Having a strong support system can make a big difference when it comes to long-term career development in sales.
A support system isn’t just one or two confidants, but a whole network of people who can provide guidance from diverse perspectives. As valuable as a support system is, you can’t just expect that one will simply materialize for you. Instead, you must take specific steps to cultivate a useful network.
We’ve broken down a few ways to do this effectively:
1. Build a personal Board of Advisors.
In many ways, your career is comparable to a company. Just as companies need a well-rounded Board of Advisors to weigh in on strategic issues, so too does your career. In fact, research demonstrates that multiple mentors are more effective for career advancement than just a single mentor.
To build your own Board, it’s helpful to develop a strong understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to career advancement. Once you know your blind spots, you can deliberately find people who can provide a perspective that you lack. As your career evolves over time, so will your Board. This is a natural part of the process that you should embrace. Be sure to consistently evaluate your Board to ensure that you have access to diverse perspectives that can hold you accountable and cultivate your growth.
2. Find a mentor inside of your organization.
Mentors within your organization have a critical perspective to offer. They intimately understand your company culture. These internal mentors are able to provide an informed perspective on situations that arise for you.
Aside from your manager’s mentorship, it’s also helpful to have an advisor who isn’t in your direct chain of management. Your organization might provide a mentor as part of a formal initiative. While not all such arranged mentorships work out, go into it with an open mind and follow best practices for mentees. (Make a proactive effort to get to know your mentor, prioritize your meetings, show your appreciation, etc.)
You can also seek out informal mentorship within your organization. Look towards more senior sales professionals whom you admire or whose career path you would like to emulate. Just be mindful of any potential conflicts of interest that may arise because of your prospective mentor’s position within the company.
3. Find a mentor outside of your organization.
Outside mentors are also critical for career development. They can provide a different perspective on your career, and can act as a sounding board for situations that are too sensitive to discuss with a direct colleague.
To find an outside mentor, consider people already within your professional network such as colleagues from previous jobs. Putting yourself out there at conferences and networking events can also help you find mentors outside of your professional network. While they may not be able to offer regular meetings, always express your gratitude for whatever guidance they are able and are willing to provide.
4. Be generous towards others in professional situations.
Board members receive compensation for their time in the form of prestige and stock benefits or equity. Since your Board members will receive no such benefits, it’s particularly important for you to demonstrate reciprocity in other ways.
The members of your personal Board are devoting time and effort towards your professional advancement. Do your best to repay this generosity by being on the lookout for opportunities for you to help them. You might, for example, serve as a reference, provide information on new opportunities, and offer small tokens of appreciation. Even the offer of assistance can do much to establish a truly reciprocal relationship.
As you advance in your career, you may be asked to provide guidance for others. Get in the habit of saying yes whenever you can. This isn’t just a good way to pay it forward, but can also be advantageous for developing your own support network.
5. Make an effort to maintain relationships from previous jobs, college, etc.
It’s easy to let old relationships fall by the wayside as your career advances. Make sure to continue staying in touch with those who have helped you along the way to be able to access a strong personal Board, cultivate your relationships from college, previous jobs, and other places. It doesn’t have to be anything extensive. Simply reaching out occasionally if you read an article that someone may like and passing it along via email or by tagging them on LinkedIn can be a difference-maker. If you have a recent history of friendly outreach, reaching out to an old acquaintance for help later will seem natural rather than opportunistic.
6. When attending professional networking events, be purposeful in approaching people.
Networking events remain critical for developing a support network. However, just showing up to networking events without a plan isn’t likely to bear fruit.
Maximize your chances of successful networking by being selective in attending events. Target events that are likely to include attendees that you are most interested in meeting.
Once you’re at an event, be open and giving towards others. Act as though everyone you meet is a potential contact, or even a personal Board member. It’s okay to target particular people, but you shouldn’t dismiss others. Pay attention to areas where you can add value and establish reciprocity.
By following these best practices, you can develop your own personal Board.