Every growing sales organization that I’ve worked with has faced this challenge at one time or another. The sales force has an urgent need for more reps, but there aren’t enough seasoned veterans available to fill all the open roles. To fill the gap, the organization hires a handful of promising, but inexperienced, sales talent.
The challenge then becomes one of ramp-up. How does the organization get these sales reps up-and-running to quickly meet demand and expectations?
If you have inexperienced sales reps in your organization, you probably know the challenge well. You’re excited about their potential, but you wish they’d reach it a little faster. How do you help? More training? More coaching?
Training and coaching are always helpful. However, in my 30+ years of helping sales organizations grow, I’ve found that one of the most effective tools for accelerating sales talent growth is a mentoring program. There’s nothing quite as impactful as having a younger rep get hands-on experience alongside a more seasoned and successful veteran.
The caveat to this is that the mentoring program has to be set-up the right way. I’ve seen too many fail because management didn’t invest the time or resources needed to make the program work. Without accountability, the mentor and mentee may meet a few times before the relationship fades away. Lacking structure, the relationship could take on a feel of “sit back and watch me work.”
Those approaches aren’t productive. However, if you take the time develop the program’s objectives and structure, then you could create an extremely effective learning tool for your younger sales talent.
When I help my clients implement mentoring programs in their sales organizations, I always make sure we focus on the following four areas. To me, these four elements should form the foundation of any sales mentoring program.
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This is such a simple issue, yet it is so frequently overlooked by management teams. The basic question is this – What do you want to get from the mentoring program?
What’s the point of it? Why are you implementing it? If your answer is that you generally want your sales reps to “get better,” you need to dig a little deeper.
What would signal to you that they’re getting better? A percentage increase in sales? More qualified prospects in the pipeline? More confidence in the sales presentation?
Make a list of a few concrete goals that you want to achieve during the mentoring period and make those goals known to both the mentor and the mentee. By creating clear and documented objectives, you can create a level of accountability for both parties.
Also, the goals don’t have to be sales related. Maybe you want to develop future sales management prospects. In that case, state the goal upfront so you can make sure the program is tailored to that objective.
You could also have different objectives for different people. Maybe you have a young rep who needs help balancing work and family commitments. In that instance, you could partner him up with a veteran who has faced the same challenges so they can gear their lessons towards that goal.
You can be flexible in your goals, but you can’t go into this without goals. Otherwise, you’re leaving your mentors and mentees to improvise, which could lead to results that you don’t want.
go to my site Expectations
Often, mentees will go into the relationship with sky-high expectations. They may think that the mentor will give them clients or close business on their behalf. They may expect the mentor to use personal connections to help them gain a promotion or raise.
On the flip side, your mentors may think that they now have a glorified assistant who can handle all the dirty work of their job. In either case, those expectations are wrong and unproductive.
Once you have goals and objectives established, it should be fairly easy to communicate expectations with both parties. Let the mentees know that this doesn’t let them off the hook for their own sales goals or job requirements. Rather, the goal of the program is to help them achieve more and eventually be successful without mentor support.
Similarly, let your mentors know that their job is to share wisdom, guidance, and tactical advice. They shouldn’t do a mentee’s job for them. Similarly, they shouldn’t ask the mentee to do menial work that isn’t suited for their role.
In both cases, set standards for accountability and check-ins. And also let them know that this program isn’t indefinite. It has an end date at which the mentee will be expected to meet his or her responsibilities without support.
Don’t assume that your mentees and mentors have the same ideas and expectations as you. You may need to spell it out for them.
Structure and Culture
I’ve seen many mentoring programs where the mentee is left with nothing to do but follow the mentor around and silently take notes. In the mentor’s mind, she’s doing her job and passing on guidance. But she’s probably not doing so in a way that’s beneficial. A mentor-mentee relationship should be more interactive and hands-on. Both parties should work together to achieve the program’s goals.
This is often a failure of management. Sales management implements the program but gives little guidance as to how it should work, so the mentor is left to fill the role as best they know how.
Your mentors are doing you a big favor by embracing their role. Don’t leave them on the hook to come up with the program’s structure on their own. Instead, revisit your objectives and come up with weekly learning points or modules to reach those objectives. Then review those learning modules with your mentors regularly.
Also, be sure to customize the structure to your culture. If you’re part of a large, formal organization, you may want to document and define every aspect of the program. If you’re a little smaller and more casual, keep the structure loose so mentors and mentees have some flexibility. You need buy-in from all parties, so if you veer too far outside the cultural norms, you may get some pushback, especially from your mentors.
Review and Improve
Finally, you need to make mentorship a part of the long-term culture in the organization. If you’re not committed to it, your sales force will correctly see the program as “just another initiative” that they can brush off.
Have regular accountability check-ins with both your mentors and your mentees. At the end of the program, have a debrief so you can see what worked and what didn’t. Then take that feedback to heart so you can improve the next session.
If your team sees that you’re committed to the long-term health of the program, then they’ll be more likely to embrace it. Over time, mentoring will become a critical component of your sales organization and you’ll likely see the results in the development of your new sales reps.
Everyday I help sales organizations accelerate their growth. Mentoring programs are often a big part of that process. If you’d like to discuss how a mentoring program could benefit your organization, please contact me. Let’s talk about your goals and how you can use a mentoring program to reach them.
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