5 Ways to Sell to Baby Boomers

Over at my other blog I talk about how to sell into businesses (my day job). In this series of posts I will describe the best strategies you can use to sell to the various generations.

Each generation has a unique character, and members of those generations have common attributes. Although it is impossible to make specific claims about each individual in a generation (since they span 20 years or more) generational theory is useful in understanding how members of a generation will likely act in a sales situation. It is also very useful when assessing the character of an organization, since when members of a generation work together they often exhibit even stronger generational qualities.

The Boomer Generation, born 1943-1960, is well-known for their cultural influence in the US. They were the children born after WWII during the American High, a period of plenty where life was stable and the future looked bright. In their youth they rebelled against the establishment and tore down many of the institutions that raised them. During their midlife, in the 1980’s and 90’s, they fought bitter ideological battles for the hearts and minds of the people. And now, as they move into elderhood, their character is shifting again.

Boomers in elderhood are typically quite set in their ways, and their strong ideology makes it difficult to sway their opinions. They often want to deliberate about any decisions and revel in the discussion more than the outcome, although they expect things to go their way. They often will make decisions based purely on ideology, rather than the practical or pragmatic. They judge younger generations (especially Generation X, born 1961-1981) as self-centered and cynical.
Ideals and ideas are both important to Boomers and they often will have strong philosophical views and opinions. They are willing, and often enjoy, engaging in lively debate, but it is difficult to change their minds about their beliefs.

5 things to know for selling to Baby Boomers:

  1. If they are the decision makers (often the case) then you need to understand their ideal state. You are unlikely to talk them out of those ideals, but if you can convince them you will help them towards this ideal then you are on the right track. Boomers are often visionaries (or believe that they are) and if you can determine how to align yourself with their vision you will have a strong ally.
  2. They prefer face-to-face contact and can be overwhelmed when too much information is presented too quickly, especially if it is shallow and glosses over the deeper meaning. Boomers prefer to concentrate on a single topic and understand it fully before moving on, so being willing to take questions during a presentation or demo is critical for Boomers. Even if you end up on a tangent you may satisfy the prospect that you are willing to really understand their needs in depth.
  3. If they have a strong emotional reaction (for or against) to material they are willing to read and research in detail. This is good if they agree with your pitch, but a bummer if they don’t. White Papers, technical manuals, analyst reports and other detailed information (especially from a well-known and trusted source) can be very effective with Baby Booomers.
  4. They are often more loyal to brands and individuals than younger generations. Although Baby Boomers broke down most of the institutions of their elders they were still raised to believe that organizations can be trusted, and in their elderhood they hope that this can happen once again. If Baby Boomers are the decision makers and you perform well after your first sales effort, you be well set up for subsequent sales.
  5. They are getting close to what will be their “final act” in the business world and many are concerned about leaving a legacy. Although many are more focused on just ensuring their retirement in these difficult economic times, some, especially the leaders of organizations, know that how they act now will be how they are remembered. If you can offer the opportunity for them to make a difference, to “Change the World”, you may have strong allies.

Some people believe these characteristics are really about age rather than generation. Although the character of generations shift as they age, they don’t act like the cohort that came before (or after) them at the same age. For example, the GI Generation (born 1901-1924) acted nothing like the Baby Boomers when they were entering elderhood in the 1960’s and 70’s. They were not, for the most part, philosophers or deep thinkers and they were proud of the strong society they had created. Each generation has a unique character at each age and understanding that character can help you sell.

Look for further posts on each living generation in the coming weeks. If you would like to learn more about how to sell to generations, please sign up for notification of my upcoming e-book on the topic “Selling to Generations”.