Mentorship is essential to advancement in sales, but many junior salespeople don’t know how to find a mentor and receive real value from the relationship. Fortunately, there are best practices for mentorship.
Follow these eight guidelines to become a stellar mentee and advance your career:
1. Figure out what you need help with and identify people who can provide that assistance.
To receive real value from a mentorship relationship, you must have clear goals about what you hope to accomplish in your career and how a mentor can help you to develop professionally.
Rachel Wagner, Director of Business Development at Percolate, explains, “There are many mentors in your life that you don’t know exist. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you need help with and finding the right person to go to for that request.”
If Wagner has a question about sales leadership, she’ll go to a mentor who has extensive leadership experience. But if she wants to discuss an issue specific to her current company, she might turn to a former boss who has left the company who has greater familiarity with the company. While not every relationship will develop into an extensive mentorship, Wagner recommends cultivating a variety of relationships so that there are options when you need advice. Furthermore, if you haven’t yet identified a clear goal of where you want to be 5-10 years down the line, making an effort to cultivate a myriad of relationships now will set yourself up for future success when you do.
2. Look for a mentor who is an organic fit in terms of chemistry.
A meaningful mentorship relationship can’t be forced. To find a mentorship that will provide long-term value, identify someone with whom you share interests and have a natural repartee.
Tracey Solanas, VP of Sales at ShopKeep, says “the relationship has to start from a place of natural interest and chemistry. It can’t be a forced thing, like ‘I want a mentor because I read Lean In and Sheryl Sandberg suggested it.’ By definition, relationships require time, effort, and personal commitment. For that, you have to care. You have to personally invest in that individual.”
It’s also no secret that in most sales industries, women are outnumbered by men. So while finding another female as your mentor might be ideal for you, Wagner and Solanes both advise keeping an open mind, especially given the slanted ratio. #WomenHelpingWomen can manifest into a powerful connection and meaningful mentorship, and while it’s worthwhile to seek this out, make sure you’re not closing yourself off from male mentors either. Wagner says, “From a mentee’s perspective, you should be expanding your pool of potential mentors, not shrinking it. Find someone you can look up to, learn from, and relate to – regardless of either of your genders.”
3. Cultivate a network of people who can provide advice in a variety of situations.
When it comes to looking for mentors, there are many places to look. First is your own workplace. If you develop a strong rapport with your supervisor or someone else within your company, that person may be a potential long-term mentor for you.
In addition to your professional network, Wagner recommends tapping your personal network. For younger representatives, parents’ friends can be a helpful source of information. She recommends asking around for advice on specific issues by taking advantage of any mutual connection you may have.
Solanas says, “There are plenty of ways to connect through social media and mutual friends. So if you’re trying to get into a new industry or job, there are different places to go. It’s not one size fits all. It depends on the information that you’re seeking.”
Referrals can also be a great way to find a mentor. Solanas draws this analogy to sales: “The easiest way to get a sale is a referral as opposed to cold calling; mentorship is no different.”
However, when contacting a reference it’s important to follow best practices and demonstrate that you’re worth the time. Before contacting a potential mentor, do research, understand your goals, and develop a game plan.
Wagner compares mentorship to sales prospecting. “If this is a person who is on your list to speak with, you’ve got to put that same sales prospecting brain on. Think about why I would stimulate their interest enough so they would actually time spend time with me. Their time is valuable.”
4. Talk to your mentors about long-term goals.
Mentors are great for talking through immediate questions about dilemmas in the workplace. But the greatest value of mentorship lies in how mentors can help you achieve long-term goals. In order to develop professionally, be honest about what you want to achieve in your career.
This is particularly critical for mentors within your company. When an opportunity arises that fits your aspirations, your mentor can help you to advance—assuming that your performance warrants a promotion. Talking to mentors about their own career paths can also help you to clarify your own goals and determine the steps you need to take to achieve them.
5. Make yourself worthy of mentorship by performing as an outstanding team player.
When seeking mentorship, it’s critical to remember that you are asking someone else to devote extra time and energy to you. In order to show that you deserve mentorship, it’s critical to become a standout contributor within your own workplace.
Wagner says, “It starts with doing your best work all the time. You are always building your own personal brand wherever you go. You never know who is going to notice you and who is going to relate to you chemistry-wise. Do your best work all of the time and the prospective mentor will respect you. Mutual respect is key. If the mentor can see themselves in you, that’s great.”
Solanas agrees. She says, “Mentorship is an extra level of commitment. You have to be noticeable by doing your best work. If you’re a kick-ass salesperson, I’ll notice you. That makes you noticeable.”
Beyond strong sales, there are many other things junior representatives can do to stand out in the workplace. Volunteer to assist senior salespeople with extra tasks. Even something as simple as helping out with an Excel spreadsheet can do a lot to build goodwill. When you provide above-average value to others, they are more willing to give you extra attention.
As Wagner explains, “It’s knowing when your boss/prospective mentor is stressed out and needing help. Those are the moments when you can sweep in and save the day. Figure out when someone is having a rough day and genuinely try to help fix that. If you actively do that, it pays dividends.”
6. Show reciprocity and provide real benefits to your mentor.
Reciprocity is key to a great mentor relationship, regardless of whether your mentor is within or outside your current company. There are many ways to demonstrate reciprocity. Wagner says, “Sometimes as a mentee you feel like you’re always asking for something, but you have something to offer in return. Say, ‘I have a candidate for you.’ Or, ‘I know you want to see a mutual acquaintance, so let’s arrange drinks.”
Mentees should be proactive in managing the logistics of meetings, ensuring that mentors don’t need to over-extend themselves. Wagner advises, “If you’re the one requesting to meet up, make sure there’s something specific that you’re asking. Don’t ask for time without an agenda. Handle all the logistics with scheduling and picking a place. Otherwise, it will never happen.”
By showing reciprocity and making an effort to accommodate mentors’ needs, you can develop a truly mutual respect.
7. Exert an effort to cultivate a relationship after one of you leaves a company.
When you’re working at the same company as your mentor, it’s easy to develop a strong relationship. But when one of you leaves, that becomes harder.
The period after one of you leaves is critical. During that period, mentees should make a conscious effort to reach out (without being overbearing or demanding). Even a quick email, text, or phone call can do a lot to maintain a relationship. For planning in-person meetings, plan ahead to accommodate both of your schedules.
As time goes on, well-maintained relationships strengthen. Solanas explains, “The longer you have a relationship, the more time will go by without you seeing that person and it’s okay. Make sure you solidify the relationship when one person leaves the company. Once you’re solidified, you can start to drift out.”
According to Wagner, “It’s not as high-maintenance as you think to have a mentor.” But it is critical to ensure that the relationship is on a solid foundation first.
Just like any other relationship, mentorship requires both parties to exert effort and reciprocity. When you’re able to cultivate a solid mentorship, you will benefit professionally, and one day be a mentor yourself.
For more insights from these sales leaders, watch the full presentation here.
Claire is a Talent Advisor @ CloserIQ. Previously she was a Sales Fellow at Bowery Capital and a Publicity Assistant at Penguin Random House.