Salespeople are most often associated with being coached to improve their selling competence but mentoring is seldom discussed or implemented for them. The question is why not? Is it because we have been conditioned to believe that mentoring is only for up and coming young executives or for those in non-selling roles?
So what is mentoring and its value to a business, a salesperson and a sales manager to become a mentor?
Mentoring is the term used to describe a relationship between an older and more experienced individual who is known as a mentor. Their role is to support and guide a less experienced individual, the protg.
A mentor fosters the personal and professional growth in their protg by sharing knowledge, skills, experience and insights that have been learnt over many years. A mentor’s background can vary greatly from the same profession and same position as their protg’s through to a completely different industry.
Mentoring creates an exceptional opportunity for cooperation, goal achievement and personal development. An effective sales manager mentor can establish rapport, respect and trust between them and the salesperson
Mentoring a salesperson can provide:
• Purposeful learning
When the sales manager also becomes the mentor their role is to encourage and advance the growth of the salesperson though planned learning. This includes their sharing learning experiences as and when the experiences relate to the salesperson’s need to learn. The experiences are communicated through anecdotes, scenarios and situational examples.
Both successes and failures are discussed in an open and truthful manner. These insights are often memorable for the salesperson and provide valuable learning
• Cooperative responsibility
This means sharing the responsibility for the learning outcomes. This can be formalized in a written agreement between the salesperson and the sales manager and designed to achieve the business’ specific mentoring objectives. The other type of mentoring is informal in that it operates by chance and for the most part is unrecognized by the business. Whatever method is used the salesperson’s growth is the focus
• Allocating time
Effective mentoring requires regular interaction between the sales manager and the salesperson and is not done intermittently. A schedule needs to be developed with dates, activities, planned experiences, demonstrations, case studies, and time set aside for reflective analyses. This adds motivation and direction for both parties.
For the business mentoring a salesperson can:
• Cultivate loyalty
• Boost morale and motivation
• Strengthen shared values and goals
• Uncover Talent
• Improve productivity
• Set new standards of professionalism
• Increase the years of service to a business
• Be an effective career management tool
• Enhance leadership skills of the sales manager
• Identify any barriers in the business
• Attract quality salespeople from other companies
For the salesperson mentoring can:
• Fast track their development
• Complement other structured learning or training
• Be tailored to suit the salesperson’s needs in terms of content and time frame
• Create an open and trusting relationship that provides encouragement and support
• Develop and explore their natural talents
• Expand current thinking and embrace new perspectives
• Reinvigorate their selling career
• Challenge the salesperson with new skills and ideas
For the sales manager mentoring can:
• Be the vehicle to share knowledge and expertise
• Develop skills in a more personal manner
• Build active listening, communication and modeling skills
• Develop a trusting and unique relationship with the salesperson
• Expand their understanding on what else is happening in other parts of the business
• Uplift their level of self-worth
• Receive professional recognition for their role
• Expand their expectations of self
Qualities of an effective mentor
Not every sales manager has the attributes to become a mentor. This can be because of their background or their lack of interest in this type of work. A senior salesperson with the right attitude and skill set may be better suited for the role? Often the driving force is a need to give back to others who will benefit from their experiences.
The following qualities however are common in all effective sales manager mentors:
• A successful track record
The sales manager may come from a different industry or profession but their level of expertise and experience is evidence of an individual who has ‘been there and done that.’ They can have a good reputation for developing others and possess a humble approach to their abilities. They have much to offer others
• The desire and commitment
The desire to be a mentor is a yearning from within that propels them into action and is underpinned by a feeling of excitement and the thought of the doing something extraordinary. The commitment is the sales manager’s pledge to continue working with the salesperson on the mutually agreed plan
• The ability to model
With this carries much responsibility because the sales manager needs to be an individual with a good moral reputation and is respected and admired by others. This is the reason why their behaviour is often copied by the salespeople. The mentor remains calm when the salesperson expresses frustration or anger. They show that they genuinely care about the success of the salesperson as much as the salesperson does.
• A positive attitude
Often a sales manager was the past recipient of formal or informal mentoring so they know what it feels like and the benefits of being mentored. One of the many things they learnt as a salesperson was the importance of being positive particularly when things don’t go according to plan. These are the times when they need their sales manager to give them encouragement with a positive attitude
• An active learner
Sales managers keep up to date with current technology, the latest in business and personal development, knowledge and skills in their field of expertise. They research and discuss areas the salesperson may need to further their development
• Time and boundaries
An agenda and the required time is allocated for each session. It is usually a mixture of meetings in and out of normal business hours. Additional time is needed for the sales manager to prepare for each session and complete post meeting notes of the outcome. The boundaries of the relationship are discussed so both parties know the limitation of their engagement. For example marriage difficulties won’t be discussed
Not every sales manager and salesperson relationship is compatible for a number of reasons including a lack of openness on the part of one party and if one isn’t ‘sold’ on the other. What works is:
- When both the sales manager and salesperson have similar goals
- They genuinely like and believe in each other
- They have an open and honest relationship
- When expectations such as what can and cannot be realistical