Different Cultures and Great Salespeople
In both the workforce collectively and in the individuals of which it is made, cultural and generational concerns exist that inadvertently affect the effectiveness and drive of your sales force.

In some ways, you will be able to adapt to trends that are bigger than the individual; and, in other ways, you will seek to discount the trends. Some concerns can be considered, while others must be ignored in the context of the sales team and what best serves your business interests. To keep the issues simple and the potential politics of them to a minimum, we will cover only those things that directly impact you and for which you have a method to directly impact the situation.
Cultural Concerns

There are two basic cultural ideals that dominate our world today: individualism and collectivism. Neither is absolute and neither can absolutely exist in a culture because the people of any culture have both individual and collective needs. In the world of sales and sales teams, however, we must decide which will produce the most sales for our company.

In some ways, we can equate individualism with capitalism because the ideologies go hand in hand with the individual receiving the financial reward for personal efforts. In capitalism, the individual is thought of as the director of her or his own life and the one solely responsible for its success or failure. The individual is believed to have infinite choices from which to choose that create the direction and success of that person's life. Success is measured in fiscal ways, most of which are reflected in expensive possessions.

In a similar way, we can equate collectivism with socialism. Again, the ideologies go hand in hand with the group or society receiving the labor and fiscal rewards for each individual's efforts. The fruits of the individual's labors are given to the group, and it is believed that the group's interests outweigh those of the individual. Success is measured in the context of the larger society, most of which the individual has no control over.

These two dominating cultural ideals are important to remember when you hire salespeople for your team. A candidate that is highly individualistic will be more self-centered and less team-oriented but likely will produce more sales if there is sufficient financial reward. American capitalism, for the last 10 or so years, has been struggling with how to integrate an individualistic person with a "team." The idea is that we can merge the two ideologies to create the best of both: people who are highly and individually motivated but who will pull together as a team to create top sales.

Although individualistic salespeople can be oriented to work as teams, the opposite is not always as easy. It depends on the particular personality of the salesperson. The answer to whether a person oriented to collectivism will work well individually rests upon whether the person is motivated from within or from without. The more a person is motivated by the actions and reactions of others, the less likely the person will become a high producer on a team that places a lot of its rewards with the individual. In capitalistic terms, such a person can be thought of as dependent upon the state. In other words, people who are externally motivated and oriented to collectivism do not reach in their souls to find motivation and remain dependent on others to an unhealthy degree. A person like that will not become a high producer for your team of sales champions.

These ideologies flow through different races and cultures and are often labeled as "cultural differences." In fact, they are simply ideological opposites that every race and culture adapt to according to their own history and preferences. However, they do become the dominant thought habits by which entire peoples operate at a personal level. In this way, they can be thought of as cultural concerns.

Many cultures that operate in a collectivist manner produce individuals that, when you speak with them about sales, will place the collective needs of their families above your company's need for increased sales. When it is quitting time, they will be out the door on time. If you press them or object to this, then you will quickly find yourself replacing the salesperson because people oriented in this way do not easily give in to your production needs. For this reason, it is difficult to reward such people with any type of financial stability, such as a salary. If you hire such a person for your sales staff, and if you normally pay a base salary, then you will want to make that person's base salary so low that he or she cannot pay normal bills on it. In other words, build in a fiscal motivator so the person does not believe that leaving at quitting time is all that is owed your business. In this way, you will help the person see ways to merge her or his cultural ideology with the dominant ideology of the culture the person now works in.

In the process of motivating a collectivist person so that she or he functions to actually sell for your company, it is important to hold in balance the person's cultural concerns, in this case, family. Ideally, you will want to motivate the person so that he or she sees the benefit of going the extra mile without imposing an ideology that says the person has to sacrifice focus on family in doing so. The same is true for sales staff members that have young families. In a similar fashion, this salesperson is likely to give time priority to his or her children. It is possible to help the person see the benefit of working overtime without insulting the person's priorities.

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When walking these fine lines of cultural concerns, it is important to remember that your sales staff will not stick with you if you exploit their weaknesses. The differences that you may consider a hindrance or weakness may work to your advantage in the long run. In order to keep your balance in the cultural area, remember to never label such cultural differences as personal weaknesses. They are rather differences in core values, and those are difficult to alter. Plan to adjust, get creative, and overcome the negative results of such differences and how they impact your company's bottom line.

Generational Concerns
Similar to cultural concerns, generational concerns create issues for your hiring manager. Success with any group of people does not happen because you decide to alienate them, make them feel stupid, or try to make them see themselves as "wrong." Some cultural and generational concerns do not serve you. This will be true regardless of which culture or generation you belong to yourself. After all, ideologies are adapted by groups of people because the group is served by the ideology. We will more clearly see some of that distinctive service as we examine the dominant generations currently in the American culture.
Generation X

This is the generation that is now coming into its own in the United States today. Generation X has officially hit 40 and our President Obama is from this generation. Although the marketing gurus have long attempted to usurp the power of Generation X by re-packaging them as a group that contains fewer than 20 years of people, the fact remains that any and every generation consists of people born within a 20-year period. Generations are not defined by wars or economic busts; they are defined by 20 solid years. This generation was born between 1961 and 1980.

Generation X grew up with very self-centered parents who shoved them aside for their own personal reasons. The message to Generation X from its parents was "You are not as important as I am, so sit down and shut up." In many ways, we can see how this message bled over into the marketing treatment of this generation as they became a force to reckon with. The older generation did not want to give up its power, so it kicked the younger generation, calling them "slackers," "lazy," and "underachievers." and making them into a group of fewer than 20 years.

Because Generation X was the younger, less powerful group, it became disenfranchised and its power was usurped in many respects. For this reason, when hiring people of this generation, it is important to remember what is important to them. Contrary to what you may believe, this group does not need to feel important or powerful. They learned from birth to derive their sense of self and significance from within and from their spiritual center.

As their employer, remember that this group is not as motivated by your cheering sessions or your corporate kudos. Its members see such tactics as too close to Mom and Dad; talk is cheap. This group of salespeople will be motivated by 1) how much you pay; 2) how well you respect the balance of their lives; and 3) your offer of both opportunity and independence.
Generation Y

Generation Y has many of the same concerns as Generation X, but its members tend to be even more independent and self-defining. Generation Y comprises those born between 1981 and 2000. The top part of this generation is in their mid-20s and beginning to hit the workforce from college. They are much more technology-oriented and more introverted in their social lives. They hold many of the same values as Generation X in terms of balancing work and family life; they, too, experienced a lot of imbalance and alienation early in life.

Overall, this generation is far more irreverent than Generation X, or at least they are more vocal about their irreverence. Both Generations X and Y are less likely to take you at your word. They are more skeptical than trusting, and they wait to see results. They are less interested in building your sales kingdom than they are in making their own lives into a success story.

When hiring them for your sales team, the key to success with both of these generations is to explicitly show them how they can make their own lives into a success by joining forces with your company. When interviewing them, you will want to learn about their personal and professional goals. See if you can find tangible ways in which you can demonstrate to them that they will grow into their ideal by partnering with your company.
Baby Boomers

The Baby Boomer generation got its name from the procreation boom that happened after World War II. Although the generation officially began in 1941 and ended in 1960, and although the U.S. was at war only a few of those years, this generation was labeled "boomers" because of the large surge in childbirths following the war. The Baby Boomers were the original hippies of the 1960s, as that was the decade in which they became adults and began to have a voice in the political dialogue of the American culture.

It is with this generation that the ideals of socialism and communism were introduced into the mainstream dialogue of the American culture. There were social injustices in the U.S., and the young people reached outside of their culture to find answers. Yet, in many ways, they wanted the best of both worlds. The Baby Boomer generation has enjoyed the benefits of capitalism while vocally holding it in contempt. They have enjoyed the benefits of a competitive society while promoting the idea that a non-competitive society is better for everyone.

In these ideals, the Baby Boomer generation has failed. While its members successfully righted wrongs, primarily those of race and gender, they failed to protect their own long-term interests when they began to undermine the basics of capitalism. The epitome of this failure occurred in the 1990s, when President Clinton sought serious economic and trade relations with China.

The ideological failure was evident in that President Clinton's economic and trade relations with China were primarily for the purpose of tapping the energy and power of a large population that desired what America had and would work hard to get some of it. In other words, this was an admission that American capitalism and competitiveness work and are at the core of successful societies.

When hiring a Baby Boomer, this ideological fact is not lost on them. They understand, perhaps as later generations have not, that they must compete with one another and with the world. It is the competition of capitalism that makes the sales staff strong and it is an essential key to the staff's views and productivity. In this sense, the Baby Boomer salesperson will be a natural fit to your sales staff in ways that later generations may not.

The later generations will have to have significant training in competitive ideals and will need the latitude to make adjustments to meet their own needs for balance and family. Regardless of which generation of salespeople you find yourself hiring, you should be able to adjust your ideas and expectations so that you do not grossly offend them or turn them away. After all, if they have the driven, "Type A" personality, then they will want to produce high sales regardless of their culture or generation.

Words to Know

  1. Individualism: the capitalist ideal that individuals should be the primary beneficiaries of the fruit of their labor; that individuals are responsible for their own successes and failures in life, and that each person has a responsibility to dust off his or her own pants when life knocks that person down.
  2. Collectivism: the socialist ideal that the society should be the primary beneficiary of the fruit of the labors from each person; that individuals are responsible to others to make others successful in life; and the notion that when a person fails, it is the responsibility of everyone else to pick up that person and make him or her successful again.
  3. Generation X: The U.S. population born between 1961 and 1980.
  4. Generation Y: The U.S. population born between 1981 and 2000.
  5. Baby Boomers: The U.S. population born between 1941 and 1960.