One thing common to successful sales professionals at all levels, from the C-Suite to managers and even top reps, is that most had a mentor to guide them. While all industries have mentor/mentee relationships, and it’s common for professionals to have multiple mentors throughout their careers, there’s something special about a sales mentor. It’s why every sales movie features a mentor character, from the inspiring Dicky Fox in “Jerry Maguire” to the morally bankrupt Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street.” For most, however, mentors transcend the negative stereotype of salespeople and prove sales really is about connecting with people and bettering their lives. Either way, the bonds forged between sales mentors and mentees can be some of the strongest, which is why most sales pros are happy to talk about their mentors, even long after their mentoring has passed. With that, here are a few things a sales mentee might tell you about sales mentors:
Someone You Trust
In a time when many find love through algorithms on dating apps, it can be tempting to think of finding a mentor in the same way. While it’s helpful to think of the qualities or attributes you want in a mentor—a track record of closing big deals or a shelf full of industry accolades and awards—finding a mentor is more than someone fitting a preconceived idea or the proverbial suit. Though many have the image of a wizened, wisecracking old sage—and I’ve known a few of these myself—the truth is, mentors come in all shapes and sizes. They are men. They are women. They are older. They are not so old. Most of all, they should be someone you trust to look out for your own best interests, even when you’re unsure what those interests are. Note those who tell you the truths you may not want but need to hear.
Ideally, a mentor should be someone who has forgotten more than most of us will ever know. Sure, they can dispense tips and tricks for prospecting and engaging clients that top today’s technology, and they have seen changes in the industry, navigated office politics, and weathered enough storms to remain a calm and steady presence in the organization. But they still get more delight in your accomplishments than you do, and they feel any slight to you more than if it were done to them. In success or failure, they are ready with stories that are lessons, like centuries old myths that makes us smile when we get it. Though it may sound like hyperbole, great mentors are like guardians whose belief in our abilities can inspire the confidence to reach further than we ever could on our own. Keep an eye out for those who make you want to succeed.
Find a Range
While many sales organizations have mentoring programs that partner junior reps with seasoned veterans, and these can be a great way to meet experienced pros who can guide you in the processes of their particular organization, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received from a mentor was that your sales manager may not be your best choice for a mentor. Of course, young reps should take advice any way they can get it, and it’s great to have a manager one can look up to, but too often a manager’s first loyalty can be to the organization and not to the rep’s long-term interests. It’s always better to have a range of mentors, both inside and outside one’s present employer.
An Organic Relationship
Some say young sales reps should actively seek out experienced professionals and gauge their interest in being a mentor, like an interview. Often, however, the best mentors appear when you’re not looking. Also, be wary of making formal requests for mentorship. This can make the relationship feel transactional, like they are being appointed to a position, when the best mentor/mentee relationships are often organic—the right person at the right time, who provides something you didn’t know you needed. This does not mean you should sit around waiting for the mentor fairy to knock on your cubicle. Always seek out talented pros, and leverage social media like LinkedIn, but don’t be too quick to assign a mentor, like checking a list of things all sales pros need. A mentor is more than an accessory.
Maybe the mysterious thing about sales mentors that makes them so interesting is how they show us that sales is so much more than a job. For the right people, a career in sales is like a calling. Though we don’t often think about it, selling is one of the oldest professions—and it’s often as maligned as other old professions. It has a history, a tradition. Economies rise and fall, technologies come and go, and salespeople must always adapt. A sales mentor is the embodiment of that tradition, passing on their acquired knowledge to a new generation, and the reverence we feel for our mentors is the honor that they see us as worthy successors.