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From Corporate Sales Success To Self-Employment Education

From Corporate Sales Success To Self-Employment Education


Robert A. Jacobs & Associates ( is a marketing and sales consulting firm specializing in presenting new and relatively unknown consumer product goods (CPG) to new markets. For example we’re currently in the process of negotiating a deal with a warehouse club retailer to offer a line of digital camera accessories that they’ve never carried before. We’re also working on a project to introduce an excellent line of book lights to the photo specialty market, a new concept for camera store retailers as well as for the supplier.

The business was started in 2009 with $6,500 of my own money. Why? Well as it turned out after 22 years with a company which had benefitted significantly from my success as a sales manager, I was laid off in 2008. And since as we all know that was not the ideal time period for job hunting, after sending out about 50 or so resumes and receiving no sales job offers whatsoever I decided to take advantage of the extensive mass market retail contacts I had built up over the prior 10 years and make a go of it on my own.

Our first client was a major manufacturer of inkjet consumable supplies as well as a former competitor. One of their goals was to determine how to sell their high quality inkjet photo paper to the mass consumer market in the USA. And fortunately for me their sales team was not only spread pretty thin at the time but was also concentrating primarily on the graphics market. This provided an ideal opportunity to test a “new” retail sales consultant concept that had been suggested by one of their trusted advisors who also happened to be a former business associate of mine. We set up a meeting during which I presented a plan to serve as a business development manager assigned to help them reach their retail market penetration goal and towards mid-year of 2009 we worked out a “monthly retainer plus commission” deal and got to work. Our strategy has proven successful in growing this business both in the USA as well as in Central America and this business has been essential in providing the foundation that helped keep our business operating long enough to bring on additional clients.

Although prior to starting my own venture I had been successful selling photo supplies to mass market retailers such as Costco, Sam’s Club, Hobby Lobby, CompUSA and Best Buy, I quickly discovered that in order to be successful without the support of a large corporation behind me (and as a result without an expense account) I needed to improve my selling skills in order to close more deals in less time. We also needed to take advantage of our independent status by extending our CPG lines beyond photo supplies since as, “unrestrained retailer influence consultants”, we can now source almost any consumer product from anywhere in the world given sufficient time and existing or potential demand.

The necessity for management as well as employees to improve marketing skills, i.e., sales, product development expertise, awareness and understanding of the most recent promotional vehicles, pricing strategies for various market segments, etc., is ongoing for any new small business to be successful. I now read about two books per month and when driving I’m an avid listener of personal development CDs in order to continually improve my marketing and selling skills. I’m also constantly on the look out for new ways to market our services and connect with potential new sources of business which is why one of our key goals for this year is to become more familiar with and utilize social media opportunities such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr and Twitter, not only to help spread our own influence but also to advise our clients how to take advantage of these relatively new promotional concepts. Our first step has been to begin posting periodic updates on LinkedIn. Next I plan to start a blog about selling to mass market retailers although I will also emphasize that the concepts shared can be applied to retailers in general whether of the mass market or the “not so much mass market” variety. It will be very interesting to look back a year from now and see exactly what progress we’ve made and how effective these new concepts will have been.

Slowly but surely the tremendous amount of new knowledge I’m learning combined with my 30+ years of sales and product marketing experience is beginning to pay dividends. For example we’re working on a new product development opportunity that came to light during a recent meeting with a major warehouse club buyer. In answer to a series of open-ended probing questions he felt comfortable enough to share his frustration about not being able to find a specific style of lamp from his current suppliers. We offered to help but when we were also unsuccessful finding a product with the desired style and specs in the USA I attended an international lighting convention in China where I found exactly what he was looking for. As a result we’re currently in the process of setting up an import business to satisfy not only that specific demand but also to offer the new lamp line to other retailers. Additionally our strategy to extend our global reach has led us to two excellent contacts in Latin America, specifically Mexico and Brazil, both of which have agreed to help move products we represent into these countries.

The slow and steady progress route to success is indeed paying dividends as we continue to increase our revenue most months and edge closer and closer to breaking even. In fact we will probably do so sometime before the end of next year. But in order to ensure the business succeeds we’ll need to continue to improve our selling skills, source new products and ideas from CPG suppliers and close more deals with retailers. We are actively looking for new opportunities to accomplish all three objectives.

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