An article I read recently about the differences in how members of the Baby Boomer, Gen X, and Gen Y generations approach life and work got me thinking about how those difference may affect the way we promote and sell our services and products.
As a quick reminder, boomers are those born during the post-World War II period from 1946 to 1964. Generation X is generally defined as those born from the mid-1960s up to the early 1980s. Generation Y, also known as the Millennium generation, is those born in the years after Gen X. To save you a bit of math, the people we currently interact with (not counting those too young for the workforce) generally fall into these age groups:
- Baby Boom: 1946 to 1964 — ages 48 to 66
- Generation X: 1965 to 1983 — ages 29 to 47
- Generation Y: 1984 to 1993 — ages 19 to 28
I think it's reasonable to assume that some mixture of these generations exists within any given business organization in the US, and to some degree, this has likely been the same looking back many more generations, with the exception of child labor, which persisted into the 1920s and early 1930s. Now, before you comment on my numbers, I'll pass on my disclaimer that there are other generations, the listed dates are approximate, and I'm speaking of the United States. Also, I'm also not even considering our ethnic diversity. Nonetheless, what appears historically remarkable is that, since the turn of the century, generations have steadfastly held to individual ideologies and traits vastly different from those held by previous and successive generations.
Since building relationships and trust is a critical component of success in our business, it makes sense to me to take a look at whether taking generational differences into account when cementing relationships with customers and reaching out to prospects could make a difference in our bottom line. Are there differences in expectations that we need to take into account? Are there things we need to do to tailor our offerings and approach to meet those expectations?
Though each individual is different, I thought it would be interesting and probably helpful to take a look at the differences that can play a part in how well we work with Baby Boomer, Gen X, and Gen Y customers — and, for that matter, our colleagues.
A 2005 article in FDU Magazine Online by Greg Hammill, then the director of intern and student programs at Fairleigh Dickinson University's Silberman College of Business, includes a chart that summarizes differences in these generations from a workplace perspective. A couple of components of the chart seem particularly relevant to me:
- Communications: Baby Boomer: in person; Gen X: direct, immediate; Gen Y: email, voice mail
- Interactive style: Baby Boomer: team player, loves to have meetings; Gen X: entrepreneur; Gen Y: participative
Granted, this is one man's take, but these characteristics appear in many articles on the topic of generational differences. What does this mean? Here are some observations based on my experiences.
Gen X and Gen Y customers generally use email and voice mail as a business tool more than their Baby Boomer predecessors. Baby Boomer customers seem to return phone calls more readily, while the Gen X and Gen Y customers are more likely to answer an email. Gen Xers use text messages in their personal communications and may use them in business, as well. The bottom line? Don't expect to be able to use the same method to reach and interact with all your customers and colleagues. If a prospect isn't returning a phone call, try an email, or vice versa. And once you know that preference, use it to build the relationship.
As the chart suggested, an in-person meeting usually works well with a Baby Boomer client. This customer is also more likely to prefer phone conversations over email and to look to you for guidance in choices and decisions.
Gen X customers may be OK with in-person meetings, but they are sometimes more responsive to direct contact through the phone or email. Gen Xers tend to prefer to work in teams and gather all the clear information they can to determine the practical value of a product or service before making a decision. We need to be well prepared with facts and figures to meet this generation's expectations and get the business.
For Gen Y clients, being involved in the process is important. These are our digitally savvy customers and clients. They have grown up with technology and use Internet research and social media to find out about a company and its offerings before they make a decision on a supplier or a product. They are well informed, and they expect you to be, too. For these customers, blogs like this one and a Web presence are “gotta haves.” If they can't find you on the Web, calling them or sending an email to try to get their business won't work.
It seems to me that there really are generational differences that can impact business success. I've touched on just a couple. Before I sign off, I want to suggest that there is at least one constant that binds all people together. In my view, “people are people everywhere,” as I like to say, and if you don't know what generational differences may be out there, you can always foster relationships by applying the Golden Rule. You know, “treat others as… ” It's virtually ageless, and it still seems to work.
What do you think? Have you had an experience, successful or otherwise, that you believe was affected by generational characteristics? And have you made any changes in your approach to deal with generational differences? By the way, I am comfortable with emails, the Web, and all things digital.