Don’t Sell Yourself Short, A Good Mentor Can Help Grow Your Career
In sales, presentation is everything. That’s not lost on Dan Fitzgerald, enterprise sales director at Catalant Technologies. He still recalls vividly the day he tried to hide the holes in his deals desk presentation, hoping that nobody would see the facade papered over with time and effort. A mentor at the time told him bluntly that nobody wins in that scenario. Seeking help, while unthinkable in a department run on meritocracy, is not only beneficial for the role, but necessary for long-term job satisfaction.
Mentorship is a lifeline to a long tenure in sales. Establishing a robust mentor program allows new sales reps to progress through the company pipeline more efficiently. They absorb holistic skills and work culture more easily, without the pressure of saddling their direct managers with questions beyond the parameters of the power dynamic. It also gives mentors valuable leadership experience.
As a result, both sides of the sales symbiosis observe increases in pay and position, according to a study by the Wharton School of Business. “You can extract a lot of mutual value out of the relationship,” Fitzgerald said.
But having a mentor doesn’t automatically translate to real-life success; keeping the quality of the relationship strong involves transparency in communications and expectations. Otherwise, there’s a risk of having these weekly meetings devolve into vacuous, surface-level small talk.
“I’ve had folks approach me as a mentor where it feels like they’re just checking some career development box,” said Fitzgerald. “You have to truly bring curiosity to the conversations and let yourself be a little vulnerable as to what you’re looking to accomplish.” He now has a committee of mentors that he touches base with regularly, tailoring each check-in according to work styles and needs.
To get a deeper look at how Catalant Technologies allows their sales reps to establish a well-rounded career roadmap and better personal growth, Built In Boston sat down with Fitzgerald to see how he has benefited from finding — and keeping — valuable mentor resources.
Catalant Technologies is a marketplace platform matching business leaders with independent consultants.
How did you identify and approach your mentor?
I started at Catalant when the sales team was around 10 people, so there weren’t formal mentor programs available yet. There were benefits to that: In a small but growing team, even the most junior employees end up in mission-critical meetings and situations where you are forced to grow up fast. You get to see executives in high-pressured sales calls, and you get to be in the room as they debrief big customer meetings. You can absorb a lot of value for your career by just being a sponge in moments like that.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have the same manager since 2015. My boss has grown and developed throughout his time in the sales org just like I have. A lot of business books would say your manager can’t be your mentor — and I agree with that at a high level — but you can develop a more trusting and long standing relationship with one like I have.
My advice is to find a committee of mentors — find a lot of folks you admire and start to build relationships early on in your career. Empathy is a superpower in sales, so build cross-functional mentor relationships that give you insight into other parts of the business too.
What do you two talk about? Do you and your mentor have regularly scheduled conversations, or is the cadence of your relationship more fluid?
I’d say I have about four or five folks I would consider part of my committee of mentors, including my manager. With a few, it’s more structured — monthly or quarterly check-ins, and that works well. Others, it’s more reactive or on-demand based on needs.
It’s true that what you really get out of a mentor relationship is what you put in. If you’re expecting that just by meeting regularly you’ll magically absorb all the necessary value, you’ll be left with really disingenuous and loose relationships. Transparency in your strengths, weaknesses and goals will help your mentor in terms of how to help guide and coach you.
Empathy is a superpower in sales.”
How has having a mentor changed your career trajectory or viewpoint on sales overall?
After each promotion, the typical wave of performance pressure plus imposter syndrome can set in. You want to perform well and prove the promotion was well earned. With a mentor or group of mentors, you get to have coaches behind you when you need it most in times like that. If they’re a sales leader, they’ve been in your exact position before — they can show you the potholes in the road.
Having a mentor or group of mentors doesn’t just equate to promotions, pay bumps or instant success. Networking is important, but sales is still largely a game of merit. Even simple things can mean a huge difference.
I remember preparing for a deal desk for hours, then going in and trying to defend my deals by hiding bombs I hadn’t uncovered. I had a mentor tell me that was a lose-lose; a loss for me in not getting the help or advice I needed, and a loss for the company in revenue. So I started approaching those meetings by being honest about the state of my deals and what’s missing. Deal desks went from anxiety-ridden to being really productive sessions where I was able to get the help I needed.