They followed the “greatest generation,” and they haven’t done so badly themselves. Baby boomers swelled the country’s population in the post World-War II years, and make up a very large segment of the population today. Born in the years 1946–64, today’s boomers include retirees and those still in their prime income-producing years. As a group, they represent a large and highly desirable pool of sales prospects. Like any other generation they tend to have their own selection of distinctive traits, many of which play into the sales process — and, if neglected, these can turn a prime prospect into a missed opportunity.
Just how can sales professionals connect with the men and women of this generation? Follow these seven tips for selling to baby boomers.
1. Favor information over persuasion.
“Most of all the generations, boomers don’t want to feel as if they are being ‘sold’ to,” says Cheryl Cran, business growth expert and author of 101 Ways to Make Generations X, Y and Zoomers Happy at Work. “Be aware that a baby boomer values direct and easy understanding of products and services.”
A smart approach here can be to provide plenty of data but instead of pressing for a decision, provide a summary of available options. Also make it clear that you are available to answer any questions. In the process, establish yourself as someone who is friendly and knowledgeable, but not pushy.
“Boomers want to know what the bottom line is quickly,” she says. “And they want to feel that they have a connection with you at the same time.”
2. Build trust.
“Trust is important to boomers,’’ says Bruce Mayhew, a Toronto-based corporate trainer providing multi-generational training and skills development solutions. “Boomers respond to referrals or testimonials from people they trust and respect, and who have had experience with the product or service.”
In initial contacts, this means that referrals from friends, co-workers or relatives can be especially effective. Testimonials from public figures may also work, although Mayhew advises taking care with this approach.
“Public figures should be role models or people they can trust, like Oprah or Ellen DeGeneres,” he says. “Boomers are cautious of paid endorsements.”
Building trust through dependable behavior and good follow-up is essential. And the more personal contact you can have, the better.
“Boomers come from a history of face to face sales processes and relationships built over coffees, lunches and phone calls,” says Cran. “Be willing to maintain as much personal contact as possible.”
3. Play up the longevity factor.
Census figures show that a majority of boomers can expect to live into their eighties, and significant numbers will make it to 90 or older. Reminding baby boomers of this fact can be a great move as they weigh decisions.
In the health insurance arena, focus on the fact that a longer life will be a better life for those who maintain the optimum level of healthcare, not only for them but for family members who must care for them. At the same time, the health challenges brought on by aging will require solid insurance coverage. For life insurance, the argument takes a different tack; a spouse or other beneficiary is likely to live long enough that maximum benefits will be needed, so good coverage is imperative.
All this ties in to the top strength self-identified by boomers in surveys by Gallup: responsibility. And nowhere is this manifested more than in considering family interests.
“Families are very important to boomers,” Mayhew says. “Anything that that will benefit their children or grandchildren will be very attractive to boomers.”
4. Avoid wasting time.
Many baby boomers also fit the label of the sandwich generation, caught between caring for aging parents and supporting their own children. Even those who don’t fit this profile may be busy with their careers and other pursuits.
“Baby boomers are incredibly crunched for time,” says Skylar Werde, strategic venture director for BridgeWorks, a Minneapolis firm specializing in bridging generational gaps. Keeping this in mind, sales pros would be well-advised to avoid time-consuming presentations or lengthy communications.
“Simplify the sales process,” Werde says. “Ask the right questions to uncover their needs. Then only give them the information that is necessary to make their decision.”
5. Adjust your mode of communication.
Perhaps the most unpredictable area when it comes to boomers is the use of technology. Even the youngest of this generation came of age long before the introduction of social networking, hand-held devices and even email. While many keep up with the savviest digital mediums, it may be best to start out with an old-fashioned approach when it comes to that first point of contact.
“Many boomers prefer interaction by phone and in person, as that is the form of communication that has shaped a good portion of their business lives,” Cran says. “But email and texting have their place once the relationship is established.”
6. Consider the level of formality.
Don’t be too informal. Werde points out that boomers were brought up in a more formal environment than is typical today.
“Letters were sent with a specified format, and professional dress had a standard,” he says. Werde advises asking yourself: Does my communication represent the formal expectations of the boomer generation? In any communication, whether old-fashioned letters or emails, strive to meet the expectations of the recipient.
“When communicating with a boomer, have a clear subject line and defined next steps,” she says. “Keep the content concrete and actionable.
7. Focus on optimism.
Boomers are a generation that thrives on optimism,” Werde says. “Can you be a bright spot in their day? That bright spot will shine beyond the first sales interaction.”
In addition, don’t assume that this group will only be interested in traditional sales. They may surprise you by being open to, say, an innovative way of bundling policies.
“This optimistic and idealistic generation likes to be on the cutting edge,” Werde notes. “Don’t make the mistake of putting boomers out to pasture. Even if they don’t buy every latest and greatest idea you put in front of them, they will appreciate that you are showing them cutting-edge products and services.”