A New Generation of Suppliers

What youth brings to the partnership

Just as the under-30 crowd is influencing meeting planning, they represent a substantial and growing proportion of supplier and third-party ranks. Like their corporate and association peers, these newcomers infuse the workplace with enthusiasm, fresh ideas, social networking skills and a seemingly innate understanding of technology.

M&C talked to newbies and managers across many industry sectors about how the new guard is influencing the supplier side of the business.

The Typical Millennial Young professionals approach work differently than their predecessors. Some observations:

Scott Castleman• They thrive on change.
"They can accept a lot of change, they can accept it quickly and they can accept it often," says Scott Castleman, 40, director of client services at technology provider Cvent in Mclean, Va. This is true of day-to-day tasks as well as their career trajectories. "They're OK with making sudden changes to their careers," Castleman says, "and with a regularity and frequency that would have put someone from my generation in the loony bin."

The same characteristic that allows the under-30 set to excel in a fast-paced environment also can make them impatient when change doesn't come. The contrast to Castleman's own experience as a Gen-Xer is significant: "I think there was a greater sense then that you would work in a stable environment, under a stable set of goals, under a stable center of authority, with a stable set of responsibilities."

But that trait poses one of the biggest challenges to managers, notes Kevin Iwamoto, vice president of enterprise strategy for Philadelphia-based StarCite. "The loyalty of the youngest generation is going to be slim to none," he says. "So how do we communicate, train and keep these people happy so they don't jump jobs?"

• They listen to their hearts.
The inclination to job hop can be motivated by idealism. "Our generation wants to work at jobs we believe in," explains StarCite's Jessie Berry, a 25-year-old marketing coordinator. "If we're not emotionally invested in a job and really passionate about what we're doing, there's going to be a lack of motivation."

Companies need to recognize the importance of a corporate social responsibility policy or a green policy to young employees, says Iwamoto: "Those things mean a lot to that generation. If a company doesn't fulfill that obligation in their minds, they'll move on. If you want to retain good talent, you've got to look beyond the traditional compensation model."

• Tech prowess comes naturally. Young professionals' ease with all things technical is universally admired. And it's not only important to their employers, but to clients, notes Jim Ruszala, director of marketing at Fenton, Mo.-based Maritz Travel. "Clients have an expectation that we are up on the latest trends and tools," he says. Young staffers help.

In fact, newbies can lend their skills to higher-ups. At the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau, young employees might be called upon to help senior management better understand social media tools, or to show them how to use their iPads, says a bureau source.

Social media prowess is highly valued, too, adds Michael Dominguez, vice president of global sales for Loews Hotels and Resorts. "We can teach them how to be more effective in a room of 3,000 people when they need to network," he says, "but they can teach us how to keep that dialogue and conversation going when we're out of the room."

Even a tech-based company such as Cvent exploits the generational expertise of its youngest employees. "Our technology team makes us do user-testing of new mobile applications," explains  Elena Werth, 26, a senior trainer in Cvent's training and development department. "They're asking for our advice on ways to make it more user-friendly for our clients to set up their registration processes right from their smartphones."

• They text vs. talk. The ever-present cellphone is not for talking anymore. Young employees use text messaging as a primary means of communication, notes Melissa Poindexter, account and project manager at Chicago-based BCD Meetings & Incentives. "They're really reluctant to pick up the phone. It's something I have to remind them to do, especially with clients."

That's also a pet peeve of Jordan Clark's, who is vice president of sales at Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas: "Their natural first inclination is to reach for the pocket and text or tweet. I do think this generation has a difficult time determining what should be communicated through what vehicle. Sometimes they tweet, text or e-mail things that they should speak with someone about, either by phone or face-to-face."

• They don't unplug. They can juggle e-mail, social media and phone calls simultaneously -- and nearly round the clock. That's partly the nature of the business, but the difference is, "Millennials just don't have stress from being connected 24/7 like you and I do," muses Cvent's Castleman. "It's how they're wired. It's all just part of their lives. At the end of the day, I want to shut it all off. We make a big deal out of taking a vacation and getting disconnected, but they're quite comfortable with being connected into all of it almost 24 hours a day."

• They're responsive.
"In this day and age, business is happening so quickly," says 23-year-old Jeni Wilson, a Las Vegas-based sales manager with Caesars Entertainment. "Because of the economy and the events happening around us, business is being booked shorter term. People don't have the budget or the knowledge to book programs for 2015, they're booking programs for two weeks from now. And because it's two weeks from now, they need their answers right now. In order to capture that business, you have to be on top of it. You have to be able to respond as quickly as possible. You have to have three e-mails open at a time and know what's going on with each of them."

Business practices are likely to change based on the way young employees communicate -- on the customer side as well, adds StarCite's Iwamoto. For example, while service-level agreements typically promise customers a response within 24 hours, "This generation doesn't want to wait for a phone call or fax. They want a tweet or some kind of immediate answer back."

• They're hungry for knowledge.
One "huge benefit" of the under-30 set, according to Jordan Clark from Caesars, is their willingness to learn. "It's a cornerstone of their culture," he says. "Their curiosity is just insatiable all the time." They want to understand why things are done in a certain fashion. "They are not afraid of asking questions," Clark adds. "These are not 'yes' employees."

Denise Dornfeld, senior vice president for five AlliedPRA Southern California offices, lauds young staffers for their research skills. "They jump into any project; if they don't know how to do something or need more information, they go online and get the answers. What they may lack in experience they make up for in their research abilities."

• Praise is key. Young team members require a lot of encouragement, note a number of sources. "They thrive on a lot of feedback," explains Greg Leonard, general manager of the Grand Hyatt Denver. "In the past, a lot of managers would operate along the lines of, 'If I don't tell you anything, you're doing a good job.' You can't really do that with this generation. You need to make sure you're giving them strong positive feedback and coaching them for success."

They want to race up the ladder. "Titles mean a lot to them," says Tony Napoli, CMP, DCMP, president of Briggs Inc., a New York City-based destination management firm. "They don't like the term 'assistant,' and they aren't shy about seeking promotions."

• Time is money. This group takes their social life seriously. They want to be kinder to themselves than the Baby Boomers, finding ways to be productive at work so they can enjoy social time, notes one DMC executive. "What motivates them is time off, personal time and flexible hours," observes Tony Napoli.

• They explore their surroundings.
Staff at all levels of the Greater Phoenix CVB rely on their young colleagues' knowledge of hot new restaurants, bars and clubs in downtown. "They tell us what's in and out and where to send clients," the spokesperson notes.

Working with Clients Young professionals also bring a new dynamic to suppliers' interactions with clients. "What we sometimes forget," points out Michael Dominguez, "is that the demographic for the customer has changed too." Dominguez is quick to add that many changes revolve not around age so much as experience level. "During this economic downturn we lost the middle tier of suppliers and meeting professionals," he notes. "It hit us industrywide. Now we seem to have the very veteran and the very novice," as middle managers became the victims of downsizing.

The novices, Dominguez explains, aren't necessarily the under-30 crowd: "In many cases people had to change jobs, even within the industry. So our challenge on the sales side is that we're often dealing with professionals who are just learning the meeting planning environment. That elevates the need for our young sales professionals to be that much more well-versed."

Tony Napoli of Briggs says his young team interacts well with clients -- many of whom are also young and therefore are perfectly comfortable. But Napoli says it was nevertheless necessary to lay down a few rules for client interactions. "They're never to use their cell phone or iPad in front of clients, unless it is directly related to work or the program."

Clients do sometimes express concerns about working with young reps, several sources agree. "Some older clients have been wary of purchasing from them. They want to deal with people who have paid their dues," says Denise Dornfeld. To counteract that, she says, younger pros must establish their knowledge at the outset. "I tell them to use their clients' buzzwords, such as ROI or meeting objectives; it lets the client know you are speaking their language and understand their world."

Looking Ahead It's clear that companies across all industries will face the challenge of managing an increasingly multigenerational base of employees.

"For the first time, we're dealing with three major generations in the work force," says Dominguez. "That has never happened before -- not in the numbers that we have now, where the ranks of Millennials are as big as the baby boomers. And the rest of us are stuck in the middle, trying to be the referee between the two."

As the three- and four-generation workplace becomes increasingly common, bringing employees of varying ages together will become an absolutely essential skill for leaders, points out Dornfeld. "We have to figure out ways to be mutually respectful of what each other brings to the party," she says, "because combined, we are amazing."