If there is one common reflection we’ve heard from the successful sales professionals we interview for our Expert Series posts, it is the crucial role a mentor played in shaping their sales careers.

Anyone who wishes to improve their personal and professional skills and grow their network needs to find at least one person they can turn to for guidance. Mentors are some of the most valuable assets for successful people. If you’re teachable, then you will greatly benefit from working with someone who can give you professional advice and guide your sales efforts.

Not every successful sales professional is a perfect mentor for you, though. You need to find someone whom you admire who is also successful, positive, and a good listener. Here are a few tips for finding the right one:

1) Ask yourself what you want in a mentor

What specific business or personal challenges are you hoping to overcome? Maybe you see yourself following a similar career path as your Sales Director and want to know how s/he got there. Or perhaps you’re looking for someone in your office who could be an advocate for your project or promotion. Reflect on what you want and choose accordingly.

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Be careful about making your direct manager a mentor. You want to be able to open up and be totally honest with your mentor, which is not something you can really do with the person who sets your quota and decides if and when you get a raise.

2) Don’t make a formal request

Your mentor does not need to know they’re your mentor. One of the attractive parts of being a mentor is feeling like you’re helping someone out because you want to, not because of a verbal obligation. Start simply by asking for advice or help on something specific and you can branch off from there.

3) Grow and maintain a healthy relationship

There is a healthy balance to the mentor-mentee relationship. You don’t want to bombard your mentor with constant questions, but you don’t want to let the relationship lag too much, either. Let the relationship develop naturally. You can start by asking, “Do you have time for a coffee break next week to talk over/share my thoughts about/ask you about x, y and z?” If things go well, see if you can suggest a regular weekly or monthly meeting.

4) Show your gratitude

The mentor-mentee relationship shouldn’t be one-sided. You can show your gratitude in a few different ways.

  • Listen closely to their advice. Many mentors gain personal satisfaction from giving guidance to others, so show them you are excited to hear their perspective. Even if you disagree with something, respond respectfully rather than defensively.

  • Share your improvements and results. Did they work with you on your price negotiation skills, which helped you book your first full-price customer? Share the excitement – and be specific! “Thanks a ton!” is not as thoughtful as “I closed that last deal full-price thanks to your negotiating tips. I couldn’t have done it without your help!”

  • Give back. This can come in the form of handwritten thank-you notes, paying for their coffee at your monthly meetings, books, retweets, or helping them with tasks that you’re particularly good at. If they’re in another city, tweet them a Starbucks drink (yes, that’s a thing!) or send a handwritten postcard. Find ways to be of value to them to show it is a reciprocal relationship.

It is amazing what impact even one person can have on your career and success. How did you find your sales mentor? What tips do you have for sales professionals looking for a mentor?

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