Editor’s Note: The following is the first of a series of blogs on mentoring by Anthony J. D’Antonio , Group Vice President, Briggs Healthcare
Did you ever have someone that influenced your career or life, such as a coach, teacher, or perhaps even your first sales manager? I did, and just about everyone I know who has been successful has had the privilege of being mentored.
I began my career with Univever, one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world. It was an unlikely and uncomfortable start, and I struggled with the independence, politics and strict regimentation having graduated from college only a few months earlier. Yet it was here that I met a mentor who’d have a huge impact on my career.
Our first meeting was uncomfortable, to say the least. Picture a fresh out of college kid from Boston shaking hands with a no nonsense, larger-than-life Texan named Dave. He was all business from the start. He gave my car the white glove treatment, asked for an agenda, objectives and a contingency plan if things did not go to “plan.” He then told me to go home and get wing tips, a haircut and a suit – my sport coat wouldn’t cut it.
Not an auspicious start, but a lesson learned for life as we are the brand that we show to the customer. The tenets that Dave instilled in me are the ones that I live by today – preparation, planning, practice, professionalism, personality and performance. I consider these the “science of sales.”
Not every mentor fits that image, however. Years later, I learned the “art” of sales. Two very talented characters taught me about the unscripted realities of sales, relationship building, listening like you meant it, keeping your word, hand-writing notes and listening to Z.Z. Top full blast while driving the back roads of New England.
The approach may vary, but mentors often have defining characteristics. Let’s start from square one.
What is a mentor?
Mentoring is best defined as “a professional relationship in which an experienced person (mentor) assists the person (mentee) in developing specific skills and knowledge that enhances growth.” I would take it a step further and say that the growth not only enhances the mentee, but the mentor and the entire organization as well. To begin with, mentors are not the boss, in most cases. I say this as the mentor must be able to put the mentee at ease, and the “out of bounds” questions should not matter. A mentor can control the situation to make for a more comfortable and nurturing environment. Frequently protocol and politics do not usually put the mentee at ease and those questions asked, or the cathartic conversations about how hard selling is, really don’t emerge. Remember when you first started? A careless remark by an over-worked and distracted manager to an impressionable younger and inexperienced rep can be crushing. Mentors play an important role for the new rep, offering unselfish and focused attention.
There’s a great deal of debate of “mentoring vs. coaching” and I would fall in line with mainstream thinking which suggests that they are separate, but related. That is, the relationship is different in that the front line sales manager should really be coaching and a functional part of his or her job should be training and coaching. Mentoring, on the other hand, should be a very personal relationship with no strings attached, done for the intent of improving the both the quality and experience of the employee.