I recently attended a seminar on Generational Selling Tactics. It’s a topic of interest to a lot of my clients, so I decided to sit in to see what I could learn and pass along. I think there’s a perception in the printing industry—in many industries, for that matter—that everything we thought we knew about sales and marketing has changed over the last few years. The good news is that isn’t true!
The bad news is, it’s not as simple as that. Everything hasn’t changed, but much has and is changing. Interestingly, though, I think very little of the complaining I’m hearing from printers is directly related to the change that they think they’re complaining about.
What does that mean? It’s not the new generation that’s the problem. It’s the last generation. And they’ve been the problem for most printers for most of at least the last 10 years. The ownership level of the printing industry is dominated by Baby Boomers. The purchasing side of the printing sales equation has become dominated by Generation X. Yes, the fact that there’s going to be less printing in the future than there has been in the past can be largely blamed on the rising generation, Generation Y, or as they’re also called, the Millennials. But the Y’s aren’t the ones that are buying most of the printing that is being sold these days. That’s those damned X’s. (I can say that, by the way, because I’m a card-carrying Boomer—my Social Security card, my driver’s license, and my AARP membership card all tell that tale!)
According to Cam Marston, who presented the seminar, there are four generations currently influencing the marketplace. The Matures are the last of the generation that won World War II and then came home and started the Baby Boom. The Matures don’t have much of an effect on the printing industry, though. The still buy clothes and cars and a wide range of other products and services, but they’re no longer dominant in business—and we’re a business-to-business industry.
They did teach the next generation their values, though, and important among those values are a sense of teamwork, an appreciation for stability, and respect for a thorough job. The Matures bought and sold on the basis of relationships, and that’s how Boomers were taught to buy and sell as well. Boomers still respect stability. It will mean something to a Boomer that you’ve been in business for 20 or 30 or 40 years. Boomers still like the team concept. When you tell a Boomer that your business strategy is to get to know them and their business and become part of their team, that will very often resonate. Boomers still value a thorough job. If you earn their loyalty, they’ll reward you by continuing to do business with you. All bets are off though if you do anything sloppily and let them down!
Here’s another interesting application of the Boomers’ appreciation of thoroughness. According to Marston, you can communicate with them using pretty much any available media. With very rare exceptions, Boomers have embraced email and even text messaging. But they seem to respond best when the writer uses full sentences and proper grammar. Does that describe you? It certainly describes me!
What should all of this tell you? Simply stated, you should market and sell to Baby Boomers according to Boomer values. There’s a flip side to that coin, though. You can’t market and sell to X’s and Y’s the same way. They’re different. They have different values. As Marston pointed out, the greatest failing of most marketers is that they market to themselves. So it works on people like themselves, but not so well with all those others.