According to the Association for Talent Development, a Virginia-based nonprofit focused on workplace learning and professional development, more than 70% of Fortune 500 companies have some type of mentorship program. But only a quarter of smaller companies do.
Corporate mentoring is a difficult, time consuming and often overlooked role. In pop culture, mentors are portrayed as pivotal figures in the hero's life - a relationship that often occurs organically, where the mentor sees themselves in the hero. Think of Mickey Goldmill and Rocky Balboa, or Mr. Miyagi and The Karate Kid -- the mentor sees potential in the student and takes his time to train and guide him.
This kismet doesn't usually occur for the corporate mentor, though. A corporate mentor may know nothing of their mentee until they are paired together. In addition to that, customer success roles are relatively new in corporate America. Mentors cannot look back to years of mentoring to guide them on how best to mentor. So how then do you be a Mr. Miyagi as the customer success employee?
A mentoring program guides employees over the hurdles, and helps them achieve in a way that's aligned with the company's mission -- as well as their own.
As the Designated Responsible Individual (or DRI) for HubSpot's Partner Customer Success team, I am constantly researching and asking people around me how to foster a supportive and rewarding mentor community. In the past six months, I have paired about 10 new hires with customer success mentors.
After each new hire completes their first 90 days, I sit down with them to gather feedback on their experience. The overall response is positive (who doesn't like an individual assigned to help them?) but there are always a few mentors who really stand out. Here are the top 5 things customer success manager (CSM) mentors do particularly well:
5 Tips for Mentoring New Customer Success Hires
1. Model organizational skills.
Organization is skill that CSMs need to do their day-to-day job. This applies to being a successful mentor, too.
The best mentors at HubSpot go beyond the automated calendar invites for job shadowing and call listening to schedule more time with their mentee. They usually schedule coffee with their new hire on the first or second day that a new hire starts and provide periodic check-ins, providing valuable professional development feedback and advice for important career milestones as they progress.
HubSpot Principal Channel Consultant Christopher Prudente told me the following about the importance of organizational skills: "Organization is essential for helping a new employee succeed. Not only can they get overwhelmed with information and tasks, it can be tough for you to balance this responsibility with your everyday job. Taking 30 minutes to help your mentee evaluate their priorities and guide them in mapping out their timeline can set them up for success and possibly teach them a critical new skill."
By using the same organizational skills that a CSM brings to managing multiple customer relationships, the mentor helps the new hire accomplish all of their tasks -- and sets up their new hire for success.
2. Be yourself.
Here at HubSpot, we like to say to "be human" when we're talking to customers and partners. As CSMs, we know that our customers are not solely focused on HubSpot. This is true of being a mentor, too.
Being a great mentor means showing your mentee your genuine self. Think about how customers can tell when you are being disingenuous -- the same is true of your mentee.
By cultivating a personal relationship with your mentee, you open the mentorship up to being more. Your personal life is always going to part of your professional life -- and if your mentee feels comfortable letting you know when something great or stressful is going on with their life, in or out of work, then it fosters a stronger relationship and better working environment.
"Speaking to your mentee as a friend is key," explains Oscar Zamorano, a Principal Channel Consultant at HubSpot. "At the end of the day, you're their mentor -- not their manager. The worst thing you can do is act overly formal or critical because then they will reciprocate by closing off. If you approach the relationship in a lighthearted and friendly manner, your mentee will be open and honest with you."
3. Guide new hires.
As the proverb goes, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
As CSMs, you want to empower your customers and partners to use whatever service you offer for their success. For example, if I tell my customer simply how to point and click to create a conversion path, I am not doing my job well. Instead, I should take the time to coach my customer through the fundamentals of conversions path and the theory.
Mentors are often seen as coaches, but many mentors don't always take the time to really coach their mentee. Too often, mentors get caught up in their own lives and just tell their mentee how to do something. The best mentors take a step back and guide their mentees through whatever they are struggling with.
"Telling someone how to solve a problem is a short-term solution, but guiding your mentees by asking them the right questions encourages critical thinking, which is a key skill in their growth and career development," says Rachel Ahearne, a Principal Channel Consultant at HubSpot. "It's also a more positive collaborative experience for both people."
4. Be empathetic.
The best CSMs are naturally empathetic. We care about our customers and partners -- not just about their experiences with HubSpot. The best mentors are also empathetic. It can be easy to forget how intimidating starting a new job is. Especially for new hire customer success managers, you are trying to learn a new role, product, and company. Sometimes, the new hire has just moved to a new city too. The new hire may be facing personal challenges at the same time. All of this can make for a stressful new hire experience. The best mentors empathize with what a new hire is going through and take the time to understand how best they can help.
"As mentors, we challenge our mentees but are also empathetic to the rigorous training process they're experiencing," explains Kristina Bailey, a Channel Consultant at HubSpot. "It's important to think back to our own training experience to remember how it felt to learn and retain so much information each day. Showing empathy builds trust and allows the mentee to openly share their challenges, frustrations, concerns so the mentor can support them as they work towards a successful outcome."
5. Adapt feedback to how new hires like to learn.
CSMs have to love to learn -- they need to love to learn about their customers, industry trends, and relationship management techniques. Customer success mentors need to be humble enough to always want to learn as well. Mentoring is a two-way street in many ways.
I recently mentored a new hire in another department, and while I could help to coach her on HubSpot's many tools, she also knows a lot more about her department than I do. I had to leave my comfort zone and ask her how she best wants to learn, and what she wants to prioritize, and everyone who mentors someone should be open to learning from their mentee as well.
There are hundreds of books to read about how to be a good manager, how to deliver feedback, and how to drive growth for your mentee. No one can read all of these books (although it's a great goal), but a great mentor is open to learning from others and your mentee.
As HubSpot Leadership and Management Trainer Nick Congelosi puts it, "Do you want to know what successful people at top levels have that others don't? Learning agility. When you learn from a mentor and learn on your own, the more agile you become, and that, friends, is how you know what to do when you don't know what to do."
Being a CSM and being a mentor are fairly similar roles. At its core, empowering your customer takes the same skill set as empowering a new hire to be successful. These tips are what I have seen the best mentors use to excel at here at HubSpot -- what have you seen for your own mentors?