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How I Became: Jake Spence, Managing director, durhamlane

Jake Spence

Jake Spence recently celebrated 10 years working at Newcastle-based agency durhamlane.

The agency, founded in 2011, has a global presence offering frontline sales, demand generation, and strategic marketing to accelerate sales growth for its clients.

Spence joined durhamlane in 2013 as sales executive, progressing to team leader, account director, chief operations officer before his promotion to managing director in 2022.

Here he shares his career journey and tips.

How did you first get into your industry?

My journey into the industry began with the insurance sector. While pursuing a degree in Fine Art at university, I worked part-time evenings at RSA’s Sunderland contact centre for a few years, gradually immersing myself in the world of sales and customer service. Following my graduation, I transitioned to a full-time role, which exposed me to leadership responsibilities, project management, and training. Cementing my passion for helping customers find solutions to their problems, I joined durhamlane in 2013 and became managing director in 2022.

What do you love about your job?

My role has gifted me the opportunity to interface with diverse industries and visionary business leaders, giving me the chance to collaborate with some inspirational people and amazing businesses. I also love being autonomous in a fast-paced environment of continuous improvement, as I can always feel myself becoming reinvigorated, engaged and motivated. I think what I relish the most, though, is my ability to influence positive change.

Who – or what – has inspired you in your career?

I feel lucky to have kept close to several childhood friends. Each of them is a role model to me in their own way, as their support has unknowingly helped me lift my glass ceiling and kept my aspirations high.

My wife is probably my biggest source of inspiration as a cancer specialist as I’ve been able to see what a tough job ‘actually’ looks like. My conversations with her act as a very sobering yardstick, helping me to contextualise the severity of my own professional challenges. Her ability to deal with the toughest of situations while consistently presenting as calm and inspiring trust from those she works with is incredible, and it’s the hallmark of any leader.

What are the biggest challenges about your job?

Relentless continuous improvement. There is no such thing as standing still because if you’re not aggressively getting better, you’re actually falling behind. I’ve learned to both love and need this in my role, but it is without doubt the biggest challenge I face day-to-day.

What skills have been the most crucial to you succeeding in your career so far?

The first is diligence. One of our sales mantras is Quality x Quantity x Consistency = High Performance, this is something that can be applied to anywhere within your personal or professional life but has certainly been something that has helped me demonstrate high performance.

The second is delegation – an effective team consists of accountable and empowered people. Building high performing teams as a leader is imperative.

The final crucial skill is resilience. It’s not always (or ever) been easy. There have been really challenging periods in my career to date, being able to contextualise the tough times and see them as opportunities to learn or improve has been really important to my development.

What was your first salary and what could someone getting into the industry expect to earn nowadays?

My first salary in a full-time job at RSA was £13,500. Moving into the sales industry now is very different, it’s an in-demand skill which is sadly tough to find. At durhamlane, our SDRs (sales development representatives) generate leads on behalf of our customers. Our award-winning training programme paired with the essential skills learned on the job provides a perfect jumping off point to launch a sales career. Our average earnings in that role are £28-35k pa.

With a couple of years’ experience and good performance, you can expect average annual earnings to be almost double in our industry, with a pretty clear development pathway ahead of you.

What education or training would be most useful for someone looking to follow your career path?

Learning opportunities are readily available in the content rich world we live in. Fingertip learning has changed how easy it is to self-develop and adapt to the ever-changing environment. You don’t have to look too far for frameworks, tools and advice from experts on how to be effective in role.

Many of our team have degrees in Business, but it’s not essential. 90% of the critical skills I’ve learned have been on the job. Based in Newcastle, we’re lucky to have so many strong universities on our doorstep, which has been a great source of candidates for durhamlane.

Everyone is different, so it’s important to understand how best you learn. For me, having a leader who empowers me and allows me to make mistakes has been most impactful on my development. Working for the right leader can make a huge difference in how you approach your work.

Finding the right mentor or adviser is something I’d encourage everyone to take advantage of. An expert and unbiased view can give you the perspective you need and often validate your thinking.

What advice would you have for someone looking to follow your path?

I was lucky enough to really understand my motivators early in my career. Working for a global corporate organisation had advantages but it also allowed me to understand the things I needed to feel fulfilled. Constant self-reflection to understand what you need in a role is so important and can transform your career.

Don’t wait for someone to hand you an opportunity. Find ways to use what you know to be your strengths and align them with gaps in the business you’re working in or people you’re working with. At durhamlane, I’ve worked for two entrepreneurs and have learned an awful lot from them. But my process orientation and systematic approach to working has aligned perfectly with their gaps. It’s helped me create my own role multiple times, feeling completely fulfilled along the way.

Finally, a simple one; work harder than the people around you, be accurate and be timely. These are critical behaviours that are completely in your control. Employers, colleagues and customers value this immensely.

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