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Targeting Millennials to Forge the Next Evolution of Distribution Sales

Targeting Millennials to Forge the Next Evolution of Distribution Sales

February 25, 2019

When Steve Newland, president of Allied Electronics & Automation in Fort Worth, Texas, wanted to improve his sales model, he quickly realized he couldn’t move forward with his vision until he had the right talent in place. Newland was among several speakers at last week’s MDM Sales GPS 2019 conference in Las Vegas who addressed the critical need to recruit young workers in order to build a strong, modern salesforce. 

Sales GPS

There were “two simple things” Newland implemented at Allied to make quick progress, he told Sales GPS attendees during a panel discussion led by Mike Marks, managing partner at Indian River Consulting Group:

  1. Targeted millennial recruiting. “We’ve traditionally hired for almost every position experienced people out of the market,” Newland said. “So, we’re intentionally making surgical hires out of universities, first or second jobs. We’re seeding talent. That’s an explicit strategy right now.” 
  2. Altered job descriptions to meet existing talent. “We’re starting to re-define jobs based on existing millennial talent,” he said. For example, Newland had an open position for a strategic and impactful job, Director of Digital Experience. After searching for — and not finding — the right candidate for months, he took another look at a millennial already working for Allied. Realizing she wasn’t yet ready for a traditional ‘director’ job, he decided to take advantage of her intrinsic skills and see what she can bring to the role. “I’m always thinking about how can we make the best short-term gains that we can without turning the organization upside down,” said Newland. “I think that’s one of the simplest things we can do is challenge the assumptions we have about roles and responsibilities, what we call jobs and what we expect of them.” 

Participating in the same panel, Joe Nettemeyer, president and CEO of Valin Corporation in San Jose, California, commented how he’s grown tired of the, “Let me tell you about that great sale we had back in 1992” mentality. “We decided we need to develop a management team of the future,” he said.

Valin funds a variety of master’s degrees in the field, including for digital technology and marketing. Nettemeyer noted that millennials (born roughly between 1981 and 1996) are expected to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 — just six years from now. “I looked at the business and said if we’re going to hand it off, we’ve got to hand it off to a generation that’s going to be relevant to our customer base in the near term,” he said. 

Valin needs people who can design and implement customer interaction processes that will be relevant to millennials, Gen Z and beyond. Nettemeyer is actively transitioning millennials into key leadership positions throughout the company, including HR, sales and marketing roles, and ensuring they have P&L responsibilities. “They’re going to be the future. I’m not going to hand it to another late-stage old guy,” he joked. 

An Opportunity to Step Up

During his panel, Marks asked participants how they move forward quickly without finding the wheels coming off their sales strategy in the process. “How do you find that balance?” he asked.

Through consistency of expectation, said Nettemeyer. Employees who are not living up to expectations will become masters of the excuse, he said, whether they’ve been with the company 25 years or five months. The dysfunctional and disruptive have to be told to change, otherwise the company will make a change. 

“You can’t coddle. Even with the millennials,” Nettemeyer said. “This is about, how are you going to attract, train and retain young people? It’s not about coddling. It’s about giving them an opportunity to step up and then challenging them to use the educational tools you’ve bestowed upon them.” 


© 2019 Gale Media, Inc.

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