In sales, a mentor isn’t just a nice relationship to have; it’s a vital part of every sales rep’s skill development and career growth.
Reps with reliable mentors generally outperform those without mentors to lean on. A mentor has the power to help reps learn skills faster, avoid common pitfalls, and overcome challenges with ease – leading to faster career development.
Instead of just talking about how great mentors can be, we wanted to learn the real impact of mentorship on sales reps in the field. We spoke with both mentors and mentees across a variety of B2B sales roles. They shared stories of how they found their mentors, how they began to mentor other reps, and how these relationships have improved their lives. These talented sales professionals offer their experiences so that you can find the sales mentor you need to guide your career.
Learning From Experience
The key to a powerful mentorship is open and consistent communication between the two parties, with one person guiding the other through the complex world of B2B sales. A mentor can be a direct supervisor or a senior-level rep at your company, but doesn’t have to be. In fact, Daniel Barber, Director of Sales Development and Operations at ToutApp, said that he seeks out mentors through a variety of professional and academic connections.
“I find it more valuable when your mentor is from another company, team or organization,” he said. “The key to mentorship is to diversify your network of advice. This involves thinking outside your four walls, and proactively seeking out professionals in your extended network.”
This network of mentors is able to offer years of learned experience far beyond what you can know early in your sales career. Barber said he has relied on a number of mentors for objective advice on some of the choices he’s made in his career.
“I take a long view on career decisions, and begin to seek advice ahead of key junctions to make sure I have consulted people who have a genuine and unbiased desire to see my success,” he said. “Growth is built upon hard work and relationships – and mentorship is the conduit between the two.”
An internal mentor can also help you to succeed quickly in a new role by offering additional training and tips outside of official onboarding. Michaela Morgan, Account Executive at InsightSquared, said in the fast-paced environment of a software startup, her mentor, Joe Caprio, helped her grow and thrive.
“There are three big things Joe taught me: 1) prospects don’t know how to buy so we have to lead them down the path we want,” she said. “2) Have a real conversation and treat them like a human, not a prospect. 3) The hardest-working person is the most successful, and skill doesn’t get you 100% of the way there without the effort.”
She said though she may have learned these things eventually, her mentor helped her advance more quickly and take on bigger challenges sooner. Morgan said she knows she can always ask for a minute of his time and run a tough question by him.
“We have a deeper level of trust,” she explained. “We have 3 pipeline meetings a week and then on top of that I’ll have him join calls and recap calls with him. He’s pretty involved on an opp-by-opp level. In the instance where something goes wrong, we talk and break it down – what happened? What could I have done better? I feel we’re pretty lucky in terms of the mentorship on our team.”
Finding the Right Mentor
The benefits of mentorship are clear, but how do you find the right mentor to help your career grow? Obviously, the first step is to find someone successful, who you admire and would like to emulate. Then, you should allow the relationship to grow on it’s own, according to Peter Guba, Account Executive at Influitive.
“I think it is best for a mentor relationship to develop naturally, because it allows the mentor to comfortably define the level and type of mentorship they want to provide,” he explained. “It allows you prove yourself valuable as a mentee, and ultimately allows you to get a very high quality mentor.”
Guba said that the best mentors aren’t just a formal, professional connection.
“I think really good mentors care about your success in more aspects of your life than just your immediate job or position,” he said. “They care about your friendships, family, relationships, career, and any other aspect of life, which ultimately influences your success in your job. Both my mentors helped me grow personally and at the appropriate moments steered me in the right direction.”
However, not every mentor relationship will happen so easily. Steve Richard, Founder of VorsightBP, said unfortunately, mentors today are busier than ever – and successful entrepreneurs and leaders are especially in-demand. It’s increasingly up to mentees to take charge and proactively pursue the right mentor. Richard said he’s had many people email him, approach him at events, and even direct message him on Twitter asking to be mentored.
“I’ll frequently have younger people come to me for advice and guidance,” he said. “After learning about them, I typically send them off to read a book and encourage them to come back to me after they have read it for us to discuss. Usually the mentee doesn’t come back. If you are too lazy to read a book and then re-initiate contact with me, then I’m not going to commit time to mentoring you.”
Richard explained that mentees have to make a pitch for why a mentor should devote valuable time to you.
“The best requests for mentorship take the form of well-thought-out messages that explain why the mentee wants to be mentored by me,” he noted. “What about me specifically made them think that I can help them? What about them and their situation makes them think I can help? You need to get past the ‘I respect this person’ part of picking a mentor and move to the ‘Here’s my hypothesis on why this person can help me’ aspect of picking a mentor.”
Being Generous With Your Time
From the mentor’s perspective, it may seem like there’s no benefit to sharing your knowledge and valuable time with others. But Joe Caprio, Sales Director at InsightSquared, said his door is always open to new reps because it benefits everyone in the long run.
“The agreement I have with Business Development Reps – I said I’ll teach you everything I know after hours,” he explained. “You can pick my brain and listen to my calls and I’ll tell you what books I read. I’ll teach you and the only thing I ask is you work hard and help me be successful by pulling your weight. I took an active interest in their careers and when people get promoted, I just ask them to do the same for other reps.”
Caprio said sometimes people apologize when asking for his time, but it’s all in the interest of helping the overall business grow. For a high-growth tech company like InsightSquared, mentoring new reps is an investment in their future – and the entire company’s future.
“You want to keep someone what they are, and think, ‘If I promote that BDR, I lose all their meetings,’” he said. “But if you have that mentality, when your company hits a growth spurt, you’ll realize your BDRs have no skills outside of dialing a telephone and now they’re the most unprepared AEs. You’re going to regret not teaching them.”
“Success isn’t a zero sum game,” he noted. “This company is not going to succeed because one person hits their number – we need 30 people to hit quota at the end of this year. It’s not that great if you hit quota at a company that tanks. It’s a different story if you’re employee seven at that company that scaled. You have to keep your eye on the overall picture.”
Richard said he has unfortunately seen a decline in sales mentorships in the past few years, and hopes that trend will shift.
“Every single person I know who is 35 years or older and has a successful sales career can point back to people earlier in their sales careers that taught them how buyers buy,” he said. “Sadly I can’t make that sweeping statement for Millennials. I think the inside sales trend is leaving a lot of sales leaders to place less emphasis on training, coaching, and mentoring. I warn you: don’t forget about the value of mentoring the youth! You had a great mentor; now go pay it forward.”