It takes a village to raise a salesperson. Right?
From the person who offers you your first job, believes your first pitch, nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit you exhibit early in your career, the people around you will always have an impact on who you become.
There are a thousand cheesy cliches I could use to illustrate this point, (see ‘if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together etc,) BUT the thing with cliches is that they exist because they are true.
The key is being intentional with who you choose to surround yourself with, to make sure that your village is raising you to greatness.
The purpose of this post is not to provide a list of specific individuals who you need to be following, listening to or getting close to, but to think about the roles you need to fill for your personal board of directors to help you develop and provide you with the opportunities to improve.
In my opinion, there are three key people you need to identify and work with to help you move upwards along the career ladder, and improve your skills and abilities whilst doing so. Those individuals are a Coach, Mentor, and Sponsor.
These are individuals to surround yourself with that will provide you the opportunity to learn from experience, bounce ideas and thoughts, help hold a mirror up to yourself and assist you in actioning self development. By being deliberate, and focusing on who you allow to have influence on you, you take control of your sales career. Having great supporters on your journey enables you to feel more confident in your decision making.
A mentor is defined as an experienced and trusted advisor. What this means, in practice, is someone who you can turn to for advice, to learn from and to bounce ideas and thoughts off.
A mentor should be someone who you trust, ideally someone who isn’t your direct line manager and who doesn’t have a direct interest in your future. What I mean by that, is that they do not benefit directly from your decisions or progress because they are your boss. This is important, because a mentor relationship is about helping you to make decisions and progress in the best way for YOU. Not for theirs, or anyone else’s benefit.
This does, however, make it slightly harder to find a mentor. Some organisations will provide mentor programs that match people across a business. Often Universities have mentorship programs that help alumni and current students (it’s worth getting in touch with your university careers team to see if they can help you with this). There are even some organisations that can help you find a mentor. But, either way, this is quite a personal journey, that you need to invest time, energy and commitment, to enable a successful mentor – mentee relationship.
Mentors should also benefit from the mentoring relationship, and being a mentee is a great way to both receive and add value. You should ask questions about their work, life experiences and how they make decisions. It should be the type of relationship where you can comment, share your thoughts and opinions and help them with things they are struggling with. Most Mentors share that they benefit from the relationship as much as the mentee as much, if not more.
This person is someone that, if you care about your progression within your current organisation, should also be within the same company as you.
A sponsor, is someone who, without you in the room, will be willing to put you forward, fight in your corner and recommend you for opportunities.
So how do you get a sponsor?
Step one, is absolutely being great at your job. You can’t ask, expect or even deserve to be recommended or advocated for if you aren’t developing, improving and delivering on your current role.
Assuming that is in place, second you need to tell people what you want. Share with anyone and everyone who will listen what your ambitions are, what you want to achieve and where you see yourself in the future. If they know where you want to go, and have seen that you are capable, there is no reason that they won’t bring up your name when there are opportunities to.
Moving forward, it is important to thank, recognise and encourage those who have the influence above you for when they sponsor you forward. There is a lot of nuance here, in terms of how to manage this without sounding desperate, or ambitious at all costs, but thoughtful, considered and tactful requests can help find you someone who will advocate for you.
Everybody needs a coach. This is one of our values here at ExP, but it is something that is far greater than the 6 people on a zoom call that decided to entrench this as one of our organisations tenements.
Professional sports people train every day, for weeks, months and years for a ten second race, a 90 minute match or a single jump. These sports people, who are considered the greats of their time are always backed up and enabled in this training by one or more coaches who help them to improve their skills, endurance, mindset, and abilities across every minutia of detail.
A detailed example of this is the impact of Liverpool’s throw in coach, who joined in 2018 following their Champions League defeat to Real Madrid. Another is the transformation of Leeds United since Marcelo Bielsa joined in the same year. Or the lengths at which the legendary Chicago Bulls team went to keep Phil Jackson as coach for the Last Dance in 1997.
The question then is, how much do you care about your career? Do you want to be mediocre? Or do you want to be a supreme professional? Because a Coach, a good coach, is the key to helping you get there.
So who is a good coach? It could be your manager, someone in an enablement function, or someone external who can help. But the role of a coach is to help you improve your performance in your role. To help you to think differently about how you act, how you raise your game and become better as a professional.
A coach should be invested in your performance, either because they are accountable for it, or because they care about you. But the key is that they have the ability to help you. They should push you, practice with you, and be able to demonstrate how you can get to where you want to go.
In conclusion, there are many individuals who will have an impact on your career. But by being deliberate in curating the right opportunities for people to assist you, you will be able to sell better, sell yourself better, and get to the levels and heights you desire to on your professional journey.