Being a sales mentor to your peers can be one of the most rewarding aspects of a sales career. There’s no salary. No commission. The hours can be irregular, but the benefits make it worthwhile. As anyone who has had a mentor will tell you, a mentor’s ability to shape and guide a career extends beyond the professional. However, while all sellers benefit from the guidance, not all experienced sellers make great mentors. As the best salespeople see selling as a call to help others, great mentors view mentoring as a sacred trust that motivates mentees to become future sales leaders. In that way, mentoring is not for everyone. If you are so chosen, here are tips for being a great sales mentor:
Experience: First, mentors must be experienced. After all, a main point of the relationship is the mentee gaining wisdom. Wisdom is the accumulated knowledge from one’s experience, both the wins and the losses of a career. Of course, mentees and mentors should have things in common, such as similar work histories. A seller who benefitted from special connections or skipped necessary steps in their trajectory will probably not make a great mentor. Instead, the best mentors worked their way up through a variety of positions. They understand the nuances of a sales career. Like chess masters, they see the entire board and are experienced enough to play the long game.
Integrity: People who know people are the best people. Great mentors know everyone, and everyone knows them. This is not because they are not most outgoing or salesy, greeting all with a wink and a pointed “gotcha” finger. Instead, they are known for the way they have carried themselves throughout their careers. For their integrity, they have earned the respect of both colleagues and clients. They may not have always closed the biggest deals, but they have always played fair, regardless of the payday. Revered by all, from reception to the C-Suite, great mentors respect the best practices and traditions of our ancient profession like soldiers bound by sacred oaths.
Enthusiasm: A common misconception of salespeople is that the best of them are charming, outgoing extroverts. This may or may not be true, but enthusiasm for one’s profession does not necessarily reveal itself in obvious or showy ways. A great mentor loves selling and exhibits their enthusiasm by sharing their stories. A mentor should not be the Eeyore of the office, who displays a negative, “Why me?” attitude. Instead, they should exude positivity and good will. Like a sports coach, great mentors know their attitude carries as much weight as their words, and they know the power of each to convey a motivating confidence in their mentee.
Desire to Mentor: As great salespeople invest in themselves and their sales process, mentors must invest in mentoring. One cannot be a half-hearted, part-time mentor who phones it in. Great mentors understand the responsibility of mentoring. They know they have been personally chosen to invest in a younger person who can benefit from the attention, knowledge, and experience of one who has reached a desired professional level. Like presenting to multiple decision makers and unsmiling procurement teams, one must want this responsibility. A little pride? Maybe. But one should only take the last shot when they are their team’s best hope. And one does not sign on to mentor without knowing all they have to offer.
Honesty: Like a parent or trusted teacher, mentors must be honest. Not everything in life is pleasant. A sugar-coated truth may be easy to swallow, but it doesn’t impart the lesson that needs learning. Mentoring means sharing hard truths, like telling a prized employee they’ll never reach their potential in their comfortable present role. At the same time, great mentors cannot put the interests of an organization above those of the mentee. In fact, the best mentors know their professional commitments must never conflict with their mentoring. That’s why sales managers could be positive influences, but they should not be mentors. There can be no divided loyalties when one signs on to mentor future sales leaders.
Empathy: Like great salespeople, mentors must convey empathy. This is more than providing a sympathetic ear for a mentee’s problem. It means listening to uncover the core issues beneath one’s feelings, recognizing a shared experience, and illustrating compassion while illuminating solutions. Just as sellers cannot sit idly by when a client reveals a struggle, mentors do not merely pout and pat a mentee’s hand. Great sellers confirm and understand a client’s feelings, and they know how to turn emotion into action that solves a problem. If that sounds like mentoring, it’s because, beyond all their other responsibilities and above all else, both great sellers and mentors should always be trusted advisors.
It doesn’t fit on a resume, and it’s not as flashy as closing big deals, but being a mentor can be a seller’s most rewarding accomplishment. After all, like selling at its best, mentoring is deeply personal. It’s when someone singles you out because they recognize something in you that they want for themselves. Of course, this can be for superficial things like wealth, success, or lifestyle. However, the great mentors understand the immense responsibility of being a mentor. They know that, more than closing stubborn deals, handling difficult clients, and even achieving a greater work-life balance, being a mentor means modeling the behaviors that build tomorrow’s sales leaders.