I recently had a conversation with a salesperson that was challenged as to how to best improve her professional skills. She told me that she had been selling for three years, and that while she'd exceeded quota in consecutive years, she was focused on developing her full potential.
She shared with me her belief that a mentor might help, and that she was interested in developing a relationship with one. However, because of workplace dynamics, she needed to find someone outside of her company.
Her question: "How do I find a competent mentor, and approach him or her once I do?" I pondered this salesperson's question, and I hope my answer might help you to realize even greater success, too.
There are many highly effective methods of improving professionally, including on-the-job experience, self-development training programs, role-playing, practice and repetition, associating with successful people, and mentoring. And mentoring, during which you model and emulate the desired behavior(s) of your mentor, is one of the single most effective means of quickly improving your skill set, expanding your professional and business knowledge, as well as jump-starting results.
Building a relationship with a competent mentor can help you become more successful than you're capable of becoming alone. Because of his or her experience and success - both in business and in life - he or she can offer unbiased advice and share his or her wisdom that will allow you to grow and become more effective much sooner.
Your mentor can also help you to avoid certain mistakes many young professionals make, steer clear of common pitfalls, and serve as an unbiased beacon from outside of your company who only has your best interests at heart.
Additionally, a relationship with a mentor helps you to utilize two of the quickest methods for personal development: modeling and emulation. Logic dictates that the success principles that work for one person will work for another when modeled and emulated. Understanding the power of modeling and emulation can make an immediate impact on your success.
Having worked with hundreds of clients from dozens of industries, I've found the basic principles for sales and business success to be common to all industries.
Therefore, recognizing that an effective mentor doesn't necessarily have to come from within your industry and/or profession, conduct the following process until you find a willing and suitable mentor:
Make a list of all the successful professionals that you know through your business relationships, networking efforts, family, friends and personal encounters. Does anyone jump out?
If not, then ask everyone you know (colleagues, business associates, family members and friends) for recommendations. Tell them what you're doing and describe the type of person you hope to meet.
Once your list is compiled, begin approaching these individuals and let them know why you're contacting them, what you hope to accomplish and, just as importantly, what you can offer them.
By this I don't mean monetary payment or regular dinners. I mean that, before approaching a potential mentor, it's important that you remember that the relationship should be reciprocal.
That is, you should try to do as much for your mentor as he or she can do for you.
Perhaps if you're a software or technology salesperson, you help your mentor with his or her computer or networking challenges, etc. Be creative and let the potential mentor know that you want to give as much as you receive. If you do so, you'll find that most people will be flattered that you made such a request, and will be happy to help.
Once you've found your mentor, it's very important - and considerate - to have a game plan for achievement. First, begin with the end in mind.
Ask yourself these questions, and any additional questions that relate to the desired outcome:
Why are you working with a mentor?
What do you want to accomplish?
What results do you want?
How do you want to grow?
What skills do you want to learn, improve upon, etc.?
What is your time frame?
How often will you meet?
What will you do to improve and prepare for each successive meeting?
How can you contribute to your mentor's personal or professional success?
Next, review your answers with your mentor and reach agreement on the specifics of the relationship: the duration, the frequency, and the focus areas. Then prepare an agenda for each meeting that will guide the conversation and your areas of focus for improvement between meetings.
Finally, once you begin the relationship, be certain to honor all commitments and always ask "Has anything changed?" at the beginning of each meeting. Doing so will eliminate surprises and allow you both to make adjustments as necessary, and continually track toward the end result.
Following a step-by-step process for selecting an effective mentor and planning the subsequent relationship can prove invaluable to your personal growth and professional success.
Consider the relationship seriously before pursuing, and attend to it with as much care as you would your best client as it could prove to be even more valuable.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.