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

http://www.ArielMarketingGroup.com/blog

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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25 comments
AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

@analiakandel Thx for the share and Hello... that boss was the responsible for the Glory Days of my pre-self employment career.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

@alankay1 Thanks Alan - happy Saturday!

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

@ambercleveland @jeanniecw @12Most Thx guys... and YES: Mentors Rock. Be One. :)

Todd Vande Hei
Todd Vande Hei

Hi Amy, I'm not short, you're just a little too tall. Very flattered you would make me the focal point of your post, and even more so that you would consider me your mentor. I have a 13th for you: when you see a flame in someone, just toss a little gasoline on it and get the hell out of the way. From my perspective, that's all I did; you figured the rest out on your own!

dbvickery
dbvickery

@andrewsmith1443 I thought it was a great list, Andrew. I left a comment on it, too.

dbvickery
dbvickery

Excellent suggestions. I never considered the "Sit Facing the Door". I definitely agree that we will hire based upon #6 because we expect that person will fit our culture. Therefore, if they suddenly try to change, they may change the culture's dynamic.

 

I'm also a big fan of both #3 and #12. Enjoyed this one immensely, Amy.

woodwardmatt
woodwardmatt

Fantastic list - thanks for sharing! A great mentor can do wonders for your career, it's always inspiring to hear experiences like this.

jpJeremy
jpJeremy

This is a great list. I have had a few guides over the last ten years, but I have never had anyone willing to take an official "mentor" mantle. Looking back, one thing each of my guides had was a diverse functional background.

There is something uniquely valuable about a finance guy that moved into supply chain, the sales guy that moved into purchasing, or the supply chain guy that moves into branding.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

@deborahkf Thanks for the share. I try to pay it forward continually. Ever Heard of Milton Hershey School? The biggest pay it forward ever.

Janne
Janne

7. "I’m an all out introvert; I love people & connecting with them; it’s where I get my energy from. .... bouncing off the walls — inspired and ready to tackle the world.... 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."

I believe you meant to say that you are an extrovert. :)

I agree with Tom. It's hard to get past the errors in your writing to see what you're really trying to say. This piece had great potential, and I'm interested in seeing you improve.

JBTWEETNOTHINGS
JBTWEETNOTHINGS

Mentors come to us in all forms. Heck, I didn't realize who my mentor really was until a few years after I'd moved on to work for someone else. He wasn't the typical mentor but definitely someone who, at this stage of my life, I can say was a big reason why I got here, well at least professionally. The best personal mentor I've ever had is my dad. I try to live my life the way he's lived his. So far, I think it's worked pretty well for me. I guess when it gets right down to it, I've had sort of a 'mentors' network' helping to mold me into the person I am today.

Tom
Tom

I'm not a great writer myself, but this post is littered with spelling and grammatical errors. I discovered "12 Most" recently through a friend of mine, and I don't want to give up on you all so early because of poor writing. Please don't make me! Haha.

analiakandel
analiakandel

@AmyMccTobin Txs, Amy! Great boss! Hope I can be half as inspiring!

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

 @dbvickery I know Brian... by the time I'd learned that one I'd been a successful rep. for years.  I think that because Todd wasn't a naturally gregarious salesperson he had to be really smart about it. He studied other great sales people and watched and listened.....  he picked up all sorts of things I'd overlooked because I was too focused on making them like me.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

 @woodwardmatt Yes Matt - I learned more in the 4 years I worked for Todd than I did from all the other Sales Mgrs I had comprehensively.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

Yep... need an Editor:) Point out the others and I'll fix them.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

Hi Tom. Grammar I make no excuses for... it's blogging and I write as I converse. But if you could find the spelling errors I'm all ears. Tough to proof yourself.

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