12 Most Key Lessons I Learned From My Mentor

12 Most Key Lessons I Learned From My Mentor

There was a time when I was young, beautifully naive, and as my grandmother would say… full of piss and vinegar. Despite my rather challenged background, I was going to CONQUER THE WORLD. And I did, comparatively speaking if you measured where I got to against where I’d come from. In general, I was feeling pretty “satisfied;” I was making “good” money and most of it I chalked up to my fearless and winning personality.

And then I met my Mentor. He was as different from me as you could be. He was short, quiet and never the life of the party. When he became my Sales Manager, although I liked him, I didn’t “get him.” I’d take him to see my accounts and he would sit quietly. We’d take them out for a posh meal and I’d literally feel like kicking him under the table. I wanted him to be The Star — make my clients feel like someone really important was there… ENTERTAIN THEM; like all of my Managers before him, I wanted my Mentor to put on a BIG SHOW.

Eventually out of pure frustration I had to tell him: “Todd, you’re just not helping me out the way you should.”

Todd’s reaction was… “But I’M not the star, YOU are.” It’s my job to make them think that… I’ll be gone, maybe here once a year. You need to be their star every day…”

And only then did I start to listen to him. Here is what I learned:

1. Technology is your friend

I dreaded any kind of tech back then, I was an old school salesperson… I relied on pressing the flesh and making them fall in love with me first, then my product. He taught me that being able to hear and know what’s going on first was KEY to getting them to do that, and being able to respond to their request in a moment’s notice was better than any dinner you could buy them.

2. Get organized

I clearly remember Todd showing me a wireless air card and an internal one… instructing me on my first Blackberry and showing me WHY it would make me more responsive. Teaching me about the very first GPS’s only available in Hertz Rental Cars back then (I actually paid $900 for my first one) so that I could be more efficient when in a new area.

3. Appearance is a lot, if not everything when making a first impression

As much as he would hate to admit it now (new venture, new uniform), back then Todd was all about the high end wardrobe. We were selling a VERY expensive product, and he taught me that I had to look like I could keep up with my clients, even if I couldn’t. But it was also about my total appearance: A clean car, a clean purse, a clean lap top bag = a salesperson who was on top of their sh*t. You could be “all that” in the meeting, but if the client followed you out to your car only to find an old Dorito bag on your passenger’s seat it could ruin the entire effect.

4. Be focused

I was once forced to build a territory from scratch, and it was Baltimore… not full of $$$. I ran around like a maniac throwing spaghetti on the wall… I just needed “an order.” Todd made me understand his concept of “Limited Distribution.” Our product was HIGH END… we needed loyal retailers who would stick with the product and they couldn’t be worried about some two bit shop stumbling on an order and underselling them… exclusivity meant I could focus on the people actually capable of bringing me REGULAR orders.

5. Analyze

Again, I was the fly by night type… and in the beginning of my career it wasn’t even HEALTHY to look at the numbers… but eventually Todd taught me that I HAD to; knowing where, when and WHAT sold meant everything. My time was limited; I had to spend it where it counted.

6. Be yourself

When I was first promoted and sitting out in his fancy Orange County Offices I told him, in the most sincere manner, that I would ‘tone it down’ and swear a lot less. He absolutely freaked out and said “I hired you to be YOU, don’t stop doing that.” There is nothing more confidence building than a statement by your boss telling you to be who you are.

7. Some people aren’t like you

I’m an all out extrovert; I love people & connecting with them; it’s where I get my energy from. Once after a Conference down in Puerto Rico, after days of parties, talks, and beach time I was literally bouncing off the walls — inspired and ready to tackle the world. Todd was EXHAUSTED. He needed a week of office time to recover. Me, it was my energy for months. I learned Introverts can sell too… just in a VERY different way than I did. It taught me a lot about managing people who were different than me.

8. Sit facing the door

This is the simplest of all sales tactics, but I didn’t know it until Todd told me: make sure that your client is not facing the door during a presentation because that’s where distractions and excuses come from.

9. Anyone can have a big idea

Todd created The Big Idea concept; each month ANY employee could contribute an idea that they thought could make our company better. If your idea was selected you won a large cash award; we had winners from the factory floor, sales force and management. More than anything, it made us all feel that our ideas would be listened to, an essential element of creativity.

10. Reward them verbally

One time in a management brainstorming session Todd asked us “How did you get to be so good?” Those words have stuck with me for over a decade. I hope that some of the great people I’ve managed have those sorts of memories of my utterances. Thinking your employees are “rewarded” by their pay check is just wrong.

11. Admit your faults

One of Todd’s faults was his not so complex vocabulary; we would regularly chuckle when I used a word he hadn’t heard, or referenced some historical event he was unaware of (my education was more classical than his). Now, he didn’t send out embarrassing emails full of misspellings, but he had absolutely no problem asking me to elaborate on a reference I’d made. That kind of behavior makes everyone exhale and ask questions when they’re confused instead of thinking they needed to pretend to know.

12. Know what matters

In an interview with my favored prospect for a prime territory, Todd asked the applicant about his very first job. The conversation led to the candidate’s first “real job” in Real Estate and about one big sale he had. He’d taken his earnings and bought a brand new Corvette, knowing that as he got older and his responsibilities grew, he’d never again be able to be so frivolous. This was 20 years later and Todd asked “Where is the Vette?” The candidate replied “In my garage. It’s my reminder of how great I can be.” He was hired right on the spot.

The additional details are that this guy was not the most obvious candidate; he wasn’t as polished as our regular reps, his English and accent could use a little help. But I knew him and how persistent, dedicated and focused he’d be. It only took a few smart questions for Todd to figure that out too.

This is the first 12 Most post that I could have made 24 Most without thinking too hard; I obviously was very lucky to find a great mentor early in my career. I hope my experiences helped to at least make me a good mentor so some of the folks I’ve been blessed to manage can benefit the same way I have.

What did your mentor teach you that has stuck with you through your career?

Featured image courtesy of h.koppdelaney via Creative Commons. 

Amy Tobin


Amy McCloskey Tobin is the founding Principal of Ariel Marketing Group, LLC. Her mission in life is to create smart, individualized marketing strategies for Small Business. With deep connections in the online marketing arena, Amy is a knowledgeable New Media professional in tune with the medium’s ever-changing nature. She creates Strategy, assists with Policy, and PR Crisis resolution.

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