5 steps for selling to Gen Z customers

Any sales professional who is still taking a high-pressure approach to selling probably has a nice book of first-time customers and a dire lack of repeat business. And it is highly unlikely that sales pros like that turn any of those one-time buyers into customers for life.

Nobody really likes to be sold, even though pretty much everybody likes to buy. But absolutely nobody likes to be goaded into buying something unwanted or that could become a financial burden just because a pushy salesperson turned the pressure up too high.

No matter what the customer’s age, that “you-need-to-buy-it-because-it’s-what-I’m-selling” approach does not work. But especially for young consumers, pressure-cooker, on-the-spot sales that involve ultimatums and guilt trips can trigger anxiety and panic, and kill any chance of a sale today or ever.

Older consumers do not like dealing with overly aggressive salespeople, either, but they might be more willing or able to tolerate them. On the other hand, research has shown that Generation Z buyers—those in their early 20s and late teens who in just a few years will make up the bulk of the money demographic—are less tolerant, less resilient, easily offended and more anxious.

The best way to sell to those touchy young consumers is the best way to sell to anyone: Sell them what they need and want—not what you need or want to sell.

Here are five steps that will result in sales that will lead to repeat customers of any age:

Step 1. Plan

It is always a good idea to know a little bit about the person you hope to sell and a lot about the product, service or idea you are selling before you begin a conversation with a prospect or client. Do a quick Google search and a social media sweep to collect some intel about the person’s age, location, family, hobbies and interests. Knowing that will enhance your conversations and help you build trust.

In addition, educate yourself about your clients’ age group: Gen Z, millennial, Gen X or boomer. While not everyone is typical, you can still get a feel for what’s generally important to, quirky about or ignites passion in that generation.

For example, did you know that many Gen Zers prefer to watch videos rather than read brochures (or anything else), or that they want to not only consume entertainment and culture, they want to create it?

It is also important to determine what you want out of the deal: a one-time sale; an ongoing relationship; referrals to other clients and online; an introduction to someone the prospect knows? If you don’t know what you want, you won’t be able to create a strategy for getting it.

Once you know what your client wants and what you want, you can go about giving and getting in equal measure.

Step 2. Look for opportunities

Finding Gen Z customers and reaching them are activities best conducted online. Visual mediums (YouTube, Instagram, etc.) are their channels of choice, so watch what is trending.

And do not neglect the all-important face-to-face interactions that are critical to building relationships and creating customers for life. Look for opportunities to speak to groups of Gen Zers and to individuals when you run into them at the office, the store, the mall—Gen Z prefers brick-and-mortar shopping to online because of their lack of credit cards and their desire to hang out with friends in person—and elsewhere.

Create opportunities to interact with them where they live—on social media.


Step 3. Establish trust

This is, perhaps, the key step in sales. Assuming you are not one to shove a product, service or idea down someone’s throat who wants or needs something entirely different, you will need to get close enough to your prospect to learn what he or she will respond to.

The best sale is the one that fills your need to sell and the customer’s need for the product or service. The worst is the one that fills your need to sell but sticks the customer with something he or she does not want or cannot afford. Those are one-time transactions with people who will never refer you to family and friends or return to buy something else in the future.

Sure, sales is about earning a living, but it is also about helping others. Listen, learn, pay attention, show genuine interest. Only then should you ask for a sale.

Get to know your prospects, no matter how old they are. Ask about problems and check your inventory of products and services to find out if you have something that can help. Be curious about what they like.

Sure, sales is about earning a living, but it is also about helping others. Listen, learn, pay attention, show genuine interest. Once you know exactly what you can sell that your client truly needs or wants, only then should you ask for a sale.

Step 4. Ask for the sale

It is never a good idea to wait for the customer to ask you to make the sale. Instead, come right out and ask for it.

A good proportion of young consumers are timid and shy, especially at work. Some are socially awkward. Even if you are offering to sell something your client wants or needs, you might face some reluctance during a face-to-face “ask.” Not every Gen Zer fits that mold. Many are confident about what they want and will ask. Still, do not make them. Asking is the sales pro’s job.

Step 5. Follow up

Gen Zers are just coming of age. Graduation. First jobs and apartments. Marriage and children. Once you make a good enough impression to make a sale, keep in touch. Turn them into customers for life.

The best way to do that is to sell only what you stand behind and what your clients truly want or need. In addition, following up with customers—with gratitude, additional offers and a desire to make sure everything you’ve sold is working properly and filling your customer’s needs—will keep them coming back.

Dr. Cindy McGovern is known as the “First Lady of Sales.” She speaks and consults internationally on sales, interpersonal communication and leadership, and is the author of the Wall Street Journal best seller “Every Job Is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work.” Dr. McGovern also is the CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting, a sales management and consulting firm in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter @1stladyofsales.