Selling to Boomers’ Uniqueness

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They’re not known as the Baby Boomers for nothing. They still are the most dominant consumer group in the marketplace and will be for years to come. Boomers are the huge generation born between 1946 and 1964, after World War II and were raised in a time of great optimism, tremendous opportunity and progress. There are 78 million of them today.

They are unique compared to other generations. They had a set of experiences vastly different from older generations, as well as the GenX generation that follows them. The Boomers’ quest for self is characterized by their fixation on self-improvement and individual accomplishment. Personal fulfillment is their mantra. Boomers have a strong sense of entitlement and great expectations about the potential of life. However, now this generation is troubled. They once thought they could fix the world, but now find themselves beset by their own limitations and seemingly intractable problems.

What Do Boomers Want from Retirement?

After turbulent times, which saw World War II and memories of economic hardship, their parents’ generation wanted financial security above all else. They got it; they are the wealthiest retirees in history.

Boomers, however, are not their parents. Financial security was never an issue for them. They grew up in a time of unprecedented prosperity. They accept financial security as a given, a belief which the recent recession has hardly dented for the majority. They implicitly assume they will have financial security. Financial advisors who try to persuade them otherwise find themselves frustrated. Boomers aren’t listening. They continue to under-save, preferring present gratification.

How Do You Get Boomers to Save More for Retirement and Spend Less Today?

The answer lies in getting them to focus on future gratification. Not just any future gratification, but one that has a more powerful emotional pull than present gratification.

For most of them, this more powerful emotional pull consists of re-inventing themselves in retirement, just as they re-invented themselves growing up and throughout their careers. It is their future lifestyle: “living the way I would like to live when I retire.”

This future lifestyle does not mean opulence or fantasy wealth. It means being able to have experiences that are of high personal value. These can be things like: volunteering to work with children, going back to college, opening a B&B, moving across the country, changing from an urban to rural lifestyle, developing a family genealogy, or thousands of other possibilities.

Therefore, if you want to get your Boomer clients to save more, first focus them on their innermost personal retirement desires.

Only when they compare attaining those desires and the gratification that they will bring, with the gratification they get from present spending, will they be able to change their savings behavior.

Here are guidelines for dealing with this special generation:

Give Them Options and Let Them Decide.

A key attitude of Boomers is they want things simplified, but they don’t want to lose control. They want to make the decision. Present them with alternatives. Best bet if you can do it; let Boomers construct their own personal choice from among a series of options.

At the same time, suggesting that you have the answer for them and not giving them control of the decision, is something that won’t work. Partner with Boomers, provide them alternatives and let them make the decision is a successful formula for advisors.

Make Recommendations that Lead to Self-Fulfillment.

Boomers have a continuing need for self-fulfillment – changing careers, living differently, residing elsewhere, or pursuing an avocation. Connect your recommendation to those individual needs rather than abstractions such as “a better retirement.”

Cater to Their Causes.

Part of the shared experience of older Boomers in their formative years (late teens and early 20s) relates to social consciousness, such as cleaning up the environment. They want to be connected to families, friends and society through actions they see as socially meaningful.

See if their personal investment goals might be tailored to contribute to causes dear to their hearts. At a minimum, it will win you their added respect. Plus, it just might produce more business from them and their referrals.

Use Altruism to Strike a Responsive Chord.

During conversations, probe to learn if altruism or “giving back” to the community, church or some other organization is a hot button with the Boomer prospect. Boomers will sometimes make financial decisions they would never make for themselves in order to give back.

Provide Lots of Information.

Boomers believe they can learn enough about something to make good decisions if they have adequate information. The more information you provide, the more comfortable they will be with their decisions.

Don’t Be Put Off By Doubt and Suspicion.

Boomers grew up mistrusting authority and large institutions. In their minds, your suggestions might represent a large institution. Their initial reaction to a recommendation — especially if they don’t know you well — is likely to be one of skepticism. Use information to overcome skepticism.

Boomers Don’t Expect to Get Old; Don’t Sell Against Their Denial.

In America, no one truly wants to get old — especially Baby Boomers. They do not want to think about retiring if it means getting older, with physical infirmities, maybe not having as much money as they would like. It’s not a pleasant subject.

So they deny it:

“I still feel young. I plan to work for a long time yet.”

“I’m not going to retire.”

“Between my 401(k) and the money I expect to make from working after I retire, I’ll have more than enough.”

It is difficult to make a sale when the prospect won’t acknowledge the need. In denial, he or she is never going to get old. Therefore, the person is never going to really retire; never going to need money beyond what is earned.

But the Boomers won’t acknowledge the need only because the person equates retirement with the (perceived) trials and tribulations of aging. On the other hand, if he or she equates retirement with good things, then the need is self-evident. If the person wants the good things, it will take money during retirement.

Therefore, sell retirement planning on the basis of the good things, not the need for money when the client gets old.

When you treat this Boomer generation as one that is truly unique and different, you will succeed with them.


Michael P. Sullivan is a Sales Consultant/Trainer for 50-Plus Communications Consulting Charlotte. He can be reached at Mps50-plus@aol.com or viewed on LinkedIn. For a free copy of his “10 Tips for Selling to Boomers,” email him at Mps50plus@aol.com.

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