How to Find a Mentor

August 31, 2020

What are some good ways to find a sales mentor? What should I look for in a sales mentor? Red flags?

What are some good ways to find a sales mentor?

  • Internally
    • More accessibility
  • Externally
    • Fresh perspective

What should I look for in a sales mentor?

  • Define what you want out of a mentor
    • Difference between a coach and a mentor
    • Mentors should extend beyond the teachings of a manager
      • Managers (micro), Mentors (macro)
      • Mentors come in when you need exponential growth
  • Someone who has done it and is still doing it
  • Someone who is still learning and teaching it

How to respect your mentor?

  • Be respectful
    • Time management
    • Come prepared
    • Demonstrate how you are using their advice
  • Be honest/don’t hold back – surface level conversations are not going to help you grow
  • Leave your ego at the door

Red Flags?

  • High energy, low substance
  • Distracted, hurried, rushed
  • Self interested

Behind almost every great sales professional is a mentor that provides guidance, support, and – in my case – a much needed shot of tequila here and there. If you’re going to excel in any profession, you have the option to figure it out yourself when the people around you don’t have a solution or you can bypass a lot of tedious trial and error and find someone who has been there before (a few times) and ask them how they did it.

Finding the right mentor is not always an easy thing to do though. You need to find a person who is willing and able to provide sage advice beyond your current management and coaching. They also need to be willing to take on the responsibility of giving you their time to guide you to the next level. Here’s a simple guide on where to find the right person, how you should approach them for guidance, and how you can get the most out of the relationship so that it is meaningful and beneficial for both of you.

Start with you

To start, you need to be very specific when defining what you want to get out of this relationship. You should have a vision and goals of what you want to do in your career before you approach a mentor or else you are going to be disappointed by very short conversations. If you are too vague, you’re pointing too much of the burden onto your mentor. Make it easier for them. Don’t say: “I want to know how to sell” or “How do I get to your level?” Please, don’t do that. Instead, say: “What are 3 tips you can give me to try and get more of my demos to show up?” Please, do it this way.

Define for yourself:

  • Do you want to go into management or be an individual contributor?
  • What industries interest you most and why?
  • Where are your current coaching and guidance resources limiting your growth?

If you know what you want to achieve, you just have to plug that into your criteria for a candidate. For example, if you want to go into management, find someone you admire as a manager that is in the industry you want to focus on. Approach them with areas you’re limited and the challenges you’re having. Lay out the specific scenario, what you have tried and the results and then ask them for advice on specific situations. There is no substitute for somebody as a mentor that has done the role you are trying to get or succeed in.

People are much more likely to engage with you if they know that you have thoughtfully attacked a problem, but are struggling with a resolution. You need to put in the due diligence to find the right mentor and approach them the right way.

What to look for

After you have defined what you want to learn, now you can start your search. An easy place to help you narrow down your search is by asking yourself, ”who do I admire and why?”. Chances are if you admire them, they’re successful, you like their style, and would like to emulate what they have done.

Make a list of people and don’t be afraid to put somebody on the list. They can be people inside the company you work for or outsiders. They can be well-known or unheard of. Also, remember that everyone on that list was at one time trying to figure it out just like you are right now, so don’t think there are people who are ‘untouchable’. Worst case scenario, they tell you “no” or don’t respond. We’re in sales…we deal with rejection. Shoot your shot anyway.

When you approach the people on the list, you want to make sure you stand out. They are likely busy people and only have so much bandwidth, so you need to sell them on why they should offer you advice and agree to mentor you. Lay out what you’d specifically like advice on, why you think they would be a good fit, and a plan of action.

Propose a plan that is reasonable and not overly intrusive. For example, “I’d like to meet over the phone or in person once a month for 30-45 minutes and bring some specific challenges that I would like your advice on.” Be aware that successful people are not looking for a sidekick or someone who is going to need constant guidance on their day-to-day.

Day-to-day advice should come from your manager. A mentor’s advice should come in where your manager’s advice ends. Think about it this way, there are a ton of baseball coaches out there, but if you want to learn how to throw a major league level slider, your best bet is to find someone who has done it before (and preferably with the same hand).

Finding that person

There are over 1,500 dating apps and websites. All of them have people looking for the same thing in principle but very different things in practice. Just like in the dating world, there is no formula for finding that perfect mentor, but there are some easy places to start.

Internal mentors are great for a number of reasons: they are close and it’s easier to form a deeper rapport with them, they are keenly aware of the challenges of the company you’re with and products you’re selling, and you can closely observe how they operate on a day-to-day basis and visa versa. If you can find a mentor internally, that’s great, but realize that there is only a limited pool of people that you work with. There may be more capable mentors elsewhere, but that does not mean you should not lean on internal mentors and learn from them.

Outside mentors are easier to find these days with LinkedIn and networking groups, but they are going to be less available simply because they don’t work in the same business as you. The upside here is that you can find people who are posting useful content that will help you better vet them as a professional before you put them on your list. They can also bring a fresh outsider’s perspective to your situation that may be exactly what you need to see a problem through a different lens.

The “close” for an outside mentor is going to be a longer cycle and it is very likely that you will get less attention than someone working internally, but the long term relationship can also be more fulfilling. As you form a relationship with an outside mentor, there may be opportunities to work with them and close that gap.

The real key to searching for a mentor is diversifying where you’re looking to get the best pool of candidates and advice.

Red Flags

If you follow the selection process above, you should be able to avoid a lot of people that will not be good fits for what you are trying to do career-wise. However, you still need to keep your eyes open throughout the mentor process.

If finding a mentor was as simple as you walking up to someone you admire and saying, “Will you be my mentor?” …. Well the world would be a weird place. Aside from the world being weirder, it would be far less productive for everyone involved. Remember that this is a relationship and both parties are getting something out of it.

There are some people that on the surface level seem like they would be a great mentor, but – in reality – are not reliable, not as skilled as you initially thought, or not present when offering advice and guidance. If you are not getting much out of the relationship and it’s more work than it’s worth, it’s ok to remove yourself. Obviously, I would recommend stepping away graciously, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out and that’s ok – you can find someone who will be a better fit for what you need.

Also, every mentor has a different reason for being a mentor and I would like to believe most of the people who mentor are doing it for good reasons, but the fact is that is not always the case. Do not do something that you feel would compromise your character. If a mentor (or anyone for that matter) asks you to do something that puts your morality in question, get out of there and fast. This may seem obvious, but when someone you once admire asks you to do something it’s not always easy to say ‘no’.

Clearly, I hope you never encounter a situation like this, but just like Drake said, “being humble don’t work as well as being aware.”

Give back

Good mentors will give you guidance, perspective, support and so much more. They selflessly give their time to help someone else grow and succeed. They can be pivotal to your development if you choose someone who is capable and caring, but to do that you also have to do your part too. Show up, be prepared and attentive, implement the advice and report back on how it’s impacting you and your career.

This relationship – like most relationships – does not happen overnight. They need to be developed, nurtured and maintained properly to get the most out of them. During the relationship, if you have the opportunity to help your mentor, take it. This is not a purely one way road. The spirit of mentorship is helping, so do your part too.

Finally, whatever level you are at, there are other people who can gain from your knowledge as well. There are few better ways to test your knowledge than to teach it. Just because you have a lot of room to grow in your career, does not mean that you are not qualified to help other people. Start your journey as a coach and a mentor early, test your knowledge, and help other people develop.

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps you bring it out of you.” -Bob Proctor