Leaders’ Insights: Liz Fulham, SalesOptimize

1 Feb 2017

Liz Fulham, CEO of SalesOptimize. Image: Dublin Globe

Liz Fulham is CEO of B2B e-commerce company SalesOptimize.

With more than 25 years of experience working in sales and consultancy for large companies such as PayPal, Microsoft and IBM, Liz Fulham is well equipped to head leading sales and marketing intelligence platform SalesOptimize.

While working at PayPal, she noted the difficulty in sourcing high-quality sales leads, which is what inspired her to set up SalesOptimize with Colm Ahern in 2013.

While start-up life can be hectic and time-consuming, she has no regrets about leaving the corporate sector to enter the field of entreneurship.

Describe your role and what you do.

I am the CEO of SalesOptimize, which is an e-commerce market intelligence and lead generation company. We are a start-up that just launched last year. This means I wear many hats, as I currently manage sales, marketing, fundraising, operations and finance.

I spend most of my time on sales, which I love. I also enjoy designing product and technical solutions, as my head is spinning with ideas all the time. I love working with our CTO Noel Lysaght, who is a rock of sense, and together we are building a company that is proving to be quite popular with payments, shipping, logistics, marketing and manufacturing companies. We have already won many great brands to our name, such as XPO Logistics, DPD, InPost, Nightline, Bank of Ireland, Yodel, Worldline and Worldnet, to mention a few.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I normally rise between 6-6.30am. I have breakfast at home and work on some tasks before seeing the kids off to school. My husband then drives me into work, which gives me the opportunity to bounce around some business ideas, including the company infographics, which he helps to design.

Once at work, I jump right in and concentrate heavily on the sales and marketing tasks. When I get home from work, we have our family dinner. After this, I open my laptop and I work on finance, legal, funding and product jobs until late into the night. Weekends are spent catching up on the week’s emails and planning the sales approach for the following week.

Start-ups are extremely busy, but the days are a lot of fun. I have no regrets about leaving the secure world of the corporate sector. In start-ups, you get to see your ideas come to light within hours, not days.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

While there has been great innovation in CRM and inbound marketing tools, there has been little to no innovation in market intelligence and lead generation. On top of this, sales lead generation has had some bad press. Many companies spent their valuable budget buying lists of sales leads only to find that the quality is poor, as the sales lead may already be an existing customer or a prospect in their CRM. In addition to this, they may also find that the contact name is no longer with the company.

We are resolving these problems as our platform is based on trust. A customer can see every sales lead before they buy. This means that they never buy duplicate leads. We also resolve the problem of old data, as we update our database directly from the internet. We extract contact data from websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other sources.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The internet is the new marketplace. Existing sales lead data providers are struggling to analyse it due to its sheer scale – more than 1bn websites have been created since the internet began. We solve this problem by scanning the internet with our proprietary technology of webots, crawlers, scrappers and analysers. Once we find a web shop, we convert this into a sales leads, which businesses can review in our cloud base platform. The e-commerce market is currently valued in excess of $1.9trn dollars and many companies want to have a slice of the pie.

Manufacturers and B2B companies have field sales people who they send to a ‘bricks-and-mortar’ premises, such as Harrods or Walmart, for example, for a sales meeting. But where do you send your sales people when you want to sell to online retailers ? SalesOptimize presents the solution to this problem. We have mapped the internet and can provide detailed contact information on each of these retailers.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

A few years ago, I was the European telesales manager for Paypal, with a sales team of more than 70 people. Generating high-quality sales leads was the number one problem for the sales team. We had great people, but we never had enough leads. This experience inspired me to set up SalesOptimize, as I wanted all businesses to have an equal opportunity to exploit this new marketplace.

Christopher Columbus chartered the New World, SalesOptimize wants to charter the world of the internet  in terms of e-commerce retailers. I love hearing the customer’s sheer excitement and the realisation of the power of our product when we demo to them. They are truly surprised to find some great online retailers that they had never heard of.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

My biggest mistake was not doing a start-up sooner! I made so much money for large corporates, and now it is time to do this for my investors, staff and family. I love working in Ireland. We have a great community of business leaders and the support in my network is great. I wonder where I would be now if I became an entrepreneur 20 years ago!

How do you get the best out of your team?

Lead from the front. Roll up my sleeves and do the sales calls, write the blogs, design the product or whatever is needed. I prefer to empower the team to greatness by trusting and respecting them. I also believe in setting clear measurable goals, which are given twice a year.

I regularly ask the team for feedback, for instance, should we ‘stop’, ‘start’ or ‘continue’? This really helps the team to focus on what is critical to revenue, what is just a great idea, and what is a bad practice that we should stop.

Every Monday morning, we have a team meeting where they can bring up ideas and suggestions. Hiring great people is critical to the company’s sustained long-term success.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to effect change?

I grew up in an age when I could not take physics or chemistry in secondary school. Regrettably, this problem stills exists today. We need to start teaching young girls how to code. We need to make chemistry and physics available in all girls’ secondary schools. We need more women as role models showing young girls that you can be both a business leader and lead in a STEM field.

I love mathematics and I taught my daughters and son math from the time they could crawl. All three children are now doing higher-level maths in secondary school. We all have a responsibility to break through this ceiling. We as parents can make the difference by encouraging the next generation to love STEM subjects and by making computer coding available in primary school.

Who is your role model and why?

Angel Merkel. I am inspired by how she has kept her head while Europe has been going through a very difficult period. She has been able to give a safe haven to over 1m migrants, which has put incredible pressure on her party and her own political future. She is an incredible leader and full of compassion. I hope to lead my company with the same grace, clever thinking and commitment to the greater good.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

For business, I recommend reading Slicing Pie: Funding Your Company Without Funds [by Mike Moyer], which helps start-ups to understand who to give shares to and how much.

During my downtime, I love fantasy books like Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson or The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R Donaldson. I read Lord of the Rings when I was quite young and I remember secretly reading the autobiography of Idi Amin until my father caught me and forbade me to read his books again. I was only eight years old at the time, and so did not comprehend half of it. Thank God there was no Google back then.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Lots of hot tea and a strong positive attitude.

I have an Excel file where I track all the key metrics of my sales and marketing team. This is my day-to-day file of all that is important.

I use Microsoft OneNote to keep a note of all information about the business, and ideas.

I use SharePoint to share the files and provide calendar updates with the team.

I use Mouseflow to watch and observe users on our app or on our website, which enables me to see how they are using the tool so I can discuss their experience more when we do a callback.

I love Ahrefs for monitoring marketing activities and Jira for tracking bugs, issues and new features for our products and services.

The best part of the day is having lunch with the team to catch up with their news and answer their questions. Always keep the customer at the heart of what you are doing. Solving their problems is your number one task. Listening is the best tool!