As the Business Development Executive (BD) for The Data Lab’s TORCH service, no two days are the same for Lauren Spark. Having worked across Scotland’s Data and Analytics space for years, Lauren’s goal is to understand The Data Lab customer’s specific needs and ensure their desired project is a success.
But how did Lauren get here? In honour of National Business Women’s Day, we spoke to her to discover what brought her to her job in the TORCH team, what she learned along the way, and what she’s doing to support future generations of BD and sales professionals.
Data Technology Business Development Executive isn’t a job role that you hear a lot of teachers talking about. Was your role something that you’d always aimed for, or something that came about gradually?
For my teenage self, it certainly wasn’t a career choice that I had in mind. Initially, I wanted to get involved in biomedical research. Then I looked into a career in teaching, volunteering in local primary schools, until I realised that education wasn’t going to be the route for me either. My parents came from hard working backgrounds and made it clear that if I wasn’t going to University, then I needed to go out and get a job, and so that’s how I started out in sales. Slowly I started to work my way up, starting in contact centers organisations that sold multiple products; everything from insurance to telephone/mobile packages.
And did sales in technology come quickly?
Not necessarily. The first job I ever had was selling advertising space for police magazines. Our role was to sit with the Yellow Pages and a telephone! From this, I moved to a more structured, targeted sales role. I took a lot of pride in what I was doing and built it up from there.
My next move was an organisation who specialised in private medical insurance. I was there for 6 years. This led me to my first steps in business development. I was the only Business Development Exec for a private insurance brokers, filling new business appointments for 2 Directors and 7 Account Managers. It was from there that I moved into my role in Tech with one of Scotland’s leading independent data and analytics practices, Eyecademy. It was a real learning curve for getting up to speed with different technologies, and what really gave me the ‘data bug’.
I’d gotten a little bit of an insight into data and analytics because of some of the conversations around insurance policies. The more I saw, the more I thought, “I don’t want to be selling insurance products. I want to be talking about how organizations can use their own information to solve problems and challenges”. I wanted to be involved in finding solutions. When the opportunity arose to go and speak with the MD of Eyecademy, it seemed like a no-brainer. They very kindly offered me the job and the chance to prove myself, despite the fact that I didn’t necessarily have the tech experience.
Why do you think they gave you the job without the tech background?
I was a go-getter. I’ve always believed that you sell two things: trust and confidence. That thing you’re selling, your product, most people can go anywhere to buy that. They could go to multiple sources to get the same thing. The reason somebody comes back to a company or an individual is because they trust them, they have confidence in the guidance they’ll give them. Big commissions have never really been my driver, I’ve always enjoyed meeting people, understanding their challenges, and finding ways to genuinely help solve them.
Can you tell us what you do in terms of The Data Lab’s TORCH service?
I’m that first point of contact for people that might want to work with us. My role is really about understanding where an organisation is on their journey. What talent and skills have they got in-house? How they can take advantage of that? Where are the gaps? Once we’ve identified those gaps, I can look at where The Data Lab as a whole (not just TORCH), can support them. And it’s not just the how, but also when is the right time to bring in different levels/types of support. It’s not about getting people through a specific TORCH door, it’s about building longer-term relationships.
You’ve been involved in mentoring programmes to help others, why did you decide to start doing that, and what does it involve?
I got involved in the Dell STEM Aspire programme because I remember what is was like when I started my career journey. Picking up the phone to call somebody for the first time, I remember feeling so nervous that I couldn’t even remember what I’d said afterwards. I’ve spent years building the confidence to be able to speak to people and, for the students I’m looking to support, one of their biggest challenges is knocking on the door and having that first conversation. Regardless of whether you’re going university, or straight into work, at some point, you’re going to have to go and see potential employers and stand out. I think it’s a great skill set to be able to pass on to somebody.
There are actually 9 female TDL staff taking part as mentors in the 2021-22 programme, which is a real incentive for those looking to sign up. We have a real mix of talent and personality types across our organisation, and it’s really inspiring to see so many dedicate their time to others.
For someone looking to get some into your role, where would you recommend they start?
Leaving school or university, you come out with some incredible qualifications, and you’re very well prepared in certain aspects, but you’re not prepared for working in industry. You’re not prepared for the demand, or the pressure managers and organisations are under. You are rarely exposed to the emotion that comes with the business.
With that in mind, a mentorship program is a real bonus, but any experience within sales is it a good one, regardless of the sector.
What’s one piece of advice you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
Be aware of your own value. I wish that I’d stood my ground quicker and demanded what I was worth sooner. I wish someone had pushed me to believe in my own ability as sales person, because now, the feedback and the reputation I’ve built is something I’m proud of. I really believe in what I’m selling. I’m not spinning any exaggerations to get the result that I want. People really pick up on that, and I wish I’d sold that personal trait earlier in my journey.
Learn more about how Lauren and the TORCH team are helping businesses take their next transformational steps in our TORCH case studies.