Being A Sales Mentor

What the tech industry often forgets is that with age comes wisdom. Older workers are usually better at following directions, mentoring and leading – Vivek Wadhwa

Context is a wonderful thing and it is greatly enhanced by experience. It follows that the longer you do a thing, the more experience, therefore context, you possess. Context is critical to being a good mentor because it is something you can give to another, less experienced colleague that can get them to grow at a faster rate in a safer way. 

What is the purpose of this writing? The purpose is to get business owners, gm’s and sales managers to remember how unbelievably important it is to allow your wisdom and context to bleed down to every level of your sales culture. The benefits to accomplishing this are many and powerful. Let me begin my argument in a very pragmatic fashion, using a daily occurrence and make comparisons from there. 

Here is the scene: You are in the Starbucks drive through. You pull up next to the speaker where you place your order and a young person with a put-out, just getting it done and over with tone says. “What can I get’cha?” 

That’s the whole story…it happens across the world everyday to countless people, at countless drive-throughs and points of purchase. Because a service or product is on the positive side of the supply and demand ratio, the larger entities survive and thrive despite having sloppy communications skills throughout their organizations – customer experience be damned. If you are a company like Starbucks, you may be losing untold bundles of profit but the demand for what you do is high enough that this item is not given the attention it deserves. Why should it? The lines are long enough as it is, right? The P & L looks great. Starbucks isn’t a franchise and technically/logistically has direct control over company attitudes and the customer experience. I guess “good enough” is good enough as long as the profits are acceptable. Many small and intermediate sized businesses don’t have the luxury of being lackadaisical about how their clients are handled.  A “good enough” attitude does not serve independents who need badly to provide a consistently good experience to have repeat and referral business. Remember the recent “Just OK is not OK” AT&T commercials? Being a good mentor is the very best way to explain the “hows” and, just as importantly, the “whys” to your sales and servicing staff. Mentoring is the very best way to explain why “good enough” and “just ok” attitudes are poison to the success and culture of an independent business.

Get on a personal, one on one level, however appropriately it can be done. You should let your sales staff know how you got to where you are, how you got to be in a position to offer them the opportunity of employment. In the sales process, “credibility” is the first module that needs to be accomplished and that also holds true if you are working to motivate a sales person. If they know a little bit about the “blood, sweat and tears” that helped create the career you have, they will be able to appreciate where they are a great deal more. They can also come to appreciate the person mentoring them much more. When you subsequently make statements about how important your company’s reputation is, it will ring more true and authentic if they know something about how and what it took to build that good reputation. 

That segues nicely into why you are (or should be) so concerned about the customer experience at the place of business you’ve built and also that your sales associates represent it with every interaction they have with the buying public. My belief is that it is not enough to explain to them your personal investment and subsequent wish to sustain your company’s marquis value in the community. You must also stress that, not only for a company, but for an individual sales professional as well, nothing is more valuable than your reputation. In addition to the inspiration that can encourage them to love the place where they make a living, you must give them the tools with which to perpetuate the desired company image. There should be a consistent company way to answer the phone, provide advice, present products and in short, a “play book” on how you expect everyone at your company to conduct business. Why? Because as stated earlier, you care about your company’s perpetuation which is tied to the public’s perception, therefore you would like them, injecting their own innuendos and personality of course, to conduct company business in “the company way.”    

Think of the feeling you would have if you knew that every possible consumer who came in contact with your company was given a caring and professional first impression and that all of the subsequent interactions were executed in a manner that deepened trust and the value of your company in every prospective buyer’s mind! You would be able to lay your head down on the pillow at night knowing that all that could be done, had been done. What a feeling that would be. If you aren’t in that position, then it behooves you to be your own company’s cheerleader and frame in a company way in which you can convince your people to do business. I acknowledge that perfection is not ever achievable this side of eternity BUT as the old adage goes: “When you aim for perfection you will end up at excellence!”  

One trick that has always worked to forge more loyalty, and that’s really what we’re talking about here (loyalty), is to explain the value of the person you are motivating to them while challenging them to be the best, most positive, representative that they can. In close encounters with your people make it a habit to catch folks who work for you “doing something right.” If you have slipped into a cynical, untrusting mindset you need a reset!

Storytelling can help. Share experiences that helped you arrive at the place you are in, at the level of success you have, and some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way. For years, I have had the pleasure of telling business stories that have made my advice more “real world” and believable and less like boardroom-banter designed simply to impress someone. There should always be a moral to the story. Here’s an example I’ve shared countless times, possibly you’d heard it from me in the past. It is a story about an old Texas businessman who mentored me. I was impressed with his career, his success and how comfortable in his own skin he was. I also connected with him because he had an “everyman wisdom” about him that reminded me of Will Rogers. His name isn’t important and over the years we’ve lost touch (I’m sure he’s not even with us anymore or he’d be easily over 100 years old), but what his mentoring meant to me in my developmental years as a sales pro is significant. For the sake of the story, his name will be Tom…

“Tom, I am impressed with the empire you’ve built. As a young sales professional I’d like to benefit from your years of experience. If you could give me any good advice what would it be?” I inquired. With a twinkle in his eye, obviously pleased to answer the question, he said,” Well young man I’ll give you three things.” “Thanks Tom!” The twinkle intensified,” first off – get you a business card.” I was aware that he was being humorous so I played along with a head shake. “Secondly, make your calls (then a purposeful pause followed by)…ALL your calls.” 

The second one, I thought, was much more of a convicted statement with more true substance. However, the third one was the bit of advice I took to heart and modeled my personal business approach with: “and always remember, if you’re standing still, you’re backing up!” This advice stuck. After I got out of the sign business, my next sales position was selling targeted direct mail at a time when “database marketing” was on the cutting edge. Never before had the laser targeting been refined enough that families with children, new homeowners, real estate values and other segments could be concentrated on/mailed depending on what a “prime prospect” for a business might be. You could mail only who you wanted instead of everybody. It changed a lot of capabilities and strategies and was in line with what the old Texas businessman had advised me; at that time, it was very innovative. 

Still to this day, I’m involved in bringing cutting edge lead generation to the piano industry and “innovation” is a mindset we embrace. We’re always brainstorming in keeping with his third, most powerful statement of advice. Here’s another way to put it, from one of America’s most pragmatic writers of all time: Even though you are on the right track – you will get run over if you just sit there” –  Will Rogers

Mentoring doesn’t just benefit the other person either. Just as charity also benefits the giver by bolstering their self-esteem and spirituality, mentoring helps create an internal happiness that is hard to beat. Knowing that you’ve helped someone perform at a higher level, which not only increases their self worth but also how well they’re able to contribute to their family, is a fantastic value in which to invest, not to mention the humanity you come in contact with WHILE you make your company a better place, and may I share a secret with you?  Companies that have grateful and happy employees are, almost without fail, more stable and long term more profitable. 

Here’s the link to an article I wrote some time ago about bridge-building which could be considered “shared mentoring.” In today’s world, older sales associates can benefit greatly from the technical and reasoning abilities of the younger folks around them. Conversely, an old sales-pro can provide some very needed “people skills” techniques that can make all the difference in a young sales-pro’s delivery. Although this article was written for the piano industry, it is based upon fundamentally sound business reasoning that applies to all SIC’s:  It’s all about teamwork.

You may never fully know the difference you make in a younger person’s life. Their application of your mentoring may lead them to reaching a level of accomplishment you would be proud of, yet it may happen long after you are still selling, conducting business or even alive. Mentoring is about “giving back” and the benefits of being unselfish enough to help a younger professional are many. As I stated earlier, if they work for you, their ability to perform at a higher level will positively affect your bottom line but there is more to it than that so I’ll work toward my crescendo. Regardless of your religious preference, lack of, or convictions toward humanity and its plight after your exit from the planet, being a mentor is an honorable and noble thing which, in the end, helps you now and later, your legacy. I could search for quotes from philosophers of old, the renowned and quotable sales gurus and marketing minds of the past, or even a President or a Pope, but not this time. As I sit here in Nashville, remembering the down to earth advice of my past mentor and the well-grounded earlier quote from Will Rogers, I am inspired to leave you with this line from a Randy Travis hit song entitled “Three Wooden Crosses: I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you, it’s what you leave behind you when you go.”     

Jack Klinefelter
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