Millennials Are On The Phone … But You Aren’t Answering!

Last week’s post (Calling All Generations – How to Work with Millennials on the Phone) sparked an immediate reaction from one reader, a millennial himself, who found both my ideas and tone offensive. Why? It turns out I ignored a vital aspect of Millennials’ relationship with the phone.

What have we been ignoring when it comes to Millennials and phone communication? What have we all been doing to create fear and discomfort on the phone? I’m very pleased that Gustavo Zanatta has agreed to share his wisdom and experience:

It all comes down to a (mostly) singular problem: how senior executives treated previous generations when they started their careers, and how senior executives treat folks like myself starting out is vastly different. How many CEOs, VPs, etc. can be reached by a simple phone call these days? How many businesses screen calls to make sure they don’t take unwanted calls from unknown numbers? And how many request contact by email only?

Now, I’m not saying my generation doesn’t have certain hesitations or preferences towards written communication, but that all started long before we came into a sales position, when senior executives decided that email allowed them the time they needed to reply, or to avoid the reply altogether. They can remain uninterested without direct consequences, because they are now so disconnected from the other person.

When phones were the only option, people had to take that call, however brief it may have been, which allowed time for new, younger salesperson to develop their skills and learn how to deal with sometimes awkward situations. Today, people no longer have to say that awkward “no” to someone on the phone when they’re not interested; they just ignore the email and move on with their life.

I’ll share an example. I was chasing a business lead and put in 13 (no joke, 13!) calls to 4 different people in the organization, none of which were ever answered and no one replied to my voicemail messages. After becoming discouraged with these first attempts, I emailed all four and got replies within 24 hours. All four of them were 10-20+ years my senior, but it goes to show this is a systemic problem that is much deeper than a simple fear/hesitation of phone calls.

To me, this created a paradigm shift in how I view calls; phone calls are now an inconvenience to people, no matter what the generation. I had one guy say to me on a call: “Why don’t you just email me? I don’t have time to be on the phone.”

I’ll add another wrinkle into this. How many Millennials are out there using Skype, using Facetime, and so on, to communicate by voice? Phone calls haven’t gone away, they’ve just changed formats. I bet if you requested a Skype meeting instead of a phone call, stress levels, fear and hesitation would certainly be reduced for the younger generations.We have been brought up in a world where calling someone on the phone is an inconvenience because it requires immediacy. And when you encounter these issues over and over again, and have much more success with written communication … . We’ve created an environment where younger folks will simply shy away from and avoid phone calls because they are afraid to upset senior executives, afraid to become an inconvenience, afraid to request immediacy in a conversation.

In a world where 50 other people are ready to take our job at the moment we slip up, why would we take the risk?

My thanks to Gustavo for taking the time to write this post. What are your thoughts? Do share them in the comment section below.



12 thoughts on “Millennials Are On The Phone … But You Aren’t Answering!”

  1. I myself am the director of my company and have been guilty of asking for an email, feeling inconvenienced by a phone call. However, in the same breath I tell my staff to pick up the phone and use email as a last resort to get confirmations from our clients. I am a year shy of being a “millennial”.
    As the director, I’d much rather my staff pick up the phone to communicate when there is some urgency and be rejected or berated than hide behind an email. If they were berated by the person on the other line for inconveniencing them, I would always stand up for my staff. We live in a tricky time; regardless of the generation you were born in, where everyone deems their time more important than the other’s. If we all took a minute to reflect and realize that your ” busy” is no more important than mine, we just might make it

    • Thanks for sharing this, Allison. You are absolutely right, it is about the fact that we are all busy, but we often only focus on our own hectic schedule. If we remembered that “overwhelmed” is common to everyone, our communication would improve.

  2. Senior executives love good salespeople. They also love spotting poor salespeople and calling them out on their bs. If you understand the pain that a senior executive experiences a sales call will be a welcome interruption. It’s a matter of capturing their attention lightning fast, asking questions that dig at their pain, and offering a solution that resolves their pain. If you do a good job at addressing their pain, you yourself will not be a pain. If they hang up just smile and dial someone else.

  3. I think that phone calls can actually save time as emails can often be lengthy and turn into multiple emails if there are questions. It is also harder to build a relationship via email.

    I think that if one keeps their tone, attitude and smile in check on the phone, the person on the other end would not see your call as an interruption, but rather a refreshing break, often accompanied with a solution to their problem.

    • Thanks, Sandra, for sharing your thoughts. I love your language “a refreshing break”. The nature of an inbound phone call, not just today but since Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone, is one of interruption. We are rarely, if ever, sitting around waiting for our phone to ring, especially in today’s overwhelmed environment. But … as you so clearly point out, once someone answers our call, our tone, attitude and smile are what get them engaged and move us into conversation.

  4. Thank you Gustavo Zanatta for this great follow up on the state of the phone conversation. I am going back to phone more and more and encourage people to call. But to be honest there are times when email is more convenient because I have the time to think about my answer.

    • Thanks, Jacqueline for your comment. You have perfectly summarized everyone’s situation in terms of phone vs email. When we don’t want to improvise, email is what we prefer.

  5. Great article. Thanks Gustavo.

    There is this fallacy that a phone call “takes too long” and that email is somehow better in that respect. I used to have a boss like that. Drove me crazy. She was simply uncomfortable talking to people, and would rather protect herself with a keyboard and screen.

    For me, email serves the following only:
    – broadcasting information to several people at once.
    – sending details that the recipient would want to note (date for next meeting, specific financials, etc.).
    – to ask a question that I know the recipient will need time to ponder.

    All other communication, and I’m sure there will always be exceptions, should be done by voice. In fact, email takes WAY LONGER to type, re-read, edit, correct…. If you’re not taking that much care with an email, then you’re emailing badly.

    The distinction that somehow Skype is not the same as phone is silly. Gustavo rightly said that this is only a platform difference, but it is still by phone. There is no reason to distinguish between the two.

    Plus, using email to negotiate a time to meet, or to answer questions, is way too time consuming – it could take days with back and forth….

    Lastly, my preference is to set a date/time to talk by phone. It would be nice even to initiate communication with a new client by email. CASL simply doesn’t allow it. This legislation requires that the person receiving the message provide their consent, either expressed or implied, prior to your contacting them using ANY form of electronic messaging (email, text, or private message on a social media platform) for marketing. That leaves us back to phone and the DNC legislation.

    Thanks again, Gustavo.

    • Thanks for your comments, Mick. I really appreciate how you outline when email is of value – and that you point out that email does take longer. I absolutely does!


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