Driven to help women suc­ceed

ELEN STEIN­BERG SPP MAR­KET­ING SER­VICES

National Post (Latest Edition) - - WOMAN OF POWER - KATHYRN BOOTHBY POST­MEDIA CON­TENT WORKS

Afear­less en­tre­pre­neur, com­mit­ted ad­vo­cate for ad­vance­ment of women and strong pro­po­nent of women in sales ca­reers. These at­tributes, com­bined with keen busi­ness acu­men, have earned Elen Stein­berg her sec­ond Women’s Ex­ec­u­tive Net­work CIBC En­trepreneur­s Award in ad­di­tion to be­ing rec­og­nized nu­mer­ous times in the top 40 of the Top 100 Women Busi­ness Own­ers in Canada by Profit and Chate­laine.

Stein­berg is the pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of SPP Mar­ket­ing Ser­vices, an in­te­grated com­pany of­fer­ing ex­pe­ri­en­tial cus­tomer ac­qui­si­tion ser­vices for credit card and con­sumer goods com­pa­nies. She is also the pub­lisher of Real Style, an award­win­ning fash­ion mag­a­zine that was the first to of­fer shop-able con­tent di­rect from dig­i­tal pages.

Stein­berg left univer­sity with a com­mu­ni­ca­tions and jour­nal­ism de­gree in hand and took on free­lance as­sign­ments and in­tern­ships in the Toronto broad­cast­ing scene. Work­ing as a brand am­bas­sador at a TV sta­tion’s booths for com­mu­nity events taught her about the pro­mo­tional staffing in­dus­try — which pro­vided sam­pling, prod­uct demos and other ex­pe­ri­en­tial ser­vices for var­i­ous con­sumer fo­cused com­pa­nies.

Although still pur­su­ing a po­si­tion in jour­nal­ism, Stein­berg en­joyed the pub­lic in­ter­ac­tion that came with the events. At 21, a tran­sit ad­ver­tise­ment caught Stein­berg’s eye. The fed­eral govern­ment was look­ing for young en­trepreneur­s to help set up in busi­ness. “I called with the idea of cre­at­ing a pro­mo­tional staffing agency,” she says. “They gave me a $5,000 loan and a mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant who mo­ti­vated me to get out of bed ev­ery morn­ing and make sales calls.”

And that’s how Stein­berg brought SPP Mar­ket­ing Ser­vices (SPP) to life in 1987, in a down­town Toronto apart­ment. She man­aged to get a one- page brochure of­fer­ing prod­uct de­mon­stra­tors and hosts in­serted into an ex­hibitor pack­age for the Cana­dian National Ex­hi­bi­tion (CNE).

It brought in her first client — an agency work­ing with the On­tario Lot­tery Cor­po­ra­tion. Stein­berg’s com­pany at the time con­sisted of her and a girl­friend.

“We were asked if we had an­nounc­ers who could go on stage to present. I knew we could do it and said yes, de­spite hav­ing never done it be­fore. The event was a great suc­cess and re­ally got me ex- cited about build­ing the busi­ness,” she says.

On the heels of the CNE suc­cess, Stein­berg’s per­se­ver­ance, am­bi­tion and cold calls to hun­dreds of com­pa­nies gained SPP new clients and saw the com­pany par­tic­i­pate in more than 1,600 cor­po­rate events and trade shows ex­pand­ing across Canada with hun­dreds of well trained brand am­bas­sadors.

In 1995, after a suc­cess­ful cam­paign at Toronto’s Pear­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port for a tele­com client, Stein­berg saw a new op­por­tu­nity in the travel and fi­nan­cial sec­tor at this venue. She wrote the rules of con­duct for air­port sales kiosk staffing — a doc­u­ment that was sub­se­quently adapted to all North Amer­i­can air­port leas­ing agency agree­ments for manned dis­play kiosks — and de­vel­oped an air­port- based new cus­tomer ac­qui­si­tion pro­gram specif­i­cally for credit card cus­tomers.

“These pro­grams brought a tri­fecta of suc­cess,” says Stein­berg. “Our top- notch staff met the be­hav­iour and pro­fes­sion­al­ism needs of air­port au­thor­i­ties and brought qual­ity, long-term cus­tomers to our clients. It also helped SPP build a pas­sion­ate and ef­fec­tive sales force and be the pri­mary sales agency in the Cana­dian air­port space.”

Since then, SPP has ex­panded to ev­ery ma­jor city in Canada, with over 500 staff and long term man­age­ment, has gone on to launch al­most ev­ery ma­jor travel credit card in the coun­try and has signed up mil­lions of cus­tomers for fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions that in­clude CIBC, RBC, Scotiabank, Amex, BMO and TD. Stein­berg cred­its her ded­i­cated staff for help­ing SPP be­come the leader it is to­day. “I may have the ideas, and fear­less- ness, but a team that sup­ports and be­lieves in you and keeps you on an even keel is price­less,” she says. “I couldn’t have done it with­out them.”

Her hir­ing strat­egy for the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been clear from the start. Stein­berg is a cham­pion for women in sales and be­lieves it to be the fastest way for a fe­male to rise through the ranks.

“You can be a top sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive in any or­ga­ni­za­tion, the fi­nan­cial re­wards are great and you are ba­si­cally writ­ing your own pay­cheque,” she says. “There is much less of a gen­der bias nor glass ceil­ing, and sales can be the step­ping stone to ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions.”

Women from di­verse back­grounds rep­re­sent 70 per cent of the SPP work­force and fill 80 per cent of man­age­ment po­si­tions. “Many of the women we hire are im­mi­grants, vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties or those re-en­ter­ing the work­force,” notes Stein­berg. “There are so many sto­ries of phe­nom­e­nal women who are un­able to get work be­cause their résumés or cir­cum­stances don’t fit the norm. We give them an op­por­tu­nity to write their own fu­ture based on per­son­al­ity, strong work ethics and loy­alty. In many in­stances, they be­come the pri­mary bread­win­ner in the family.”

De­vel­op­ing these amaz­ing women has paid great div­i­dends — SPP has the high­est re­ten­tion rate in Canada’s di­rect sales in­dus­try, says Stein­berg. Sales reps have an av­er­age ten­ure of over seven years and on the man­age­ment team longevity is typ­i­cally more than 10 years.

“It is a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship — the bet­ter our em­ploy­ees do, the bet­ter the com­pany does. We want them to be the best they can be. That they stay is a tes­ta­ment to our be­lief and in­vest­ment in them. It is a true part­ner­ship with no lim­its.”

By help­ing oth­ers you help your­self, adds Stein­berg, which is why her busi­ness is cen­tred on men­tor­ship and em­pow­er­ment. “Great sales peo­ple be­gin with the right per­son­al­ity traits such as drive, am­bi­tion, in­tel­li­gence and warmth,” she says.

“At SPP, we have a very com­pre­hen­sive and ef­fec­tive train­ing pro­gram which in­cludes both class­room and floor sales to guar­an­tee the best chance of suc­cess. We also ac­tively pro­mote from within. Most of our man­age­ment have risen through the ranks, in­clud­ing Liz Fer­nan­des, our vice- pres­i­dent of client ser­vices, who has been my right hand and staunch sup­porter for more than two decades.”

When she started her busi­ness, Stein­berg says be­ing young and fe­male rep­re­sented a dou­ble whammy when try­ing to en­gage cor­po­rate clients. How­ever, “entreprene­urship is built on be­ing a risk- taker, hav­ing con­fi­dence in your own abil­ity and pre­sent­ing with pas­sion to prospects,” she says. “I asked clients to take a chance on us, let us prove we could get the job done and pay us when we de­liv­ered re­sults. It’s what got our foot in the door.”

Along with a con­fi­dent and au­da­cious at­ti­tude, Stein­berg en­cour­ages up- and- com­ing fe­male en­trepreneur­s to em­brace sales.

“Sales can be per­ceived neg­a­tively; how­ever, it is an area in which women can — and do — ex­cel. We are more fo­cused on help­ing peo­ple to live bet­ter lives and get great deals than ag­gres­sively try­ing to make a sale,” she ex­plains. “Done right, and with pas­sion and in­tegrity, sales can bring great re­wards both per­son­ally and fi­nan­cially.”

Of all the di­rect credit card sales agen­cies in the mar­ket­place, SPP is the only one with fe­male own­er­ship and a work­force made up pri­mar­ily of women, notes Stein­berg.

“This is what re­ally set us apart in the in­dus­try. We are still here after al­most 30 years in op­er­a­tion and we re­main dom­i­nant in the air­port space. It is a tes­ti­mony to fe­male em­pow­er­ment and putting your trust in the right peo­ple.”

This is the sec­ond time that Stein­berg has been se­lected as one of Canada’s Most Pow­er­ful Women. “When I saw the com­pany I was keep­ing the first time around I thought the win was a fluke, as en­trepreneur­s can be some­what iso­lated” she chuck­les.

“With WXN, you are in the big leagues com­pet­ing with pres­i­dents of large cor­po­ra­tions,” she says. “This time around, it feels like val­i­da­tion. I am ex­tremely hon­oured that a very se­nior group of lead­ers has rec­og­nized the value of my achieve­ments.”

THERE ARE SO MANY STO­RIES OF PHE­NOM­E­NAL WOMEN WHO ARE UN­ABLE TO WORK BE­CAUSE THEIR RÉSUMÉS OR CIR­CUM­STANCES DON’T FIT THE NORM. WE GIVE THEM AN OP­POR­TU­NITY TO WRITE THEIR OWN FU­TURE BASED ON PER­SON­AL­ITY, STRONG WORK ETHICS AND LOY­ALTY. IN MANY IN­STANCES, THEY BE­COME THE PRI­MARY BREAD­WIN­NER IN THE FAMILY — ELEN STEIN­BERG, SPP MAR­KET­ING SER­VICES FOUNDER DONE RIGHT, AND WITH PAS­SION AND IN­TEGRITY, SALES CAN BRING GREAT RE­WARDS BOTH PER­SON­ALLY AND FI­NAN­CIALLY

SUPPLIED

Elen Stein­berg earned her sec­ond WXN Top 100 award for her com­mit­ment to cham­pi­oning women in the work­place.

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