Despite its reputation for intrepid lone wolves, sales is a team sport, and that means you need all the help you can get to level up your skills and close more deals. Finding a mentor can be one of the most rewarding and effective ways to upskill your sales knowledge. Here’s how to get started.
Outlining Your Values
Before diving into the mentor hunt, your first action item should be defining what kind of salesperson you want to be. Imagine you were soliciting sales mentorship from your future self. What does that salesperson look like? There’s a sales professional out there right now who has all the qualities you aspire for, but figuring out what those qualities are needs to come first.
First, ask yourself logistical questions. What do I want to sell? Who do I want to sell to? Where do I want to sell? Answer these questions and be as specific or as general as you have to be. Figure out the broad strokes and then you can refine from there.
Next, outline what you think makes a great sales rep. What qualities do you admire in other sales professionals that you’d like to see more of in yourself. Try to make a list of 5 to 10 skills that you want to improve upon. Be specific. Rank them by importance to you and your career.
Finally, visualize how you want your career to unfold. Write down your 1 year plan, your 3 year plan, and so on. Are you just trying to stack money quickly and retire early? Are you trying to leverage a path into management or c-suite status? You need to know these objectives before finding the right mentor to help you achieve these aims.
Keep in mind that your sales mentor needn’t necessarily be somebody who aligns with you perfectly on all of these aims. It’s just important to know who you want to be. This will help both you and your mentor define areas of improvement and strategies to get there.
What Makes a Great Mentor?
There may be a salesperson in your network who is always killing it and is the exact vision of what kind of sales rep you want to be. However, there may be many factors that make them not suitable mentor material. It’s important to know what qualities great teachers and mentors have.
Great mentors are positive and helpful. The sales world infamously houses many big personalities, so a great mentor will be someone comfortable with setting their ego aside and devoting time and effort to help you achieve your goals. When looking for a mentor, aside from being successful, make sure they’re a great listener, have a positive attitude, and are skilled at explaining themselves. You might think beggars can’t be choosers, but it’s important to find someone who can help you, not just themselves.
Tips for Finding a Mentor
You’ve done the work and have narrowed down exactly what kind of salesperson you’d like to be. Now you just have to find a sales rep who’s already there. Here are tips to make that happen.
- Have a list of specific questions to ask at the ready. Before reaching out to anyone, compile a list of questions that you’d love answered by an influential salesperson. The prospective mentors you reach out to may be too limited bandwidth-wise to take you under their wing, so don’t waste their time. Have some concrete topics you want advice on.
- Build a braintrust of salespeople influential to you. Write a list of 5 to 10 sales professionals that influence you. Underneath their names, comment about the qualities they have that you admire. These could be coworkers, connections you’ve made on socials, or people you’ve met in real life. Reach out on LinkedIn or any social platform of choice and ask them some of the above questions. This opens the door to future mentorship possibilities.
- Attend networking events. If your sales network is a little on the small side, look into any events or conferences taking place near you. If you’re able to attend, do a little research into who’s going and make a list of people you want to meet. Then put on a friendly smile and get to networking!
- Seek mentorship from more than one salesperson. It takes a village to raise a baby (seller), so don’t limit yourself to a single mentor. Try to aim for a few mentors with varying skills and attributes. Having more than one set of eyes on your output can close visibility gaps that only having one mentor can cause.
- Look beyond your industry and title. Finding someone outside your inner circle will offer you a fresh perspective on what you’re trying to achieve. Salespeople often end up in little “bubbles of influence” and this can lead to circular thinking. Find a successful salesperson in a different industry, a different territory, and even in a different title than yours to make sure your career upskilling is the most comprehensive.
- Take physical notes and lots of them. Why file away all the gems your mentor gives you in your brain or phone alone? Invest in a nice notebook and physically write down the advice that’s given to you. Studies show that our brain encodes information much better when we manually write something down. You can even write down the very important pointers multiple times to really hammer it home.
The DON’Ts of Finding a Mentor
Finding a mentor can be an exciting, fulfilling experience. But to make it run smoothly, avoid these pitfalls.
- DON’T just enlist anybody to be a mentor. Someone in your office may crush it quarter after quarter, but maybe you find their personal temperament unpleasant. Consider the traits you want to have as a salesperson. If a prospective mentor is giving you bad vibes, don’t engage with them. You don’t want to inherit their attitude.
- DON’T ask your boss for mentorship. Sure, your boss may be a badass. But having them act as mentor to you is a conflict of interest that will stifle any actual growth. You need to be able to speak freely with your mentor and vice versa. You need a mentor who can be impartial and speak candidly about you, your sales team, and your company’s sales process. A boss can be a great aide in your career, but enlisting them for anything other than occasional guidance and resources can be a slippery slope.
- DON’T seek advice from “gurus” and snake oil salesmen. The sales advice industry is filled with plenty of predatory conmen trying to make a quick buck with seminars, ebooks, and online courses. So, it’s important to find somebody that is actually working in sales. Sales is dynamic and changes with the times. Even if somebody was once a quota-crushing master back in the day, if they’re not still getting their prospecting reps in, they’re advice is likely to be pretty useless.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your dream sales career won’t be either. It takes time, practice, and a little help from your sales friends. Make sure to stay positive, stay curious, and remember to pay it forward if you’re ever asked to offer mentorship yourself.