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Be stubborn, listen, and believe
“People who are destined to be successful don’t give up – they just keep pounding and pushing doors until one of them flies open.”
Telemarketing executive & GAME ON judge
You’ve got two ears and one mouth – and you should use them in those proportions.
That was the advice given by a former boss to Liz Jackson, CEO of leading telemarketing firm Great Guns Marketing, and a judge of Greentree GAME ON. It’s part of the philosophy that drives the way she recruits and retains staff for her company.
“What he was trying to say was that people are hugely complimented if you listen to them and listen to them properly – not many people do that these days,” she says.
“It isn’t a process; it’s about liking people. When you do that, people buy into your organisation. They grab a vision for what you’re doing, they feel recognised, they feel worth something – and people want to be appreciated.”
Never give up
Liz started Great Guns in a garage with borrowed money and a staff of six. Today it employs nearly 100 people, and has 500 client businesses on its books. She firmly believes that vision and enthusiasm can overcome lack of resources.
“People like Richard Branson and Alan Sugar didn’t get money thrown at them in their early days – Sahar Hashemi of Coffee Republic went to 16 banks before she got the money.
“Success is really about creative thinking, and then about being a brilliant salesperson – getting people on board with you. I think people who are destined to be successful don’t give up – they just keep pounding and pushing doors until one of them flies open.”
Resilient and pig-headed
Liz thinks the value of entrepreneurial skills is also under-estimated.
“If it’s a good idea and you’re capable, then you’ll keep going and at some point you’ll be successful,” she says. “Eighty-four percent of businesses fail in their first year, even when you’re not in a recession. I had lots of bumps in my road – running out of money, being unable to pay people, being kicked out or premises. Everyone goes through that, but the rewards are huge: being in control of your own destiny, the fun of building something, having an impact on your community.
“It’s a wonderful privilege but it doesn’t come easily, and I would say that resilience and pig-headed determination are probably the biggest factors over and above any other asset.”
Gloom belongs to yesterday
As for the recession: Liz says it’s old hat.
“No one I talk to discusses the recession anymore; it’s an out-of-date message. All of us have acclimatised and realise that this is what trading is like today. What’s more, there are highlights – exports have been good, and there are companies that are doing incredibly well at the moment. Most of my clients certainly have held their own through the recession and now it’s just business as usual; they know they’ve got to lift their game.”
The key to lifting that game is always to put the client first.
“Organisations that put the client at the heart of everything they do, and concentrate all their efforts on ensuring they grow and retain that account, will make more money,” Liz says. “It’s much cheaper to retain a client than to grow a business solely through new client acquisition.
“Of course, through great client retention, you also build great brands and generate fantastic advocacy. On top of this, your teams enjoy greater relationships with their customers, which boosts job satisfaction and staff tenure.”
Liz devotes a lot of her time to motivational speaking, inspiring others to strive, drawing from her own experience facing adversity – Liz is blind. She launched Great Guns in 1998, the year she lost her sight.
She was awarded an MBE in the 2007 New Years Honours for services to business, and believes that proper leadership is as much about inspiring as giving orders.
“The person at the front of the business needs to have a clear goal, and a strategy that articulates that to the rest of the business,” she says. “I often think the job of the leadership team is one of a cheerleader – chanting encouragement to the rest of the employees.
“If the leadership team can sell an idea through the organisation to the rest of the business, and can convert the sceptics, then you have the whole organisation marching together on the road to the same destination, with the leaders cheering everyone on all the way.”
Tools for success
Great technology helps to bring great results, Liz believes, and if there’s one thing that the 10 GAME ON finalists have in common, it’s the desire to improve their technology.
“Most of us are competing in a global market where the client has more choices than ever before, and is much more informed,” she says. “I want my technology to tell me who’s performing best; how much we’re engaging with decision-makers; I want to know my sales pipeline – and I want to know all that hourly. It’s all about driving the behaviour and the accountability better.
“But what impresses me most about the GAME ON finalists is that just by entering they’re displaying entrepreneurial ability. They’re prepared to have a go; to say ‘what have I got to lose’. If they win, the business benefits are going to be massive, and even if they don’t win, the process will be insightful.
“They’re being opportunistic, they’ve grabbed it by the throat, and for the lucky winner who actually has this great thing bestowed upon them, it’s going to be an amazing investment – I think it’s just brilliant.”