Every year on Sept. 11, a pall falls over the country. But Jill Slupe, the president of “Omaha first” sales agency Verde Martin, was there — in New York City, watching as the Twin Towers fell. Just as the direction of history was forever altered — there will always be a “pre-9/11” and a “post-9/11” — Slupe’s career trajectory was also altered and defined at least partly by the tragedy that prompted such monumental change.
“It was a difficult time; I did some soul searching and decided I wanted to move back to Omaha,” Slupe recalled. “[It] took two demotions to get here, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
Formerly, the self-described “lifelong learner and teacher at heart” went to school in England — an experience that motivated her desire to work internationally.
“A professor suggested I look at working for the Department of Defense,” Slupe said. “I wrote to over 20 bases looking for an internship. I landed an internship working at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, that led to a civil service job working at Minot Air Force Base.”
“Then,” she continued, “I was promoted and transferred to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines and worked on special projects in Asia. I was lucky. I had bosses who supported me.”
Slupe recalled how she ran facilities that were characterized as “profit centers.”
“Think golf course, bowling alley or youth activities,” she said. “I won several awards for performance and was then recruited to develop a training program for Air Combat Command that trained facility leaders on how to accelerate sales in their operations. I traveled all over the world studying operations and training leaders.”
Slupe wanted a career change; she didn’t see an opportunity in her previous line of work.
“So, I earned my MBA,” Slupe said, a reference to her degree from Creighton University. “Then, I worked in outside sales and moved into leadership. I was promoted many times and my responsibility grew.”
While she always enjoyed “being a top performer in sales,” Slupe said, her greater passion has been teaching and watching sales, peers, students and clients grow from new knowledge.
She ended up working for a national advertising firm, leading the countrywide rollout of training reps to sell Google Ads.
“I wanted a change,” she said. “Instead of leading team members, I wanted to partner with business owners and help them with their sales and advertising.”
Slupe started Verde Martin in 2007, designing the firm around feedback that she had received from business owners regarding their needs.
“I … created training, tools and systems to help the owner get to where they wanted to go,” she said. “I … love working with business owners, helping them accelerate sales and obtain their goals.”
She said the most satisfying part of the job has always been that “lightbulb moment,” when the client expands their mind and creates new ideas.
Verde Martin’s niche is in training city leaders on how to increase revenues — efforts that have resulted in the firm being recognized twice in the National Recreation and Parks Association magazine.
“Publicity and awards are nice,” she continued, “but the greatest recognition is when a peer calls or emails and shares a story about how our training program impacted a customer or the organization.”
Slupe said “selling is selling,” regardless of if the salesperson is a man or a woman. Both can excel; however, technology has transformed the process.
“And will change it further,” she added.
When Slupe started her career, she met with clients in person or via phone. “Now I can text, Zoom, email, call, instant message, see in person or communicate through social media, or not even communicate with a customer and let artificial intelligence do the selling,” she said. “Sales is changing, and AI is having the greatest impact on the sales process.”
She described “success” as delivering on one’s personal values.
“I feel successful when my team members, clients, mentees, organizations I serve (boards and committees), and peers obtain their goals,” Slupe explained. “My philosophy is to ‘hold the ladder.’ So, the people I am supporting are steady as they climb progressively closer to their goal. Success may be raising money for a nonprofit to fund a program or making an introduction for a business to develop a new partnership. Their excitement is my excitement.”
A past president of West Omaha Rotary, awarded with the organization’s highest honor (Outstanding Club – for District 5650), Slupe said she inspires others by listening, asking questions and encouraging others to open their minds.
“When an individual opens their mind, they create energy, enthusiasm and new ideas,” she said. “I believe these ideas are what inspire people. Simplified, having a clear understanding of what is important to others, and using my skills and resources to encourage, open doors and help them get what they want.”
“I have dyslexia,” she said. “So, I am less inspired by words and more inspired by art.”
She shared with the Midlands Business Journal her screenshot; it’s a painting by Dr. David Jasper that features a large, green-hued eye.
“I see this painting many times a day,” Slupe said. “It inspires me to ‘look,’ to really look at people and not just listen, but hear them.”
As with all businesses, it’s not all puppies and rainbows.
“In 2019, more than half of all the Verde Martin clients were preparing
their businesses for exit and I loved working with the business owner on their transition,” she said. “I saw a need for a product that consolidated exit expertise. So, we partnered with over 20 exit professionals and created Exit Playbook, a website with tools, by exit experts, for business owners planning to exit.
“It is a beautiful site with 16,000 business owners receiving weekly information.”
Since Exit Playbook launched in 2020, though, Slupe said “only half the revenue model worked.”
“Our timing may have been off because of COVID,” she said. “But mostly, business owners did not want to pay for content. It was a hard lesson.”
It isn’t all business, all the time for Slupe.
“For over 13 years, I have tried to take a trip every month to explore new cities or shores, enjoy great restaurants, and view art and architecture,” she said. “Minus a couple months in 2020, I have met that goal. I have Kansas, Chicago, Minnesota and Arizona planned to round out 2021.”
When asked about what she aspires to for her future, Slupe said: “Owning a business is often a lot of responsibility. And, sometimes, I dream of working for the Zaha Hadid architecture firm, doing business development in the U.S. They do the most beautiful work, and I would love to use my sales skills to expand their presence here.”