I wished I had learned this lesson earlier on in my sales career: the best way to learn how to become a top sales performer is by being mentored by those who are inside your company. In my case, I had to wait a while before I got the opportunity to work with a mentor. And when I finally did, my sales performance took-off skyward. If only I had known sooner! That’s why I’m sharing this with you today, so you can avoid that costly mistake with your own staff.

Mentorship gives you an inside track to sales success. After all, mentors are your very best people: they are uniquely skilled and positioned to help guide inexperienced or less successful salespeople within your salesforce become top-ranked pros.

Let’s look at why it works so well and how you can implement a mentorship program within your own sales organization.

There are four reasons why mentorship is right for your business.

First: there’s no one else out there who knows your clients and your business better than your best salespeople. Not even the most skilled consultants (or even sales coaches) can match that unique mix of knowledge they possess. It’s a position that commands a lot of in-house respect. Mentors listen to carefully because they’re peers. They empathize with what junior and underperforming sellers are experiencing in their work, because they have likely walked a mile in those uncomfortable shoes, too. Because of this, your mentors are able to share what they know with your sales team and implement changes in less time than others.

Secondly, mentorship solves two team challenges at once. Not only are you investing in hands-on training for your underperforming staff, you are also giving your top sellers a brand-new incentive to stay with your company. Being a top performer comes with responsibility: they need to lead by sharing what they know. That can only happen if top performers are given the opportunity to show and exercise leadership by being a mentor to others. This has an important spin-off benefit: it provides them with an otherwise rare chance at on-the-job training, including grooming them for future management positions.

Third, mentorship cuts down on staff turnover. Again, there’s a multiplier effect at work here. Not only do you get to retain more of your junior and previously underperforming staff (now that you’ve helped them become pros), mentorship has a way of keeping top performers loyal to your company. It also does a great job of stroking the egos of your top people: it means something to them that their employer has recognized their hard work and is prepared to give them red carpet treatment to share what they know with others.

Fourth point: without mentorship, people simply don’t improve on their own. In sales, this kind of learning happens best as a team. When your staff members—mentors and mentees alike—feel they’re part of a team and are united in what they do, they tend to focus longer, accomplish more and stick together.

Building your in-house mentorship program

There’s a lot that needs to happen even after you pick your top sales performers and offer them the opportunity to mentor others. Here at Engage, we’ve seen clients achieve amazing results after following our advice and creating an in-house mentorship program. Based on that work, here are five steps you need to take to make this happen in your organization.

Have live-observations sessions. To be effective, your program should include live observations that take place during their visits with customers. With this approach, the mentor isn’t pulled away from selling to teach others: the workplace where they perform every day becomes the classroom. Schedule these live-observations sessions up to four times a year to ensure that no one’s time is sacrificed, and include opportunities for mentees to listen-in on sales calls. Remember: in sales, observational learning is one of the most powerful ways to absorb and retain new skills. You can reinforce this by having your sales managers follow-up with each mentee and hold them accountable to report on what they have learned.

Make room for many one-on-one conversations. Once a month have a top performer take a struggling sales rep out for lunch at nice restaurant (and of course, allow them to expense the meal). Give direction to both the mentor and mentee. To the mentor, indicate specifically what parts of their business or selling method you want them to cover during their mentorship. Similarly, with the mentee indicate what you expect them to learn more about. Both mentor and mentee should be encouraged to engage in conversation: to have an open conversation about the sales process. After each one-on-one session, have a debrief with the mentee to ensure they have properly grasped the lessons and best practices that have been shared with them. You are the sales coach. You hold both parties accountable for implementation

Create the star of the show. When you invite someone to be a mentor, you are giving them the right to take center stage. Have them lead your sales team meetings once a month. Have them conduct a review of your current sales pipeline or have them present a training segment. With practice, they will become highly skilled at dissecting and explaining their sales process and explaining to others how they can improve.

Make sure to have many success stories. Your mentorship program will cover more ground in less time if you invest in having many real-world examples that mentors can point to as illustration of how to implement what they know. Here at Engage, our largest clients have monthly “state of the union calls” hosted by the VP. There, top performers each prepare a short segment (5-10 minutes) that profiles a recent big win and lessons learned. The key here is that you get them to talk about how they managed and closed the sale. Get them to be specific about how they handled objections, how they were quick on their feet to deal with unexpected challenges and how they worked hard to meet and exceed client expectations.

Have your best clients mentor sellers. Last but not least, choose a few of your best clients and set-up interviews with them to discuss what they like best about your sales process and why they enjoy working with your top sellers. This can be illuminating because you get the buyer’s perspective on what it’s like to do business with you. Not only does it help reaffirm what you’re doing right, it can give you a clear indication of where you can improve to better meet their needs.

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