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Work & Careers | Career Make-Over

Seeking Higher Income in Sales Rep's Territory

December 19, 1999|SUSAN VAUGHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After buying a $345,000 house in Mar Vista last month, account manager Douglas Korer felt "first-time buyer's mixed emotions"--elation about the purchase; concern about his income.

To comfortably shoulder this first mortgage, Korer estimates he'd have to earn at least $100,000 annually. But that's not possible at his current job, he said. The 36-year-old makes $35,000 in salary plus $12,000 in commissions at an El Segundo electronics firm. His wife, Jamie, 33, earns a comparable amount as a telecommunications manager.

"I love my present job," Korer said. "I stay busy from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon. My days fly by, but [even if] I might be able to get 5% to 10% raises every year . . . at that rate I will be retired before I double my salary."

To help plan his next career move, Korer consulted Brian Tracy, one of the nation's top sales authorities. Tracy reviewed Korer's 16-year sales history and asked Korer to describe his vocational dreams. In a perfect world, Korer said, he'd become a professional athlete, for he loves sports. But, more realistically, he wants to remain in sales. He enjoys its extroverted, competitive environment.

Tracy pointed out that Korer had chosen a sales occupation that was less lucrative than many others available.

"Inside sales is basically order-taking," Tracy explained. "And you can't increase your income as an order taker. You have to go into the battlefield [of outside sales] where you can create customers."

The good news, Tracy said, is that Korer proved himself years before, when Korer worked at his father's Laguna Hills electronics manufacturing company. While there, he had drummed up $3 million in new business for the maquiladora (foreign-owned Mexican plant) that his father's firm operated in Mexico. Tracy suggested that Korer consider returning to this rapidly growing, specialized field.

With other experts, Tracy also had the following advice for Korer:

1. Rebuild your outside sales skills. Becoming a sales rep who'll have to "farm" for new clients would be a dramatic leap from Korer's present-day routine. But he's done the work before. Korer will need to hone his sales presentation abilities, develop a contact database and possibly even shadow an established salesperson to relearn the skills he'll need in the field.

His recent experience as an inside rep may prove a handy asset, said Jeffrey Gitomer, author of "The Sales Bible" (William Morris & Co., 1994).

"Inside salespeople tend to be the most knowledgeable about products because they're asked the most questions," Gitomer said. "So he can act as a consultant on the road, giving detailed advice about what's best for his customers."

2. Research contract manufacturing. There are nearly 5,000 maquiladoras in Mexico. These companies assemble materials using Mexican labor and export finished products back to the United States. Most, however, are "stand-alone" or "twin plant" maquilas that serve only one parent company, so do not need sales reps, said John McLees, a tax attorney at Baker & McKenzie in Chicago, and advisor to the National Maquiladora Trade Assn.

How can Korer find the maquiladoras that are contract manufacturing plants (dedicated factories such as wood mills or machine shops) or "shelter operations" (companies providing buildings, labor and administrative help) that will work for a variety of U.S. firms and, hence, need reps such as he would be?

He can research these companies online at http://www.maqguide.com (which also lists their trade associations and business organizations) and http://www.subcon.com/tten.htm. He also can contact the commercial section of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico for more information about the industry.

In contract manufacturing, perhaps the most lucrative sales job--but also the riskiest--is that of the "maquila broker." Independent maquila brokers arrange deals between U.S. companies and contract manufacturers, charging about 5% of the deals' financial value. This can earn a broker more than $10,000 a week over a period of months. But, said Jeff Madison, founder of Maqguide.com in San Diego and a broker himself, it's definitely not easy money.

"There are horror stories," Madison said. "Some guys who don't have established relationships in this business never get paid. And usually it takes over a year to get most deals going."

3. Make new contacts. Korer shouldn't simply send resumes to potential hirers, Tracy said. "It takes as many as 1,000 [resume submissions] to get a job today," he said. Instead, Korer should contact top salespeople at targeted firms. After introducing himself, he can inquire about employment possibilities at their companies, and ask whether the reps might help him get an interview with hiring personnel. Even a referral from a star salesperson may help Korer get in the corporate door, Tracy said.

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