why they liked it, etc. A product a customer thought they wanted might actually be a terrible choice for their application.”

Johnson, too, focuses on a personal approach. “A millennial customer wants to feel important—to you and to the store,” he says. So Johnson encourages his sales staff to introduce younger customers to the store manager and to discuss the project with the manager.

“It’s kind of the (1980s sitcom) Cheers mentality,” he says. “They want to go somewhere where everybody knows their name.”

Focus on the individual, not the cohort

Remember, though, it can be easy to put too much emphasis on the demographic and to overlook the person standing in front of you.

“People have to be careful about making too many generalizations about what a consumer is going to do,” Johnson says. “At the end of the day, people want service, and they want you to be attentive to them, and I don’t think those things are changing.”