You’ve heard it all before: A good mentor is critical for a successful career in sales. But how do you identify the qualities that make someone an exceptional mentor?
When selecting a mentor, try to find someone who embodies these eleven qualities:
1. Dedication to mentoring, and availability to provide mentorship
An unavailable mentor can’t provide much in the way of assistance, however knowledgeable they might be. Find someone who can commit to meeting with you at least semi-regularly in the foreseeable future. (Once every two months is good for a bare minimum.)
Just as important is the prospective mentor’s commitment towards you as a mentee. In your initial conversations, try to gauge the mentor’s enthusiasm. Are they asking you question and proactively offering suggestions? Do they seem genuinely interested in your career? When you suggest the idea of formal mentorship, is their response enthusiastic or perfunctory?
2. Strong knowledge of sales today
Sales is a constantly changing field, so it’s critical for your mentor to have up-to-date knowledge. Look for someone who currently works in sales. If you can find a mentor who holds a position that you aspire towards, that can be particularly helpful.
It isn’t necessary for your mentor to be in the same industry, although it is a nice bonus.
3. Ability to display empathy
It’s likely that you will turn to your mentor to talk out difficult situations. While they don’t necessarily need to be warm and cuddly, they should be able to empathize with you (and others) so that they can best help you navigate challenges.
When vetting a potential mentor, pay attention to how well they understand other people’s perspectives. Do they approach an issue from multiple points of view, or do they exclusively talk about their own thoughts and feelings?
4. Honesty and transparency
The best mentors tell mentees what they need to hear, even when it’s difficult. You want to find a mentor who is willing and able to be honest with you. They should be direct in offering their thoughts, rather than relying on coded language. At the same time, they should be diplomatic enough to deliver their assessments in a productive way. No one benefits from being made to feel hurt or defensive.
5. High integrity and trustworthiness
You want to be able to speak honestly with your mentor without worrying about having your confidences betrayed. It’s also critical for your mentor to gain others’ trust if they are to help you advance in your career. Select a trustworthy person with an unassailable reputation.
Sometimes, a mentorship can encounter difficulties when mentor and mentee work at the same company. Even if the mentor is very trustworthy, it can be difficult for them to balance mentorship responsibilities and professional duty in certain circumstances. Be mindful of this, and try to avoid putting your mentor in a situation that might create a conflict of interest. For this reason, many people find it helpful to have someone outside of their organization in addition to an internal mentor.
6. Strong communication skills, including listening skills
So much of mentorship is communication, and listening is particularly important. You want a mentor who can really listen to what you’re saying and offer appropriate responses. A mentor who uses your conversations as an opportunity to talk about themselves excessively is not helpful.
Communication is oftentimes highly idiosyncratic, so it’s critical that your mentor has a communication style that meshes with your own. Assess how comfortable you feel when talking to a possible mentor. Do you feel like they’re really listening to what you’re saying? If you were to offer constructive feedback to them, would they be able to hear it and adjust their style accordingly?
7. Enthusiasm about the field
The best mentors don’t just work in sales, they live sales. If your mentor is enthusiastic about sales, their enthusiasm can help you keep going amidst the inevitable ups and downs. Enthusiastic mentors are also more likely to be invested in helping more junior sales professionals to thrive.
When evaluating a mentor, consider how they talk about their work. The most passionate people are usually pretty easy to identify.
8. Can offer feedback constructively
A mentor’s job isn’t just to boost you up, they also need to be able to tell you what you could be doing better. Ideally, your mentor should be able to deliver feedback in a way that’s helpful. “I think you can improve in this skill by doing x, y, and z” is helpful feedback. “You’re not very good at this” is not.
Good feedback-givers are able to back up their assessments with concrete examples. Once they’ve provided feedback, they will pivot to brainstorming ways to address the feedback.
9. Understands how to set and achieve professional goals
Mentors should be able to help you to set and achieve your professional goals. To assess how helpful they’ll be in this area, ask them questions about their own career progression. Being successful is a good sign, but it’s even more important for the mentor to approach their career in an organized fashion. They should have some kind of a system (whether formal or informal) for identifying goals and then achieving them. You want to develop your own system, so it’s helpful if your mentor knows how to think like this.
10. Respected by others in the field
A well-respected mentor can help you to achieve similar levels of respect. This isn’t just about career success. It’s critical that your mentor is known as someone with a high level of skills and integrity. Ask around to get a sense of how people perceive your mentor.
11. Interested in lifelong learning
Even highly successful sales professionals should be interested in self-improvement. Find someone who makes it a habit to talk about reading new books, attending conferences, and otherwise learning new skills. If they’re attuned to learning opportunities, they can help you to find them, too.
Establishing a relationship with sales professionals who are more experienced than you is very important, especially if you’re just starting out in sales. Your manager can provide you proper coaching on selling strategies and how to hit your quotas consistently but when it comes to career advice and personal development as a salesperson, you need a decent mentor to guide you and bring out the best in you.