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The Millennials are here. 

The next generation of the workforce is also going to be the next generation of your sales force.

And it’s well documented that Millennials share different preferences, expectations and habits in how they communicate, interact and learn.

So how do you turn Millennial trainees into professional, competent salespeople?

You teach them in the way they want to learn. And learn best.

It’s called social learning. And at the Major League Soccer National Sales Center (NSC), they’ve pioneered new ways to teach Millennials to sell.

From Student to Skilled Sales Person

Bryant Pfeiffer is vice president of club services for Major League Soccer (MLS). He heads up an internal team that advises the 20 clubs in the league on sales, advertising and marketing.   As he visited clubs several years ago, he noticed a disturbing trend: tickets sales were dependent on a very young, inexperienced sales staff. Some 85% of the league’s sale force had less than three years of experience – and almost half of the sales force had less than one year of experience.

Major League Soccer needed help accelerating their recruiting and sales training process. In response, Pfeiffer created the MLS’s National Sales Center in the Twin Cities suburb of Blaine, MN in 2010.

The NSC is a highly selective training program designed to recruit and train new sales people for MLS’s professional soccer clubs.  Specifically targeted at college graduates with bachelor’s degrees, the program is designed to recruit young talent into the highly competitive world of sports ticket sales, and then find creative ways to engage these Millennial trainees and teach them how to be successful sales people.

During the first month of the program, new trainees receive traditional classroom training while dedicating a small portion of their time to making real sales calls. In the second month, the focus shifts, and the majority of their days are spent on the phones, selling on behalf of MLS Clubs. After two to four months, successful graduates are allowed to interview with clubs for full-time sales positions.

Transferring Skills From the Classroom to the Sales Floor

Millennials are known for notoriously short attention spans. Pfeiffer noticed that much of what the trainees learned in the classroom seemed to have been forgotten when faced with the day-to-day pressure of making sales call.  And, as in most sales organizations, trainee’s sales performance was measured against a variety of metrics so they could be coached to improve their performance. Pfeiffer wanted a way to also measure and coach communication skills and professionalism with the same accuracy and real-time feedback.

So he turned to SkillFitness.

“There is a lot of similarity between SkillFitness and what we do already to provide feedback on sales calls,” Pfeiffer says. “Much of our training is about communication skills and professionalism. So we felt that similar to the way our managers listen to sales calls and provide feedback, SkillFitness is a way to provide feedback to help a young salesperson develop those skills.”

The NSC training staff created more than a dozen modules covering essential sales and communication skills and reinforcing the content trainees covered during their first month of classroom training. Students are typically assigned two modules a week during their first month or two in the call center. Trainees are given a 24 hour deadline to complete their assignment by shooting a “selfie” video of themselves demonstrating the skill.  The videos are then reviewed by training managers who provide feedback for improvement.

“We have more than 200 hours of content on sales and best practices,” Pfeiffer says. “This tool gives us a platform to really reinforce that content as trainees are learning the nuances of ticket sales. SkillFitness doesn’t replace our current sales training process but compliments and enhances it.”

6 Tips for Training Millennials

In developing the SkillFitness program, Pfeiffer and his NSC trainers discovered several techniques for making training more engaging and relevant to their Millennial learners.

  1. Keep It Short. NSC SkillFitness training modules are short – two or three minutes long – and tightly focused on a specific skill. Trainees can usually complete the exercise in ten minutes, making it easy to fit into their schedules.

  2. Make It Relevant. Content for each module is delivered by one of the league’s Chief Ticketing Officers – the head of sales for a member team. These are the sales leaders that graduates of the NSC program will eventually work for. Pfeiffer says engagement and feedback dramatically improved when these in-house experts delivered the content.

  3. Leverage Mobile. Millennials are famously attached to their smart phones. Using SkillFitness’ downloadable apps, trainees can complete their assignments using their Apple or Android smart phones. Pfeiffer says SkillFitness’ mobile-centric approach also helps the trainers, who can use their smart phone to evaluate and coach trainees when they have a spare minute. Pfeiffer says not only is this easier on the coach’s schedule; it’s also leads to faster feedback.

  4. Encourage Sharing. Trainees are encouraged to practice their submissions and share with other students before submitting it to their manager. Melanie Seiser, MSC manager, says sharing is important for trainees. “That’s one thing about the Millennial generation is that they really want feedback,” Seiser says. “So in addition to getting it from their manager, they are getting it from each other. That is really valuable.”

  5. Understand that Uncomfortable is OK. Surprisingly for a generation that created the concept of a selfie, many trainees are reluctant at first to video themselves. But Seiser says it is all part of the process. “Being comfortable being uncomfortable is a big thing for us,” she says. “Taking a selfie video and talking about it is part of that. We want people to do things here that make them feel a little awkward or uncomfortable at first because they will learn a lot about themselves. It will help them build confidence and do better in sales because doing sales is awkward at times.”

  6. Make it a Game. As students progress through the modules, they are evaluated by their managers and receive points based on the quality of their work. The points are reported on a leaderboard within the SkillFitness application. Seiser says that the leaderboards introduce trainees to working in a metrics-driven sales culture – and helps increase engagement with the training. “The leaderboard helps them take it seriously,” she says. “But it is also fun for them to compete with each other.”

But Millennial or not, the real key to learning is repetition and practice, Pfeiffer says.  Students can watch a module as many times as they want. And many will video themselves practicing the skill multiple times before they are satisfied with the result and willing to share it with other trainees or their manager. And that’s where the learning happens.

“To develop any skill, you need to practice it,” Pfeiffer says. “It’s all about repetition.”

Want to learn more about how Major League Soccer uses SkillFitness to train future sales professionals? Click here to read our case study: Major League Soccer Uses SkillFitness to Boost Sales Skills, Confidence.

See how microlearning and microcoaching might the the keys to an effective Millennial onboarding program.  Check out our blog post Think Small: Microlearning and Microcoaching for onboarding Millennials.


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