September 26, 2021

Real Life Business Lessons: From panic to prosperity for Kiwi lead generation firm

Many years ago I discovered a simple business success strategy.

Talk to successful business people and ask them two things: What did they do to build their successful business and how did they handle the many challenges along the way?

Whenever I do this I’m amazed at the terrific ideas I get and that’s the purpose of this new series, Real Life Business Lessons.

I’ll be interviewing a wide range of successful business people around the country and finding out what worked well for them and how they solved big problems along the way, with the goal of uncovering some helpful ideas that you can use in your own business.

* A pair of clever marketing strategies to help you get your business noticed
* The importance of looking for good news even in the middle of bad experiences
* If you want more sales for your business, you need to change your ‘mental model’
* There’s often a simple, creative solution to your sales problem

A few days ago I interviewed Lisa Barker the owner of a telemarketing business called Hot Leads.

Lisa started her business 14 years ago and offers a variety of services including telemarketing and telesales, appointment setting, fundraising and event support market research and surveys, and database acquisition and cleansing.

When she first started her business Lisa took a very different approach from the majority of telemarketing firms.

She only hired consultants who had extensive business and sales experience, and most importantly had the smarts to quickly understand how to meet the objectives of any telemarketing campaign and deliver results (The majority of her consultants are aged between 35 and 55, and they have excellent verbal communication skills combined with very good keyboard skills)

The consultants Lisa hired had to be very comfortable speaking to a diverse range of contacts, many of whom are highly ranked position titles across many industries. They had to be able to think on their feet and be highly adaptive in their approach to the conversation, depending on who they’re speaking with, or the industry type.

When she first started her business Lisa Barker took a very different approach from the majority of telemarketing firms.


When she first started her business Lisa Barker took a very different approach from the majority of telemarketing firms.

By hiring very good people to start with Hot Leads was able to do away with old-fashioned phone scripts.

Instead, her consultants engage in high quality consultative conversations and gather valuable information and set-appointments for their clients through the natural progression of a good quality discussion.

Lisa discovered a long time ago that “you get what you pay for in business” so she makes sure her consultants are all extremely well paid.

Hiring new high quality consultants like this is always a challenge for Lisa. Many times, she has placed an ad on Seek, received a hundred CVs and recruited no-one.

The upside of hiring very good people is that Lisa has found her consultants love their work, they have a lot of variety and are well paid, so they tend to stay with her for a long time.

When Lisa first started out she found her prices were at the top end of the market because of the high quality staff she employed and many times potential clients would choose a cheaper alternative.

However, the clients that did use her services loved the remarkable results she achieved, and they became loyal raving fans who used her services over and over again and over 14 years Lisa built up a very successful business.

At the start of 2020 things were looking good for Hot Leads.

They had telemarketing campaigns booked for dozens of well-known businesses and organisations, a high performing team of consultants and life was sweet.

And then the world changed overnight.

On March 25th, 2020 the whole country went into a level 4 lockdown because of Covid 19 and the vast majority of businesses were forced to close.

In the few days leading up to lockdown Lisa found her inbox was full with cancelled or deferred telemarketing campaigns.

All but one campaign was cancelled, and that campaign only continued because Hot Leads were supporting a formalised election process for a business association, who had no choice but to keep going with their election process.

Lisa knew that her campaigns supported many industries and she found it horrible to know that her clients were really hurting.

(Hot Leads supported businesses in the corporate travel industry and many professional and charitable events, and these businesses were among the hardest hit and Lisa felt their pain.)

As Lisa commented, ‘Event planning is huge, you have everything on the line and incur all the expenses upfront, then not be able to run these events is devastating for these businesses.’

Lisa took drastic action when she realised that she suddenly had no clients using her telemarketing services.

First of all she locked her business down. She talked to her landlord who was amazing and really helped her out.

So Lisa was able to minimise her expenses and could survive for a while with zero income.

A huge bonus of the first lock down was that Lisa found that for the first time in 14 years she could really think about her business.


The Detail: From lockdown to recovery – tracking a small business during Covid-19 pandemic. (First published June 30, 2020)

Up until then there was never any time to do that.

Whilst the current situation was far from ideal, Lisa only panicked for a day or two then she relaxed and focussed on the positives.

She knew that had a great business.

She had an amazing team of consultants behind her.

Her clients loved Hot Leads and even the ones who couldn’t engage with them right now, would be back as soon as they were able.

Lisa held a workshop with her team and identified industry niches they believed would thrive or survive after the lock down.

Lisa then began reaching out to key people in these industries about doing work for them when the lock down ended.

Then Lisa looked at some of the business that had been coming in that in the past she had decided she didn’t want to do and had handed over to a competitor.

She decided not to do that any more. Instead, she found a way to get great results in that industry and said ‘yes’ to all work in that field.

She initially used her existing team for that work and then recruited a new team for this industry to meet demand. The result of saying ‘yes’ to work she previously said ‘no’ to is that it opened the door to many new campaigns, and they have booked hundreds of hours of new work already.

Another key change Lisa made was renegotiating with her suppliers. She realised that Hot Lead are actually very good clients for all their suppliers, because Hot Leads always paid their invoices on time and was very loyal.

One of those negotiations meant Hot Leads saved a good amount of money and were able to be far more competitive in one of the key services they offered. (This instantly increased sales of that service).

Lisa also found a simple way to streamline the online ordering process for new clients that saved her a huge amount of time every month.

As soon as the first lock down ended Lisa was back and up running very quickly, and when the second lock down happened (where Auckland went to Level 3 and the rest of the country went to level 2) it hardly affected Hot Leads at all.

Today Lisa is delighted to report that all her consultants are back working and are fully booked (Which is a great relief).

Hot Leads have new clients and their regular clients are all back or in the process of coming back (except for their corporate travel and events clients).

I asked Lisa what key messages she would like to pass on to other small businesses here in NZ right now about handling the challenges of a different environment.

Lisa said that first of all you want to take a deep breath and relax. Focus on ‘why’ you’re in business. What do you do well? Who loves you? Put all your energy into doing your best business with your best clients or prospects.

Secondly, you want to get clear on your own unique selling propositions (USPs) and alue propositions (VPs), then shout them from the rooftops!

Thirdly audit your own business. Where is the business bleeding money? Are you giving away money? (Lisa identified areas she was doing both of these things in her own business). Then identify and execute proven marketing strategies that will deliver a positive return on your investment.

Finally, get your delighted clients to do your selling for you. You can do this by collecting and using client testimonials and client case studies.

You can see some excellent examples of positive case studies that Hot Leads has achieved for their own clients here.

One of the big things I’ve noticed about being in business is that it can consume a huge amount of time and energy.

So I asked Lisa to share some of the fun things she does in her spare time to keep some balance in her life.

Here is what she told me she does:

  • I call my Mum every day on the drive to work. I’m so lucky to have both my parents in my life and I adore my big-little bro too.
  • I love hanging out with my amazing and diverse group of friends and family. It’s awesome to be able to be yourself through the good and challenging times. I am loved and accepted by them. Always.
  • I love talking to random strangers (despite the cringes from my kids).
  • I really appreciate that we live in such a gorgeous country, when out walking the pooch around Auckland’s waterfront after a hard day at work.


Lisa has done a number of very simple things to build a successful business in a highly competitive field.

And she took action and made some positive changes to handle the two lock downs that have had such a major impact on businesses up and down the country.

Is there anything that Lisa did that you could use in some way in your own business to improve your results?

Graham McGregor is a marketing adviser. You can get his free 129-page marketing guide, ‘The Plan B Sales Solution,’ here.

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