Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
“I’ve done quite a lot since I graduated in Mechanical Engineering. I was sponsored by Rover, spent five years in medical sales and then three years as a recruiter from 1996–1999. Some of you will remember the internet boom in 1999, and that’s when I made the jump to marketing, a move that has gone on to shape the direction of my career.”
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
“Back in 1999, a friend and I set up an internet start-up. We had what we thought was a unique idea and spent months building and finessing to the product the nth degree, while adding lots of cool functionality, all in stealth mode.
“We made a truly excellent product, but failed to user test it early enough in the lifecycle and didn’t wait to see if there was anything similar in the marketplace. When we were starting to look for funding, we learned that similar, inferior products had already been funded, and that our product was too complicated.
“Lessons learned: stay lean, do your research and don’t be scared that someone is going to steal your idea — it’s the execution of it that counts.”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
“The UK has the most mature recruitment market in the world. In fact, there are more than 25,000 recruitment businesses in the UK, and most of them are chasing the same set of clients. It’s a buyer’s market at times, a case of who gets the candidate’s CV over the quickest or for the smallest fee.
“We made a conscious decision to avoid the more ‘commoditised’ recruitment market, so we only focus on a few high growth technologies where candidates are both in demand and hard to find. Our company stands out because we’re the only global recruitment agency that’s built a business of any scale around a set of ‘super-niche’ technology products.
“The net effect of this is that we get a significant proportion of our clients through inbound channels, which is a rarity in recruitment. Also, a huge percentage of relevant candidates are drawn to us when they are looking for a new job. Both of these factors make my life a lot easier. It’s hard when you start the journey as there’s little in the way of low hanging fruit, but it works for us in the long term.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
“We’ve just completed a global 1,500 seat CRM migration and have kicked off our marketing automation project. The CRM has already yielded a massive upswing in productivity, and the implementation of Pardot will undoubtedly enable our sales teams to work on the hottest leads first. Utopia for us is where we generate a firehose of red-hot inbound leads while decimating the number of cold calls the sales teams need to make.”
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lessons that others can learn from that?
I’ve taken quite a few risks throughout my career that have resulted in some pretty stressful (and expensive!) periods in my life, particularly when I went out on my own. Looking back, I would never swap those experiences because they’ve definitely stood me in good stead and got me to where I am now. Taking risks forced to me learn constantly, particularly when dealing with suppliers, test and re-adjust my strategy until I found my ‘hedgehog concept’, and monitor every penny to make sure I got the best return on any investment.
“So really the message would be to take risks, stay super focused and don’t ever be arrogant enough to think you can’t and shouldn’t be learning continuously.”
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
“Don’t try to be a jack of all trades; no-one can be the best at everything. Pick a marketing discipline that’s in demand and that you thoroughly enjoy then find all of the thought leaders and follow them on every social channel you use. If you’re not voraciously consuming content every night, you’re just not that into it and you’ll burn out.
“Whenever I vet CVs for a role on my team, I take a look at their social profile, and if they don’t live and breathe their speciality, I won’t progress their application. In summary, keep learning and make sure you enjoy what you do.”
What are your “5 Non Intuitive Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses”?
- “Don’t go after the obvious clients. That’s what everyone else is doing. Our recruitment business has grown 40% year-on-year for the last 11 years because we purposely avoided some of the bigger prospects or those that were advertising jobs online. Anyone that’s placed a job ad online will have experienced north of 40 calls from recruitment agencies the day the advert went live, so you’ll struggle to differentiate yourself. In short — find yourself a niche market that everyone else is avoiding as it’s a little harder to service.
- “Short term, invest in paid advertising techniques to get your brand in front of your prospects. Don’t rely solely on SEO — organic traffic can take months or years to build. The only traffic you’ll get is from the really determined information seekers who’ve already dropped off their details to 30 other sites on pages 1, 2 and 3!
- “No matter how small or minuscule you think a complaint is, never underestimate the value of good customer service and word of mouth. Pick the phone up, talk to customers and you’ll pick up a wealth of knowledge and free feedback. You need to hear and confront the brutal facts.”
- “Start small, a lot smaller than you think would make sense. It might feel unambitious, but there’s more value to be found in starting with a narrow market focus. Start small and dig down beneath the surface of where you started and you’ll find there’ll be opportunities waiting for you.”
- “Don’t try and save money by doing everything yourself, whether that’s building your own software or trying to do every function in the business including your own core competency. At one point, I was doing all the accounts, IT, admin of the CRM as well as business analysis and project management. We ended up building a fantastic product, but in hindsight I could have taken a massive shortcut by licensing and white-labelling a third-party product over an in-house build, and could have accelerated sales if I’d outsourced the IT and finance functions earlier.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
“For me, two of the most important things every person should have are education and health. Being able to read and have the ability to educate yourself is super important, and I believe that it’s an opportunity everyone should have.
“My parents are from Pakistan where literacy levels are only 61%, so I’ve seen first-hand the effect a lack of education can have, but in the UK everyone can read, despite their background or circumstances. I’d like to give everyone in the world that chance.”
Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Ask for forgiveness and not permission! I always encourage people around me to make their own decisions and be accountable for them. Success in business is about taking risks, but they need to be measured risks. Over the last three years, members of our business have followed this, and it’s lead to the creation of two very successful new brands.”