By 2025 - a mere dozen years from now - Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, will make up 75% of the entire workforce, according to a study by BPW Foundation.

Forget health reform. Any brokerage looking to remain profitable for the foreseeable future must embrace this fact and get to know how this 70-million-strong generation functions.

At a recent broker conference, two speakers - Millennials themselves - addressed both how to sell benefit products to this generation and, just as important, how to bring them into the fold as employees at your firm.

 

Who is a Millennial?

Born roughly between 1980 and 2000, Millennials are the first generation of "digital natives," accustomed to integrating rapidly changing technology into their lives almost from birth. They are informed consumers who strive for a healthy lifestyle and financial security, according to Chad Troutman, director of marketing at Collateral Benefits Group in Birmingham, Ala.

Their spending power exceeds more than $200 billion a year in the United States alone, Troutman said, and their influence is growing every year.

As for those who influence them, their social groups and their parents are top people they turn to for advice and guidance.

"I can't emphasize that too much," Troutman said. "Typically the problem I hear from advisers is, 'The Millennial generation? Who cares about them? They don't have any disposable income. They're not interested in buying financial products. Why would I even try to sell to them? I don't have access to them, Chad.' Malarkey!

"You do have access to them, because if you have even one client, some of them are going to be parents. They're going to have children that they want to pass down information to and guide in a good direction through life," he added.

 

Selling to them

Millennials are avid researchers. Businesses like Amazon.com take advantage of this fact and find success by integrating consumer reviews into their distribution strategy - a model a brokerage can easily copy, said Troutman.

"The only thing you're missing right now is integrating your personal review process with these other peoples' brands," he said, adding that he will not work with a company that isn't willing to co-brand its products with his name.

They are also all about instant gratification. Of course, this mindset can be a disadvantage for the insurance industry, where traditional products like life insurance or accident protection won't be used for some time, if at all.

Overcome this, Troutman said, by also offering tangible products that can instantly help their lifestyle, such as a wellness benefit that can be used the day it's implemented. Other voluntary benefits that fit the instant gratification bill include retail discounts and pet insurance. "You won't make your fortune on it, but you're going to set the hook," Troutman said.

Not wanting to hurry into a decision, 65% of Millennials will speak with someone before buying a product, Troutman explained.

They want brands to behave as mentors - and that's where benefit advisers come in, he says. "What we do as advisers, we are mentors," he said. "We have a vast knowledge to give to Millennials to help them navigate their financial track."

Troutman offered specific strategies for reaching Millennials in a group account. For example, 70% of Gen Y get advice from their supervisor.

They "gravitate toward that person that they work with that they see as the ideal of where they want to be in 10 years," Troutman said. "Those are the people we want to get to - and I'll tell you, they're not the people we're talking to right now."

Historically, brokers concentrate their efforts on the C-suite and HR, but you won't catch a Millennial wanting to have a beer with their HR department head, he said.

For accounts with 50-plus employees, talk to the department heads, "those department heads are going to be those influencers," Troutman said.

"Why is it important to talk to them? First of all, they probably already bought a product from you. Second of all, they're going to be the ones who can coach these kids into actually attending your group meetings. Take the time to have lunch with them."

 

A new attitude

When it comes to marketing to individuals, Troutman pointed out that 86% of Millennials get advice from their parents - "people we already have as clients."

The adviser who stops trying to sell things and makes it a priority to just be helpful will find success with Millennials, Troutman said.

"I assure you, these Millennials, if you do something that they find useful they will be your biggest cheerleaders. Research shows that seven out of 10 Millennials feel it is their duty to recommend and review other peoples' products."

Even so, Troutman cautioned not to give advice away for free. When sharing content on your website, don't let anyone look at it until they provide their email address, he advised.

"Your opinions are valuable. Each and every one of you should be paid for your time and your thoughts," he said.

And when they go to research you - which they will - It's imperative that you have a high-quality website.

"Millennials, they're going to check up on you," Troutman said. "So it's not good enough just to have a website, be sure your website doesn't look like it was done five years ago. Make sure it's up to date. It's very important."

 

Working with them

Thinking of hiring a Millennial to keep that website up to date? Then it's important to understand how Gen Y functions in the workplace as well.

Danielle Schweiger, new business development and marketing director, Benefit Innovations in Indianapolis, addressed the nuances of working with a Millennial.

Because this generation understands and functions well in change, they are a good group to have working in the employee benefit advising field as it goes through a post-ACA transformation, Schweiger pointed out.

Also, Millennials excel at managing their own identity outside of their personal space. It's "an enormous extension of your identity that supersedes yourself in a way that hasn't been recognized before," she said - and one that transitions seamlessly into brand or agency identity.

However, first you must hire them, which could prove to be a difficult process. Gen Y has more students in a master's program or seeking a higher degree than people who didn't get a higher education at all, Schweiger explained, and once they have graduated this group is not only slow to integrate into the workforce, but also picky about what job they take.

According to Schweiger, 41% of Gen Y turned down a job offer in 2009 because they felt it wasn't enough, and expected a better opportunity to come along.

Keep in mind, though, that once you do have them in the ranks at your firm, Schweiger said, "they might not admit it or show it, but they are looking at you for cues on how to behave."

She addressed five mistakes managers make when working with employees from this generation, according to author Tom McBride:

1) Millennials high-tech skills mask their lack of knowledge of low-tech skills.

She recalled an example from her own life where her mother, who is also her boss, asked her to put stamps and addresses on a series of direct-mail postcards. After having no problem designing the mailing, she placed the stamp in the wrong spot on all of the postcards.

2) Managers fail to perceive the nuances of Gen Y's work habits.

This generation wants the ability to telecommute and set their own hours - come in late and stay late, said Schweiger.

3) They associate giving new employees what they want with an inevitable loss of authority.

In reality, she said, "they will respect you more if you meet their needs," and will perform better as well.

4) Managers become overly impressed with the widespread belief that Gen Y will change jobs many more times.

"Therefore, they don't want to train them because think they won't be there long," Schweiger added.

5) They will try to tell, but not show Gen Y what to do.

She recalled another example from her own career where a boss asked her to "connect" with a client. She assumed he meant email, when he had actually wanted her to call the client over the phone.

In the end, managers that adapt to the expectations of Millennials will find a successful, loyal workforce, she said.

Collateral Benefits Group's Troutman concluded, "Millennials are fiercely loyal individuals."

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