In a recent episode of the Sales Game Changers Podcast, Institute for Excellence in Sales President Fred Diamond and Gigi Schumm, the Senior VP of Worldwide Sales at Threat Quotient, unpacked the issue of women in sales finding a mentor. Gigi started by saying that, “Mentoring, I think, can be hugely impactful but it’s one of those terms that probably just gets overused.”

In other words, new sales professionals hear they need a mentor but aren’t quite sure what mentorship looks like or how to find it. While a supportive and experienced mentor can provide invaluable feedback, finding the right one can be a tall order for junior women in sales.

Finding a Great Mentor Can Boost Your Career

Mentorship is a business buzzword for a reason. A salesperson with decades of experience can give a younger associate a substantial leg up. The benefits of mentorship are many, but the following are a few of the most significant ways a mentor can help you: 

  • A mentor has been there, done that. The right mentor can save you from their own mistakes and share their priceless experience.
  • Mentors aren’t just there to tell you about their path to success. A good mentor can assess your skills and help you visualize your own career path.
  • Mentors provide constructive criticism to continuously learn and increase your confidence. It’s tough to have your shortcomings highlighted but take the opportunity to learn what your weaknesses are and build upon your strengths.
  • Mentors aren’t just for women fresh out of college. Even saleswomen with 15 years of experience value their mentors. By continuing to work with more experienced industry leaders, you can continue to progress in your career long after you’ve mastered the basics.

Is It Harder for Women to Find the Right Mentor?

Despite the indisputable perks of mentorship, it is often confusing for new salespeople to understand what to look for in a mentor and how to initiate the relationship. This is especially true for women.

In a traditionally male-dominated job field, it’s more difficult for women to find a mentor they relate to. According to a recent report by LinkedIn, women comprise 39% of the current sales workforce. The number of women in leadership roles steeply declines, with females holding only 21% of Vice President positions. While the playing field is substantially more level than it once was, it’s still likely that women seeking a mentor will need to turn to a male higher up.

This poses problems of its own. No matter how supportive a male mentor may be of a woman’s career goals, men in management tend to avoid offering criticism to saleswomen. Although the sentiment behind this is often innocent and well-meant, sugarcoating valuable criticism stifles the growth of the recipient.

Gigi supported this idea, sending a strong message to both women and men in sales:

“I think that a lot of times if you have a male manager and a female salesperson, the dynamic can be that they’re afraid to be too tough on the female, they’re afraid to be too tough on that woman salesperson and so first of all, to all the male sales leaders listening to this, I want you to know that most of the women that I’ve come across in this industry are as tough if not tougher than the men.” Gigi Schumm VP of Worldwide Sales at Threat Quotient, Special Ep. 008, The Sales Game Changers Podcast

Last but not least, women are confronted by an overwhelming pressure to match up to male counterparts in sales. Without setting clear career goals for themselves, it’s much harder to find a mentor to help actualize them.

Overcoming Common Mentorship Obstacles

Though these challenges are real, finding a mentor is a reasonable goal; it just requires a little initiative. To start your search, put your feeling of intimidation aside. Every salesperson has been in your shoes, and a good mentor will gladly support your journey. You may not find the right mentor within your organization. Don’t be afraid to branch out and make connections anywhere you can.

Most of all, know what you need in a mentor and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Gigi shared a thing or two about mentorship.

I have had many young women who come to me and say, “Will you mentor me?” and sure, absolutely. What can I do for you? “Well, I don’t know, I need a mentor.” Well, that’s a little broad, what do you need help with?” Gigi Schumm VP of Worldwide Sales at Threat Quotient, Special Ep. 008, The Sales Game Changers Podcast

Rather than depending on the mentor to guide the conversation, assess your own needs firsts. Whether you’re working on your presentation skills or trying to prepare yourself for the next step in your career, it’s helpful to provide your future mentor with a starting point.

Finding a mentor you trust can be daunting, but mentorship is a relationship like any other. By building a genuine connection with a salesperson or manager you look up to, you build the foundation for a worthwhile mentorship. Listen intently to their advice, and one day you’ll be ready to give back to a mentee of your own.

The Institute for Excellence in Sales Women in Sales Leadership Forum is a unique experience that will help you change your career trajectory.