Arlen: Welcome to the eCommerce marketing podcast. Everyone. I am your host, Arlen Robinson. And today we have a very special guest. Ian Sells has been growing and scaling businesses through fiscally sound leverage and proven internet marketing strategies since 2004. After selling his first Amazon brand, he launched four more product lines while also opening an Amazon consulting business, managing over $30 million in sales. He is the CEO and founder of MillionDollarSellers.com (MDS) an elite, mastermind Amazon group with nearly 400 sellers representing over $4 billion in 2019 Amazon sales. In his continued mission to empower emerging brands, Ian is the co-founder and CEO of RebateKey.com a rapidly-growing, online cash-back rebate and coupon marketplace.

Ian: Hey, thanks for having me. 

Arlen: Yeah. Not a problem. Yeah. Super excited to talk to you and, you know, kind of dive deep into selling on Amazon, building a brand and all of the fun things that, you know, eCommerce businesses are the, especially these days e-commerce is hot, you know, with this whole global.

Shut down. And so many businesses that are struggling to stay on board. I’ve seen so many businesses now that have just been forced to pivot on top of the online space. And if they didn’t have an eCommerce president online presence, whether there were selling direct to consumer and were on their own sites or where they were selling on Amazon, if they weren’t already doing that, they’re definitely not thinking about it or are in the process of getting that going right now.

That’s where it’s at. So I know it’s definitely keeping you busy. But before we get into all of that, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about your background and specifically how you got into what you’re doing 

Ian: today? Yeah, so, uh, my background is actually in real estate, uh, did a lot of, uh, flipping properties in the early days of 2004, all the way through 2012 and started to invest money in other businesses and invested some money in it.

Friend who was buying and selling products on Amazon. This was like 2012 or 2011. And I quickly just scaled up and grew into a multimillion dollar Amazon business. We ended up taking a lot of that to move into the retail market, which was kind of a thing failure for us. I, one of our earlier failures in commerce.

And decided that Amazon was where at that. So we stopped and kind of switched gears and we decided to exit that business as partners and start our own Amazon company. So that’s how I really got moved from the real estate business into the Amazon business was I saw how fast if you grow and how great it was of a model early on and saw like Amazon was just growing and you’re just kind of riding the coattails.

So it seemed pretty good to me. I ended up finding some more products. Launched them on Amazon after selling that first brand and, you know, quickly that transitioned me from one year into a full time Amazon seller from a real estate broker. So that’s pretty cool transition and then no more driving around and showing properties.

And it was great. Great fun. But. Uh, really enjoy that e-commerce model. And, you know, from my real estate days, I understand how leverage works and things of that nature. And so I was very quick to take on capital, bring on loans, bring it, cause I knew what my return on investments were. And so I was able to scale that business up really quickly.

And, uh, originally exited that brand as well, not to over a $7 million in revenue. So it was pretty cool to see that grow over a few years. It’s kinda how I got my taste of Amazon and to learn. About not recreating the wheel and learning from other mentors and things like that, that I used from my real estate day.

So I saw that there was people out there and doing all this stuff and absorbed all the content information I possibly could. 

Arlen: Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s some good stuff, man. And, um, to be able to successfully pivot like that from the world of real estate, into the whole online space, um, it’s kind of a different animal, but we’re thinking about real estate these days though.

I think kind of gone are the old days though, of real estate where you don’t necessarily have to be internet savvy or worry about online marketing. I think those days are kind of over right. I’ve talked to more and more real estate agencies days. And I know some of them have been a little slow to adapt to the changes of being able to kind of market themselves online.

But the way I see it nowadays, unless you have a, unless you’re kind of a dinosaur or a veteran in the game and you’ve got a huge. Database, a network of contacts that just continually roll in referrals after referrals. If you’re not like that, then yeah. You’ve gotta be savvy with the online. 

Ian: That’s exactly right.

And that’s kind of what set me apart. I was able to launch a website early on and rank in San Diego homes for sale, like topic number two on Google, I was posting a thousand listings a day on Craigslist. I was using all the internet marketing techniques. Cause my background is kind of been in building websites since I was a kid.

So let you know, I got into sales, I’m good at sales, but I was really better at market and automation. So that’s what really, you know, see that, okay. I can actually automate things better on e-commerce versus like Amazon, but selling and marketing and the same for real estate. You know, you have to market yourself, you have to market your product.

You have to make contacts and you have to build relationships with customers. 

Arlen: Yeah, exactly. There’s really no way around that for sure as well. Good stuff, man. And I’m yeah. I’m glad that do a successful pivot like that. Now early of course, I mentioned that right now because we’re in the midst of this whole COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s been so many businesses that have been forced to pivot if they didn’t really have a strong or any eCommerce presence online where they’re selling online type of goods or services, then definitely now thinking about it or they’re in the PR or they’re doing it right now, you know, kind of scrambling to try to recover business loss.

And so of course, The one elephant in the room, of course, that any eCommerce businesses either thought about trying to play with or is playing with right now is Amazon. Of course. And so as many businesses now looking towards that platform, because they’ve had during this whole pandemic, their profits have been through the roof because everybody that can’t go out or.

Can’t get their normal goods that certain local stores or don’t want to, I’ve been going to Amazon. So it’s the marketplace of the day. So as far as being on that particular marketplace, whether you’re already there or. You’re thinking about getting out there, you know, the bottom line nine is how do you effectively increase sales?

Not that big of a process to get on there, but once you’re on there, what are some strategies, actual strategies to increase your sales on Amazon platform that you can share? 

Ian: That’s great. Yeah. I mean, Amazon is a force to be reckoned with, and it’s a great place to be because your buyers are already there looking and ready to buy.

So, you know, what I found was most people build their websites and they drive traffic and they get conversion rates on their website or their shopping cart at most 3%. One, three out of a hard people will actually buy something and that’s it on a good day. So Amazon’s got conversion rates upwards of 15, 20, even 35%.

On products when you are listing there, so are there to buy, they’re ready to buy. That’s why they go to Amazon. Not they’re not researching products anymore, so it’s a great place to be, but it has limitations and you are playing in Amazon’s wheelhouse. So you have to abide by their rules. That’s the callback there.

But in order to build a brand or, you know, get your product up in the ranks, there’s a lot of strategies that go into that. So I kind of goes into, obviously, there’s the listing optimization you have doing proper keyword research and knowing who your customers are and what they’re searching for. And how do you actually optimize your listing for those exact keywords and phrases?

You know, having great images and titles and great reviews obviously are of course, are very important to your listing. One of the things that, uh, I realized early on was that you need to drive sales. You need to, I have a way to get traffic to your listings when it’s brand new, you have no reviews.

Nobody’s no trust built in. And so that’s where we kind of came up with the rebate key company, which is basically like those old mail in rebates they used to do where you cut out the UPC and mail it into some random address. And six to 12 weeks later, you got a check in the mail. Right, 

Arlen: right, 

Ian: right. Yeah, cause you’re like, you bought a printer in there.

Like here you get your $10 rebate. So we started to come up with this idea, my partner and I, and put it together and it just took off. And now we bays are the main way to get traffic to your listings, to launch new products into the market. It helps word of mouth marketing. It helps with driving brand sales.

And so the way it works is you post a product on rebate key, and you say, Hey, go buy my [email protected] Whichever the buyers will go there, purchase the product, enter that order ID, number that from those marketplaces on rebate key. And that’s how you secure your rebate. So you can get a rebate for $5 off your product, $30 off, or a hundred percent off your price, whichever you like.

The drive as much traffic as you can to those other marketplaces for purchase. And we made key ways 35 days before we send the money back. So making sure that, you know, buyers, aren’t trying to scam the system and get free products and cash back. So we help hold it for that time period. But that’s what he is all about is driving new brand sales for products that are just brand new to the market.

Arlen: Gotcha. That’s some good stuff because I definitely know. And I’ve talked to so many sellers that that’s their main question. They’re like, I’m new on Amazon. I don’t have any reviews. I don’t have any sales. How am I going to start getting the, getting the sales? Because a lot of times when people are going to Amazon, That’s one of the first things that they look at is they’re going to look at reviews and if a company doesn’t have any, um, I know personally and all that times, I see that I’m like, yeah, I’m definitely very leery.

I know they may have just got into the marketplace, even though it could be a product I definitely want, I may bounce around and just see if I can find somebody else that has more reviews 

Ian: or better price or whatever. Right. So you’re, you’re mixture of those things basically like, Think about a normal business.

When you go to launch a restaurant, you invest a lot of money up front before, you know, if anybody’s going to even like your food, Amazon sellers are so spoiled. We go into a business and we’re like, okay, I’ve got $2,000. I’m going to buy some products. I’m going to do some packaging on fiber and I’m going to put it up on Amazon and I’m going to sell out.

I don’t want to make, you know, 50% on my money and they forget that they need to spend some time and money on marketing, right? Like how can we be profitable right away? Especially in this day and age, the gold rush is over now. It’s real businesses trying to build brands on there. And so think about red bull.

How did red bull grow so big? What did they do? They went to college campuses and handed out free cans of red bull to everybody. They got the word out. They gave away free product until. Everywhere is like, this is the coolest thing ever. And I love being jacked up on rentals. So I’m going to use it. And that’s kind of what we, he is.

It allows you to control your marketing, to bring in new buyers and offer a really great incentive for them to try out your product. Because right now off the bat, no reviews, I’m not willing to pay full price for your product. 

Arlen: Yeah, exactly. That’s the bottom line and you kind of nailed it there as far as getting out there initially and how a lot of these brands succeed is it’s really it’s through brand awareness.

That was a great example using red bull, you know, and I do remember when they first launched it, you just basically giving it away for free. One other thing that red bull has done, which has been pretty genius. And I haven’t really seen that many businesses take it to the level that they’ve done, but they’ve associated themselves with.

So many coal marketing opportunities where they’ve branded themselves. I have been here in Orlando where I am. I went a few years ago and they had a. DJ competition, which is sponsored by red bull. They’ve done several things. They even had some type of young fool writer contest. So this was back when she used to live in Maryland, where they were sponsoring the creation of independent films for local artists.

And they were branding it as, as a red bull competition. So they’ve really kind of gone out of their way to really kind of flood the market across a lot of different channels and kind of really associate there. Their name with just so many different niches that you wouldn’t really even think about. And that’s really, uh, them doing a great job of creating, helping to create brand awareness.

Now, you know, of course not everybody has the marketing dollars and the reach is red bull has a lot of businesses that are just starting off. And so what are some other things that a brand can do to create brand awareness, especially these days when there’s such a sea of other brands, it can be very difficult to get recognized.

So what are some other things that a young emerging brand can do? 

Ian: Yeah. So new brands I see a lot of companies doing is obviously the influencer marketing is a hot space. Getting your hand, your product in the hands of other people who are willing to share it and like to talk about new products, what they like about what they don’t like about what they wish it could do is a really pretty way.

And, you know, reaching out to influencers, reaching out to people on Instagram, on Facebook and saying, Hey, you know, you want to try my product. We’d love to give you some, give some out to your friends or your followers as a contest, and just talk about our product. And that’s a really great way to get some brand awareness out there.

You know, with Amazon, it’s really important to have a good experience when the person receives your product. Do you want to give it to them in like some cheap plastic bag? Or do you want to have them actually have like more of an Apple-esque opening experience of your product and making it okay. This is quality product from the deco.

So really trying to have the crowd and like building ways or people can communicate. Your buyers can communicate with the brand through hashtags. Like messaging through, Hey, you want to join our VIP program. You want to join art influencer program. Please reach out to us. We love to, you know, give you some free products.

So creating ways, agent build connections. Cause that’s what people want now is they want to connect with a brand and want to support brands that they actually provide the value they’re responsive and customer service things are that get people talking. Hey. Zappos is so great, right? Why? Because you could buy as many shoes as you want returns, the ones you don’t like.

I don’t have any stores. Right. And it’s likely a little bit of the cost, but man, they create a really great experience for the buyers. 

Arlen: Yeah, that’s definitely is true. And as far as what you mentioned, as far as influencer marketing and getting some influencers to promote your brand, definitely a great way to do it.

And what a lot of businesses don’t really realize is that influencers are coming a lot of different types of categories. And you don’t necessarily always have to shoot for the sky and, you know, kind of think you can try to get a celebrity or entertain or somebody like that that has, you know, a million or so the followers, there are plenty of other influencers that still have a sizable audience.

They can still get exposure to you brand. Um, you know, they may only have thousands of followers across various platforms, but. That is definitely something that would be a little bit more in the reach of a young or a new eCommerce company, because you know, you won’t have to pay these types of influencers are huge commission because they don’t have a high of a reach, but there’ll be a little bit more accessible.

And there’s a lot of, a lot of people out there like that, that are in that kind of, 

Ian: yeah. You want to go for the lower hanging fruit? Those people are looking for brands to support. They want to engage. They want to feel like they can connect with their audience. They actually have more authentic followers.

So like some of the celebrities, they have followers all different types because they want to see their pictures and they don’t care about the person. But think about it. Like I’m a stay at home. Momma, post little mom. Uh, projects that she does all day long, all the other moms are following her. That’s a really deep connection.

So when she posts something new or a toy that she likes, think how many more people are actually going to take action or talk about it or what to write, because they’re like, Oh, I really trust this person. They’re not just not some celebrity. You’re doing all this paid promotion. So we found it more effective for mass reach to do smaller influencers.

You get to use that content as well for your marketing efforts. Think about your product images on, on Amazon. It would be way better if you had real. People using products and using that instead of some fake image that you created with the designer, 

Arlen: right? Definitely. The main thing is the engagement.

Yeah. The engagement levels definitely are, are typically higher. Some of the smaller influencers that have more of a tight, close knit connection with their followers, and you’re going to see more and more back and forth, commenting on their posts and they really try to get to know their followers of people that are.

Within their whole network. So yeah, that’s, that is very true. Now, of course, kind of in a very different year here, it’s 2020. You want to miss the global pandemic and things have been very difficult for a lot of businesses, but because of all of the things that are going on, I know a lot of businesses have been forced to kind of pivot and do certain things a little bit differently.

So are there any specific marketing strategies that you’ve seen that have. Better be a little bit more effective in this current climate. 

Ian: It’s not a one size fits all type of thing. From what I tell people is you can’t just use rebate key. You can’t just use Manny chat. You can’t just use Facebook ads.

You have to use all of them, and it helps create an organic reach and organic lift to your brand by amplifying different pieces of content from different places. So, yeah, it’s really. You start with one and then keep adding on as you get those channels perfected. But you know, you really get the effects of it when you actually are doing multiple angles at once with marketing 

Arlen: and brand awareness.

Definitely. For sure. And I mean, ask asked, you’re ready to wrap things up. I’m always a huge advocate of kind of looking at what some other kind of key brands are doing and kind of gleaning. From, um, you know, things that they’re getting right. And doing right from your experience as far as Amazon is concerned, what is it?

Some brands? I mean, they may not even be that well known. What are some brands that we can all kind of take a look at to see what they’re doing on Amazon or any other platform and what are some things that we can learn from them in your experience? 

Ian: I think it’s different for everybody, to be honest with you.

Like, I have brands that I might align with, but I always tell people, like, when you want to learn marketing, you just got to sign up for those brands that you keep seeing. Right. You know, the kids, the pet companies that are blowing up right now and the unique products kilotons, right? You want to sign up for their marketing and see what they’re saying?

How are they. Talking to our customers, where are they sending people to go to? What type of message are they using? What type of graphics, videos, you know, everybody has different affinity. So I don’t really have any one specific. Product, but like everybody knows that’s what kind of hitting, if you’re aware of the marketing hitting you on Facebook marketing is getting you on Instagram and you kind of explore it as a curious person versus trying to get sucked into their marketing funnel.

Like, Oh, how are they doing this? Why are they doing this? Where does this link take me? Are they asking me these questions? What kind of offer are they making, how are they selling me? Is this a good sale or not? Would I recreate this? So that’s how I really do a lot. My marketing is kind of like start going down the rabbit hole of other brands and see what’s working.

What’s going well. And what friends I think are doing right. And kind of try to recreate it. 

Arlen: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. That’s some great advice because you know, it’s all out there and especially these days, everything is so accessible. You can easily, like you said, sign up for these different brands lists, get into their funnel.

How are they communicating with you? Are those types of things, things that you can do. What does the order of communication often? Are they sending out their little teasers? You can take it at all levels. Even product companies, these days are doing it. The text messaging campaigns, you can opt into those and see what types of things are sending out that way.

So you can really get kind of a, you know, kind of put together kind of a little, a basket of different ideas he is, and kind of pull from them based on what some of these other brands are doing, because you know, they’re spending millions and millions of dollars before they make marketing decisions. And so you have to rest assure that whatever they’re doing is this kind of based on some solid.

So research and they kind of what they’re doing. 

Ian: Yeah. I mean, it’s like, don’t recreate the wheel, you know? Oh, like, look at what’s working and just duplicate it. You know, I put small twists on it, but don’t try and recreate everything. It’s already there for you. Right. You don’t have to spend all this time to try and like come up with the next unique, impactful strategy.

There are strategies that are currently working. They’ve always worked right. And you just have to implement them in your brands. So part of like not recreating the real is how I actually started that million dollar sellers group that you mentioned in the beginning, which is basically both Amazon sellers that have all reached a level of.

Growth where they’re now taking this brand to the next level. They’re going from a million revenue to 10 million to a hundred million. And we have people that do all of those levels. And it’s really a great place to talk with really awesome entrepreneurs. That have already been successful in their businesses.

So we feel like the million dollar threshold, once your revenue, uh, passes, that you’re able to communicate at a different level. You’re thinking strategically it’s not just a side project anymore. And so anybody listening, you know, has an Amazon business that does over a million dollars in revenue, you should look at joining MBS, a million dollar sellers group, and it’s an application process there.

And then back to the rebate key, just to wrap up on that. If anybody has a brand, they’re looking for ways to get more exposure on Amazon, on Walmart, on target, on home Depot or any other marketplace. Look at rebate key, utilizing a cash back rebates as a way to drive traffic and awareness for your brands.

Because we have a rapidly growing user base, you know, a well over half a million people already signed up on the platform and major growth coming. So we invite you guys to come and check that out as well. 

Arlen: Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that. And, you know, thank you again, of course, Ian, for joining us today on the, on the eCommerce marketing podcast, you’ve definitely shared a wealth of information.

I know it’s going to go a long way for us listeners. I would like to close things out and just kind of switch gears here so our audience can get to know you just a little bit better. So what’s one closing fun fact that you can let our audience know about you that may or may not be surprised to hear. 

Ian: I don’t really know what a fun fact would be, but, uh, you know, I love outdoor sports and I love to be outside and do things that give me adrenaline.

So, you know, mountain biking, snowboarding, things like that. So if, if anybody wants to go out and do those things, hit me up, I’d love to shoot the gambit with you and talk business. 

Arlen: Hey, that is great. Well, thank you for sharing that. And yeah. So if anybody does want to get in touch with you, Ian, and pick you up more about selling or, or snowboarding or anything like that, what is the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Ian: Yeah, reach out to me, Ian, at rebate, key.com is one way also you can look me up on different social media, Facebook and stuff like that. And you can send me a message and I’ll try and get back to you as quick as possible. 

Arlen: That’s awesome. Well, thanks for sharing that today in and thank you again for joining us today on the eCommerce marketing podcast.

Ian: Thank you so much. 

Podcast Guest Info

Ian Sells
CEO and founder of MillionDollarSellers.com and RebateKey.com