Business Insight with Helen Sparks

 

Nicola, The People Mentor:

Hi, welcome to the latest podcast. I’m Nicola, The People Mentor. Today we’re interviewing Helen Sparks, whose business is 4 Sales Pillar. Welcome, Helen.

Helen Sparks:
Hello, Nicola. Lovely, to talk to you.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
I want to know a bit about your business first. What is it and how long has it been going?

Helen Sparks:
Well, I’ve been in sales for over 20 years. I help coaches and consultants find new clients by getting a consistent flow of leads in every month. And I do that by showing them how to set up a really simple, effective funnel that works, most importantly. But, is also really fun to implement, and I do this within a four-pillar process, as my business is called.

So the four pillar process is: mindset, strategy, funnels and profits. And what essentially that means is that I go in and I get rid of all of the blocks people have around selling. You know, that icky feeling that people say, “Oh, I’m not a salesperson. I can’t sell for toffee. And, it’s just not for me. I feel like a double glazing salesman when I ask for money,” that kind of thing.  I get rid of all of those blocks and then I show them how to connect with their ideal clients, get their message absolutely clear. And really how to then get those people aware of what they do, how they do it, and get those people onboard and turn them into clients.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
I think that’s when I first spotted you, I think it was the icky bit about sales. And I read your posts and I thought, “Oh, that just makes total sense.” So, it’s amazing what suddenly hits you, about being there at the right time for somebody?

Helen Sparks:
It is, and you know we sell every day without even thinking about it. Some nights I will come in from being onsite with a client and I don’t want to cook and I will say to my husband, it’s like, “Oh do you know what I’ve been thinking about all day, is crispy duck pancakes.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just settle down in front of the TV, with a bottle of wine and a Chinese? That is selling. That is selling the benefits of the Chinese. You are tired, you have had a long day, you don’t want to cook. You want to have something that is easy and you want to be able to relax, and want to spend time with the people you love. Even yourself, just to have that quiet time.

So it’s all about that outcome, and that’s what people buy on. People by the outcome, and they buy on transformation. So, it might seem quite funny calling a Chinese a transformation, but it is. You’re transforming your evening into something that’s really quiet and relaxing and fun, and we all want a bit of fun don’t we?

Nicola, The People Mentor:
That’s one of the things that comes across from you is that you’re very much into fun and it’s in a nice, kind way which is important.
Helen Sparks:
Well, it’s very, very important to me and it’s a fundamental principle of my business, is to change the way that people think about selling and think about putting their services in front of people in a way that feels really good. Both for them and the person that they’re speaking to. Long-time ago, when I first started my selling journey, I came out of university, had no idea what I wanted to do. I saw this beautiful pair of red boots in the shop window. And these boots were expensive. They were 500 pounds. I went back to my grandmother and I said, “I’ve seen these beautiful pair of boots,” and she gave me that look that said, don’t even think about asking for the money.

I thought, well, how do I buy these boots? So I thought I’ll get a job. I saw this advert for this engineering company and they wanted a telly salesperson. And I thought, how hard can it be to sell stuff? So, I went in and to this day I have no idea how I got that job because it was pure blagging on my part, with a considerable amount of charm and sheer determination that I was going to have this job no matter what. Now, this was a place of 35 engineers and me. So no other women in the office, it was just me and these 35 engineers that had done things in a certain way for a very long time.

I was new and whole new experience for them, a new way of doing things and a way of getting business in the door. The MD sat me in the middle of the office and I had various people going around me all day.  I happened to throw a mug of coffee over the co-owner that morning, because of nerves I couldn’t get my words out in the right order.  He gave me this list of people to call and I had no idea what to do or where to start. So after rearranging my stapler and my phone for what seemed like hours, he politely came over to me and said, “When are you going to start calling?” Because, you know, time is getting on.

I was so nervous, Nicola, that all of this anxiety and anxiousness and nervousness, whatever you want to call it. I picked up the receiver and before I could actually get out, “This is Helen from …” this nausea, just bubbling up my stomach, almost into the back of my throat and I could feel it coming up. I dropped the phone and ran into the corridor and I’m ashamed to say I threw up in the corridor. All over the wall.  All over the commemorative plaque, I was horrified.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
I bet you were mortified.

Helen Sparks:
Absolutely horrified and I cleaned myself up and cleaned everything up as best I could. Slunk back into the office to get my bag and leave. And the MD caught me and said, “Come into my office.” And I thought, at that moment, I would actually be sacked because who wants a telly sales advisor who can’t actually talk on the phone?  He sat me down, and I will never ever forget his words of wisdom. He said to me, “Selling is just a conversation. That’s all it is. I will teach you how to sell. I have faith in you.” And I said, “I can’t do this.” He said, “If you don’t come back to this office at half-past eight tomorrow morning, I will come and get you.”

So he changed my whole perception of MD’s, of office work, of telly sales, of how sales could be. And he gave me that foundation. So that is what I do with my clients. I give them that foundation of certainty that it’s just a conversation. Some people will buy from you, some people won’t, and that is absolutely okay because the people that buy from you are your soul aligning clients. They love you. They are your raving fans.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
I love that story. What a lovely MD.

Helen Sparks:
He was amazing. We kept in touch long after I left the business and he was like a surrogate dad to me. He was absolutely amazing, and it could have turned out so different. But that’s what gave me the foundation. And, of course, I got the boots as well because I brought them in so much business he actually paid half of them for me.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
That was all right, then.

Helen Sparks:
Because I told him that was the reason why I went to the job.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
Well, what a lovely story. I love that.  I notice that you do copywriting, one-to-one’s, and corporate training. And I wondered which is your favourite element, or is it something else that I haven’t said?

Helen Sparks:
Well, copywriting is selling in written format.  I really love working with clients and getting their message really clear. It’s amazing to see someone go from zero sales to selling out their online program or event. I do love writing very much and I often work into the wee small hours on a project.  I think, essentially, I love them all the same. They just bring me different things. Because one-to-one’s are very special because you get to work closely with someone in their business.

You get to the nitty-gritty of things at a deeper level; both personally and professionally. And you really get to understand how the blocks have come about and how to get that mindset shift, because it’s all about mindset. Mindset is 90% of what you can do because if you believe you could do something, you absolutely will. I think that’s the famous quote, isn’t it? You either believe you can or you can’t. Or something to that effect.

Corporate training is so much fun, but again, completely different because I help companies who want to develop their sales teams. And I worked with a client a few weeks ago. I went in and they weren’t performing very well. Sales were low and the MD was actually going to get rid of the whole sales department because he was operating at such a loss. And it was a simple thing, and I know you can relate to this so much with what you do and the transformation that you bring to teams, is that if the motivation isn’t there and the systems and the strategy isn’t there, then the teams are just bound to fail anyway.

And these teams just did not feel heard at all. They didn’t felt as if they were listened to, the targets were unrealistic. Every time they raised something that could change, they felt as if they weren’t listened to and they’d been doing the same things over and over again, again, for sort of 20 years or so.

But at the end of this, it was incredible because the team transformed within a week or so. They started bringing in more and more sales because they felt part of the business, and they felt really motivated and believed in what they could do again.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
That makes total sense. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Because I’ve worked for the team recently where they felt they didn’t have a real sense of what the business was about, what their role was in the business. And as a result, they were really half-hearted about what they were doing. They weren’t bothered.

Helen Sparks:
As you know, happy teams make more money.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
Exactly, they do.

Helen Sparks:
It was really funny. I know that everybody has different ways to break the ice. But they were so wary of me when I came in and it’s like, “Oh, it’s just another consultant with, you know, hare-brained ideas and they don’t care about us.” So I got a toilet roll out of my bag and I put it on the table and I said to them, “Oh, it’s okay, that’s for your tears later.” They looked at me in absolute horror, which is well they should. I said to them, “I’m joking. What I would like you to do is take as much toilet paper as you would normally use.” So most people would take sort of like, you know, three or four sheets.

It created a buzz because they thought, what on earth is this woman going to be doing with us now? There was about 10 of them and each took off a section of the toilet roll.  I said, “Now tell me three or four facts about yourself and why you are here.” So that was a great ice breaker and how I could then work out where the divisions were in the team and one of the key divisions where a mother and a daughter.

The mother was constantly telling the daughter what to do and say, where the daughter had these really innovative ideas and she was just such a little firecracker. When her mum was out of the room, I mean her mum was lovely as well, but when her mum was out of the room, she kind of came alive. So that was so, so interesting.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
That’s kind of goes because the mother was in the parent role. Oh, fascinating. I like the story there. Where do you think business owners fall down in their business, when they’re trying to get customers?

Helen Sparks:
They don’t do enough lead generation and they don’t do it consistently.  What often happens is that people think, I can’t get any clients, they’re afraid to pick up the phone, they don’t follow up with people who have inquired about their services, and they don’t know how to ask for the sale. There’s quite a lot there. Let’s start with lead generation. As I’ve said, the act of selling is simply a conversation. So, you’re helping them and you’re coming from a place of service, not manipulation.

It’s really important to do that lead generation from that place of value and service. So what I always say to people is, you should be contacting people in various ways – social media, direct mail, telephone calls. However, you feel comfortable, you should be contacting at least 10 people a day or getting people to come to you, say, via a lead magnet every single day. Do that lead generation every single day.

Because if you had a big enough funnel, the ones who don’t buy straight away from you won’t be an issue. You have this huge funnel of people who are aware of you, and then it’s then having a goal with what you’re going to do with them. Say, for instance, you are launching an online program and you want to get people onto your online program. You then get people to download your lead magnet, so they download your lead magnet and you say, “Do you want to be part of my newsletter a week? Do you want to keep in touch?” Some will say yes.  Then you can say to others, “Would you like a telephone call?” Depending on how that relationship has grown and evolved. Some people will jump at the chance of having a phone call with you, but it’s all about nurturing. It’s all about looking at that buyer’s cycle. It’s raising awareness. It’s having that goal of what you’re going to do with them, how you’re going to do it, and then getting those clients on board; which is the fourth pillar, which is, essentially, the profit.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
That makes all sense. Thank you for that. That’s really useful. I’m sure people listening will find that helpful.

Helen Sparks:
I was just going to say, whatever you do, do it with consistency and on purpose. Because the perspective clients that you’re connecting with are real human beings, they have real desires and real problems. So they’re just like you and the more you can put yourself in their shoes, the better.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
And funnily enough, you sort of say consistency. I interviewed John Lammerton and it went live this week. He was very interesting and he talked about routines, which is a similar theme really, isn’t it?
I’ve got his book yet to read. I don’t know if you’ve, have you heard of John Lammerton before?

Helen Sparks:
I have, but I haven’t got his book.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
I’ll let you know whether it’s worth reading.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
What’s the biggest challenge you face since being in business?

Helen Sparks:
The challenge I faced right at the beginning was people not paying on time, or not at all. But I changed that totally now because I now get paid upfront or at least 50% of the project upfront.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
Sound a sensible solution and I know that this is an issue for a lot of businesses, isn’t it?

Helen Sparks:
It is and sometimes people are afraid of contacting those who owe them money.  It’s really good to have a system in place of what you’re going to do if a client is late paying you. I mean, we’re all in business. We all know that sometimes cash flow isn’t what it could be. If we are open and honest, and if we contact a client and that client says, “Look, I’m sorry, I know I’m late. Can I pay you in two weeks’ time? I’m expecting another client or pay me.” That is absolutely fine, because you have that parameter. It’s different from, say, a corporate who has a 30 day invoice period that stretches to 90 days.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
Yes, that’s about being understanding and bringing out your kind side when it’s a small business who’s struggling.

Helen Sparks:
If people are honest, I mean, it happens to me sometimes now when people say, “Look, I’m sorry, I’ll pay in a couple of days’ time.” And that’s absolutely okay. Usually when it’s the other half of the project. But it doesn’t happen very much anymore, I have to say. Because they’ve usually got so many clients in and such a great funnel, that unless it’s a huge corporate client, which has happened, it’s not usually a case.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
That’s interesting and that’s another tip because we fail to think about if we don’t get paid. So that’s a really good one to plan out and work out what you’re going to do. So thank you for that, Helen.

Helen Sparks:
Oh, it’s my pleasure.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
What would your number one piece of advice to people who wanted to start their own business be?

Helen Sparks:
Well, firstly, look at what your message is. So, understand exactly what you’re doing for your perspective clients, and understand your message and who you’re selling to, and why they will actually buy from you. Be very clear in what you’re doing and why people would want your services.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
I think sometimes, don’t you think you almost go into justification mode and go over the top and then actually miss out the key bit at the end, as you pointed out to me earlier?

Helen Sparks:
People buy, as I said, on value and they buy on the outcome. When they understand the transformation and the outcome that you’ll bring, that’s what’s actually going to make them buy from you.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
That’s another piece of advice for anybody who’s in business even now, and not just starting up., Thank you for that.

Helen Sparks:
Often, keep it as simple as possible. Think about explaining what you do to someone who is five years old and they understand what you can do, you can sell your services. If you’ve got any five-year-old nieces, nephews or daughters, sit them in front of you and say, “This is what I do.” If they understand it, then you can start selling to a client.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
When I first started and I tried to explain to my youngest daughter, she looked at me and said, “I just don’t get it mum, and I’m not interested.” Presumably, you’ve had previous managers in your life, in your career.  Have you got anything that you learned from them that was good or bad? Either way, that you’ve taken with you since?

Helen Sparks:
I think one of the key pieces of advice that I had was a course from my manager who helped me in the very start of my career, and all of the advice that he gave me that sat me up through what I’m doing now. I also learned a tremendous amount from the managers from subsequent businesses that I was involved in, as directors and business development directors.

And, it was actually something that you touched on earlier is, be kind. Whatever happens, just be kind. You don’t have to be ruthless, you don’t have to hustle, you don’t have to grind, you don’t have to be abrasive. You can be kind, you can still be forceful and get your point across. And that person who buys from you will stay with you far longer than you manipulating someone into a sale.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
Exactly. And it’s so true, isn’t it? If you would start your business again from scratch, would you do anything differently?

Helen Sparks:
I would probably do it sooner.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
How many years has it been going, Helen?

Helen Sparks:
Well, in various guises. I did my telemarketing business for seven years and then moved into training. So just over 10 years now, I would say. But as I said, I’ve been in sales for a very long time. I would probably start sooner because when I started my business it was because of redundancy, and things didn’t quite work out with the job that I was in.  I’d gone networking and a lot of people had said to me, “You should really do this for yourself, you know, you’re really good at it.”

You toy with the idea and then you kind of just carry on as normal. And I got made redundant and I booked a holiday and I had a holiday that was just amazing.  I went on holiday and I came back and I had 20 pounds in the bank. That’s all I had was 20 pounds left.  I thought you need to do something quite quickly. You have rent, you have bills, and you’ve been a bit irresponsible.

Helen Sparks:

I decided then to get on the phone and contacted all the people that I had met and who had some degree of services that they needed selling, and within four days I had £2K in the bank.  So there is nothing, to all those people listening, there is nothing that you cannot do that will change your situation at this moment. If your bank account is looking very lean, you can change that. I promise you. All you need is a mindset shift and a clear idea of what you can do and how you are going to do it. Because I promise you, you can.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
That’s really inspirational.  So, that actually takes me on to who or what is your inspiration?

Helen Sparks:
Oh, I have so many people who have touched my life and inspire me. My husband (we just got married) inspires me every single day because he pushes me to always do more, and be more, and achieve more of my full potential. And the other people who inspire me are probably the coaches that I’ve done commission-only selling for in the past, who have always inspired me with their drive, their relentless pursuit in helping people and the way they’ve done it.

Helen Sparks:
I went on honeymoon on the Orient Express and it was just the most incredible experience. It was just magical.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
I said to Helen, she needs to write about it because it sounds wonderful.

Helen Sparks:
I will, Nicola, I will.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
We all heard that and we’ll hold you to it. What’s the biggest tip you would share with other business owners for them to take away from this podcast?

Helen Sparks:
I think I’ve touched on this already, but it deserves repeating. Do lead generation every single day. Watch your mindset and the mind monkeys. Believe in yourself, understand who you are selling to, what your message is and why they will buy from you.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
I think that’s a lovely summing up. Thank you, Helen, it’s been a pleasure.

Helen Sparks:
My pleasure, thank you so much for the invitation. I’ve absolutely loved talking to you.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
I’ve learned a lot more about you. I’ve learned a lot more about your business, which is brilliant, and the tips that you’ve given are so, so helpful.  Well, that’s it for today. Thank you, Helen.

Helen Sparks:
Thanks, everyone.

Nicola, The People Mentor:
This is The Nicola, The People Mentor signing off until next time. Thank you.

 

Want to find out more about Helen then visit Helen’s profile here

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Helen’s website

 

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