Old Tactics Don’t Work for a New Generation

August 2012, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Kelly Wadlinger - Also by this author

As a 29-year-old, I have the dubious honor of being part of a group that many marketing gurus and sociologists call “millennial.” Born in the 1980s (and extending to the mid-nineties, depending on which definition you use), we are 50-million1 strong and one of the most sought-after buying demographics in the market. From factories to news outlets, everyone is telling us that, as auto dealers, these are the buyers we need to focus on for future success, but the solutions offered can be elaborate or expensive ventures. Here, I offer a few simple hints on how to (and how not to) sell to my generation.

1. First of all, knock off the high-pressure sales tactics. We’ve been sold to since our childhood by fast-food chains and toy makers and have grown immune to the luster of “must act now” or “limited-time” offers. If we aren’t to the point where we are ready to make a decision, pushing us is only going to irritate us. A good salesperson knows when he has a deal that just needs a little bit of coaxing to put together; a bad salesperson will try to force the deal and lose us altogether in the process.

2. When you lose us, you lose our “friends.” I put friends in quotes for a reason—I personally have 275 “friends” on Facebook. I interact with about 20 on a regular basis; the rest are old classmates, friends of friends, old colleagues, etc. There are people on my page I haven’t spoken to in years, but I know intimate details of their lives. From getting haircuts to marital spats and kids’ scraped knees, I know the ins and outs of their everyday lives. You better believe their experience in buying a car will make it onto a social network. Sales managers: if you scoffed at the first bullet point, based on the worry of losing a sale by letting them walk, try pressuring them too hard. You are giving them an opportunity to vent to their closest 275 friends about how much you “suck,” and you will lose yourself that many more opportunities.

3. We don’t trust you. I suppose I’m not telling you anything new. After all, the man who coined the phrase, “We don’t trust anyone over 30,” (Jack Weinberg) is now in his 70s.2 However, where my generation differs is the wide range of resources at our fingertips. You need to be open and honest with us because we can easily catch you in a lie. Once you lose that credibility, you are toast. We have been taught for years that the car dealer will take advantage of us; surprise us by your no-nonsense approach and earn our trust. We don’t need a triple-net deal to buy from you over the next guy. We want to buy from the person that we like and treats us right.

4. Follow up the way we want you to, not like you’ve been taught. My first job in sales taught me the mantra that all salespeople hold sacred; “Follow up, follow up, follow up until they buy or they die!” Great for rallying a sales meeting; horrible for customer satisfaction. I have been repeatedly thanked by customers who appreciate my salespeople not badgering them like other salespeople from other dealerships had. Calling every day, twice a day, is not effective for two reasons: it’s intrusive and it’s easily ignored. Ninety-four percent of millennials have cells phones,1 and 83 percent of us keep them on or next to our beds while sleeping.1 A phone is practically an appendage as far as we are concerned! If you are calling us and not getting a response, it’s because we simply don’t want to talk to you or you aren’t speaking our language. A phone conversation takes time out of our day or gives you an opportunity to pressure us. Text messages, on the other hand, are fast and easy. We can read and respond to a text in the time it typically takes to get a call answered, and we can do it wherever and whenever is convenient for us. Stop calling and start texting—you’ll be amazed.

5. Finally, don’t be afraid to put a few millennials on your staff. Yes, we have a reputation for being slackers, and some of us get the reputation honestly. But who is better to sell to us than one of our own? With the right support, we can be very innovative and productive members of your sales force. Besides, we don’t know the “old tactics.”

1. “Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next.” Pew Research Center. February 2010. Available online at

2. “Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30, unless it’s Jack Weinberg.” Berkley Daily Planet. 6 April 2000. Available online at

Vol. 9, Issue 5 


  1. 1. richard justice [ September 27, 2012 @ 09:03AM ]

    no why take advice from someone that has not made it in sales.if you can sale you sale if you cant you teach.

  2. 2. Kevin Walli [ September 27, 2012 @ 11:38AM ]

    I agree with your take on Millennials but there is so much more involved. For instance, the role that technology plays in your lives is unprecedented so reaching this generation is accomplished via social media or messaging through new media. For another view, check out our blog:


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