"The Trophy Generation": Managing salespeople when everyone wants to win

Posted by James Pember on 1/18/16 1:53 PM

Today we’re going to take a closer look at motivating “millennials”, i.e. those born between 1980 and 2001, who are now starting to become a material part of our workforces. This generation of people are often referred to (somewhat critically I must add) as the “Trophy Generation”, so we’re going to look at the origins of that term and what it means for those of us managing sales teams.

What is “The Trophy Generation”?

“The Trophy Generation” is a somewhat derogatory term applied to the generation born between 1980 and 2001, other times referred to as Millennials.

The term touches on the “nice try, way to go, you’ll get it next time” style of parental encouragement that many children born between the aforementioned dates experienced, and hints at the fact that many people in that age group received trophies and awards just for participating, or “showing up”.

Opponents of “Trophy parenting” claim that this style of parenting has produced a generation that is entitled and always wondering “where the hell is my god damn trophy - I'm here aren't I?!” - and unable to function without constant feedback and recognition.

On the other hand, many feel that this style of encouragement has built a generation of risk-takers, free-thinkers and ambitious entrepreneurs who don’t just tow the line or accept the status-quo.

To save myself from moving into child-behavioral-psychology territory, quite simply an area I know far too little about, I’m going to focus this article on why this phenomena is important for sales leaders to be thinking about.


Why does “The Trophy Generation” impact me and my sales management initiatives?

Well, for one - you have no choice. In 2015, the Millennials became the largest generation in the workforce in the Western world.

So, sales leaders, who by the way are most likely the parents of “The Trophy Generation” (ironic, yes I know), must figure out how to adapt to the changing workforce and focus on the changing motivators of the Millennial salespeople who are becoming an ever increasing portion of their teams.

In addition, what’s worth noting is that the methods in which sales managers coach this new set of salespeople are fundamentally different to what they’ve used in the past.

To make it even clearer: what worked in the past will not work in the future.

This new breed of sales rep requires a completely different mindset when it comes to motivating and managing their performance.

Let’s dig in.

What is so different about what motivates the “Trophy Generation” workforce?

Disclaimer: I myself am smack bang in the middle of the millennial generation (born 1989), however I am basing my thoughts below on my own experience, the feedback I get from our customers and data and research sourced online.

One of the biggest myths in general about motivating salespeople is the tendency for us all to overestimate the importance of financial compensation.

Study after study (try this one from McKinsey) has shown that non-financial motivators are a far greater long-term driver of sales performance, yet sales leaders persist with using financial compensation as their primary method of motivating salespeople.

With Millennials, or “The Trophy Generation”, this problem is simply amplified. Whilst Millennials are absolutely money-driven (they often have strong opinions about what they deserve), financial compensation has proven to be a tiny fraction of what gets them out of bed in the morning.

According to generations prior (and data), Millennials are far less loyal to the company, so financial compensation cannot be a cornerstone of your coaching and management initiatives. You need to dig deeper.

Below are the 3 motivators that sales leaders need to tap into in order to get epic sales success out of their younger colleagues

1. Praise and Recognition
2. Constant (and I mean constant) and Continuous Feedback
3. Milestones, Achievements and Incremental Progress

Praise and Recognition

"The millennials were raised with so much affirmation and positive reinforcement that they come into the workplace needy for more" says Subha Barry, managing director and head of global diversity and inclusion at Merrill Lynch & Co.

This is something that older sales leaders must keep in mind if they find themselves managing teams that are now dominated by Millennial staff. Whilst older generations often epitomize the “What do you want a medal for doing your job? Just get on with it!” attitude, this will be far less effective and most likely won’t get optimal results.

If you want to motivate your millennial sales staff into increased performance - don’t be scared to push the praise button a little more often.

Constant and Continuous Feedback

If there’s one element of coaching that will lead to a 100% failure rate with millennials - it is the annual performance review. When coaching millennials, give feedback and “status updates” weekly, if not daily.

“They’re not looking for constant praise, but rather they want to “keep score” on how they’re doing in all aspects of their career. “[They] never want to have a surprise” comments Jeff Lawson, CEO at Twilio.

Where does this desire for constant feedback come from?

According to Jacquelyn Smith over at Business Insider, “Millennials grew up with the Internet, which offers instant gratification and quick feedback, and they expect that in other aspects of their lives”. Another explanation could be the video games that millennials grew up with, which use continuous feedback loops to trigger participation and progress.

Milestones, Achievements and Incremental Progress

Another hangover effect from years of playing video games is the desire to pass milestones, tick off achievements and make incremental progress.

Perhaps this desire for incremental progress can be equally attributed to a lesser ability to tackle big challenges upfront, but nevertheless, millennials love to break down goals into smaller tasks, and tick them off one by one.

This is particularly relevant for sales. Make sure you break down big ambitious goals into more easily digestible milestones. Make sure you track and report activity levels too, because we all know - activity levels are the engine room for successful salespeople.


The new breed of salespeople are different, and this difference must be accepted in order to drive high performing sales organisations in 2016.

Remember, what worked before won’t necessarily work now. If you’re sales culture isn’t built upon continuous feedback, recognition and praise and incremental progress - you risk being left behind.

However, it’s still January, so there is still time :)

Note: We spend all day thinking about how software can help drive performance within the new sales teams. Feel free to check out Sparta and how we’ve approached building a solution to help you drive competitive spirit, feedback and coaching with an easy to use sales acceleration platform.

Topics: sales, sales management, how to motivate sales team, sales motivation, sales software, motivating salespeople, sales gamification, sales coaching

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Sparta is an end-to-end sales performance solution that helps you coach, train and drive your team into higher performance.

Create sales competitions, set collabarative team targets and inspire your team to crush their goals! 

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