Mentoring matters for you and new hires

September 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

Helping novices climb the sales mountain.

Mentoring new hires serves a vital role in the formation of committed team members. In their best-selling book, "In Search of Excellence," Tom Roberts and Robert Waterman wrote:

"Champions are pioneers, and pioneers get shot at. The companies that get the most from the champions, therefore, are those that have rich support networks so their pioneers will flourish…No support systems, no champions. No champions, no innovations."

If you are a mentor, you know exactly what you are looking for from a new hire. The funny thing about mentoring, though, is that often times, mentors fall short in responding to exactly what new hires are looking for from them.

If you are a mentor, how can you correct this? What are your novice district salespeople seeking in a mentor?

First and foremost, you must provide an image to emulate. You possess the professional status that new employees hope to achieve. You are the unofficial ambassadors of your districts and of the pharmaceutical industry as a whole.

Great mentors consistently exude a positive mental attitude and a "make it happen" outlook. These attributes are the bedrock of any winning sales team. Enthusiasm by itself is short-lived unless it is paired with a well-thought-out plan of attack. It is to this end that I impart the following few tidbits of wisdom to my fellow mentors so that our enthusiasm meets with a higher degree of success.

Recognize good work

A good representative feels needed. New sales reps have an often overwhelming need to know that their efforts in the field, however small, are appreciated. Consistent and constructive feedback is paramount to honest, open conversations between the mentor and student. A good mentor schedules regular monthly meetings with those for whom they have an assigned responsibility. During these meetings, help your new counterpart set realistic goals that fine-tune his or her wide focus into a clearer picture.

When riding with a new sales rep in his or her territory, establish a three-by-five-card system in which both the mentor and student exchange individual goals for that particular field ride. (I call this file the X-cellent Files because the new hire chases excellence until it is captured.) Each person lists four short-term goals that he or she would like to work on that day. The back of the card is used for comments and appropriate kudos for a job well done.

This system does two things: First, the cards are much less formal than a standard field ride assessment, and they tend to put the new hire at ease during the day's activities. Second, they give the mentor the ability to ensure he or she addressed all four concerns during their scheduled time together. The whole idea with this file system is to keep concise, consistent and meaningful conversation flowing between both parties. A bonus to this system is that when you bring the student's cards with you on each field ride, both you and the new hire can see the growth in his or her sales skills.

Rewards are also a very powerful tool in shaping a desired behavior. In order for rewards to be meaningful to the individual for whom they are intended, rewards should be valuable and immediate.

A leader actively seeks to "catch people doing things right" and rewards them appropriately on the spot. In my company's system, each mentor develops a district coin that anyone can hand out whenever an appropriate act is witnessed. These coins can then be cashed in for company-redeemed points when the district manager rides with his or her district members. They can also be cashed in at the beginning of a manager's "Plan of Action" meeting, in order to motivate the team.

Teach at the student's pace

When climbing the sales mountain, rope can be used to pull one up or let one down. The novice sales person should be given enough rope to pull himself or herself up the mountain according to his or her own strength, stamina and speed.

All too often we successful sales veterans want to pull the new sales rep up the mountain as fast as we know how. A good mentor resists the temptation to pull on the rope when the new hire desires to catch a view of the scenery on the way up the mountain, or plan the next assault. Allow new sales reps to use their piece of rope as best they can in scaling the sales mountain. The journey is theirs to explore!

Your only job is to ensure your new district teammate makes it to the top.

Encourage innovation

Genius, as Thomas Edison said, is "1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.'' Intrinsic to innovation is a dogged determination to be the best. It takes both time and the ability to see something in a completely different light.

Set aside 20 minutes in each plan-of-action meeting just to encourage innovation. Break the district up into three-person groups who get together in a place other than the plan-of-action room to stimulate imaginative thought. After the 20-minute period has ended, ask each group to present an innovative way to sell a particular product of theirs. Have district members vote on the most realistic and innovative idea and reward the winning group.

Innovation needn't stop at plan-of-action meetings. Mentors should get to know the personal as well as the professional aspects of each of their reps. Mentors should invite their reps and their spouses or significant others to personal outings such as sporting events, dinners on the town or happy hours after work. Many times, I've been completely surprised at the various talents people in my district exhibited when they were in comfortable surroundings.

Finally, mentors should always make themselves available for the occasional evening phone conversation when the new hire's questions can be answered in a patient, easy-to-understand way. If you, as the mentor, act as the veteran sounding board, pretty soon you'll love the sound of what you're hearing on the other end of the phone - a motivated representative who really knows what he or she is doing. PR