“I don’t know.”
If I had a dollar for every time I had this interaction with my daughter, well, let’s just say I’d probably be sitting on a beach somewhere instead of writing this blog.
However, in thinking a little more about that question, I realized something. Aside from the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, what exactly did I learn in school? And I realized, not for the first time, that despite all the years I spent in the classroom, nothing could compare to what I learned on the job – and from the people who mentored me along the way.
In this week’s Conversations from the Corner Office, I spoke to ID Plans CRO Seth Garber about the importance of mentoring. As someone who has served as both mentor and mentee during his career, he had a lot of insights to share.
SG: I think that sales when I was in school wasn’t really taught as a subject matter. People thought of it more like marketing, and for a lot of us, if our only experience was buying a car, that’s what we thought sales was – a “trick” to get customers to buy things.
SG: At first, I didn’t really have a mentor. I was exposed to a hard way of selling – straight commission, going door-to-door to sell whatever product, and convincing businesses to buy. I was really fortunate when I started working at a company with a well-developed sales culture and systems, and I learned not only from the systems they had in place, but I was also able to find a mentor who taught me what we call the “killer instinct” and the concept that sales is about winning. My mentor would challenge our activities every day, and that gave me my basis in moving forward.
SG: I did love the challenge, and I do think everyone needs to have a competitive drive to be successful in sales. However, as tech has become the focus in so many industries, there’s also a different type of personality that can be successful. Someone who studies their product, really understands it, and can articulate it well to the end user. We mentor people now to develop both skills sets – training them in the sales process and also teaching them to become a true expert on whatever product they’re selling and how it fits into the industry they’re working in.
SG: As far as the commercial real estate industry goes, most successful brokers I’ve met have always had a mentor who teaches them how to sell properties, the value of a deal, and all the other intangibles they need to know to advance. But this is also true in many industries. If you want to climb the executive ladder, it’s good to have a mentor, and keep in mind that your mentor may not always be someone in a higher position than you. It may be someone in a different department. For example, you may be head of sales, but your mentor might be the VP of Human Resources. If you’re in operations, it may be beneficial to find a mentor in finance who can help you understand how money ebbs and flows. Nowadays, the people who tend to be promoted are the ones who can integrate and create synergy between different departments. Having a relationship with others in your company who work in different areas can make you a more attractive candidate for promotion.
SG: It starts with having clear expectations and being honest and truthful with yourself – and your mentor – about what you’re trying to accomplish. People come to me all the time and ask me to mentor them, and the first thing I do is ask them what their goals are. Sometimes they’ll say things like “I want to do what you do,” or “I want to be successful.” Those concepts are very broad, and those answers say to me that the person may not really know what they want.
SG: Yes. It’s crucial. If someone comes to me and they can specifically say “I want to do this better,” or “I want to learn this function,” I can see they’ve put some thought into their goals and that they’re taking the mentor-mentee relationship seriously. I also talk to them about the level of commitment they’re ready to make, and how much work they expect on their end because a lot of mentees see their mentors as the ones who will be doing the heavy lifting. For me personally, I’m looking for someone who says, “I’ll do whatever it takes to make my goals happen.” The ones who say I only want to put in a few hours a week are the ones I don’t want to work with.
SG: Sometimes, when people aren’t really sure of what they want other than a vague idea of improving themselves, they’d be better off hiring an accountability coach who can help them be more focused. That can be a good first step because a mentor really isn’t there to be your driving force in getting things done – they should be there to support you in achieving your specific goals.
SG: If your goal is related to a certain business title, you have to surround yourself with people who understand what it takes to do that role. If I was looking for a mentor not specifically related to a title, I’d look for someone who can keep my mind out of the box, help me think and act differently, and teach me about innovation. For example, if you’re in the software sales business, it may help for you to talk to a restaurant owner to see how they use UberEats to maximize customer relationships. Or you’re in construction, you might want to talk to someone who runs a successful retail store who can teach you how to talk to buyers about buying from your construction company.
SG: Just ask them. Most people who are really successful like the idea of helping others. Talk to them about your goals, establish what you’re looking to do, set up a meeting cadence and go from there. It’s also important to check in regularly on your status toward reaching your agreed-upon goals. Once the mentee gets past that point, it might be time for them to move on – and maybe serve as a mentor for someone else.
SG: The best ones I’ve had have been the result of coincidental meetings and once we got to know each other, I’d say, “Hey, would you be willing to help me?” and it’s worked out well. You can use LinkedIn, of course, but one thing I would also do is target and go to industry or special types of tradeshow events that have groups of people I want to learn from and identify the right cultural fit.
SG: I like the idea of having continuous conversations with people who are motivated. I like that the mentee is always challenging the way I do things. They bring up innovations I never would have thought of and they always have new ideas. Plus, there’s always a feeling of gratitude I have that I was able to help that person grow and develop. I’ve had several mentees who have surpassed my own personal successes, and it’s very humbling to know I played a role in their futures.
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