Remember the early 1990s, when so many of us thought the Web was going to make everyone rich? All you had to do was put ".com" behind a company name and you were on your way to becoming a millionaire. Well, most merchant level salespeople (MLSs) knew then what the rest of the world knows now: Business will always be about relationships. Companies compete on price but, in the end, long-term profits are built one relationship at a time.
Donovan Neita, President and Chief Executive Officer of YourTownMall Business Advantage Inc. was an MLS for 14 years. He knows the value of relationships. He also knows the Web can be a powerful tool for creating lucrative relationships. According to Jupiter Research, businesses will spend $14 billion on online advertising in 2007, almost double the amount spent in 2003.
For Neita and YourTownMall, it just makes sense to harness the power of the Web to create relationships and earn profits. YourTownMall.com is a network consisting of Web sites for tens of thousands of U.S. and Canadian towns. The portal site is www.yourtownmall.com, with alternate access from www.mytownmall.com.
Network users can select sites that offer local business listings, restaurants, job opportunities, community events, local weather and more. "While local search is Yourtownmall.com's premier service, it also incorporates the most popular Internet features, attracting a widely diverse audience," Neita said.
Features include, for example, video sharing, lottery results, online chat, dating service, online games and free classified ads. Content is designed to give users reasons to return to YourTownMall regularly, creating repeat customers for the businesses listed in the site.
Headquartered in Valley Stream, N.Y., YourTownMall is an affiliate of ATM Merchant Group Ltd. The company was founded in October 2002 by Neita and Alejandro Navia. By 2004 the company had published 3,200 town Web sites. In 2005, the number grew to 65,000, and today it has more than 72,000.
YourTownMall's mission is to "provide useful products and services that will enable businesses to prosper." When an MLS's merchant prospers, the MLS thrives, too. No one understands this better than Neita, who, as an MLS, worked for a number of ISOs. Approximately seven years ago, Neita recognized that revenue from equipment sales and processing was decreasing. "I started to see the writing on the wall," he said. "Merchant processing is a commodity today." So, he started exploring new ways to compete.
Neita looked to the Internet. He and Navia explored options of offering Internet storefronts as a value-added service to merchants. They researched ways to tie the Internet to credit card processing and examined a variety of ideas before they had a "light bulb" moment: Use the World Wide Web to help people find businesses and resources close to home.
Then they added a business-to-business (B2B) component, so local merchants could advertise and market on the site. Finally, they created a model that taps the expertise of MLSs to market and sell the service.
Since Neita has feet-on-the-street experience, he knows what MLSs and ISOs need and how they work. He has so much faith in the ISO sales channel, YourTownMall's marketing strategy is based on using established, enterprising ISOs and MLSs.
"The YourTownMall Business Advantage program depends on personal sales, a traditional approach unused by Internet companies," Neita said. The company is seeking ISOs and MLSs to market its program throughout the United States and Canada.
Neita noted that he and Navia designed YourTownMall from an ISO's perspective. One of the main goals of YourTownMall was to create a way for MLSs to differentiate themselves. "It's a different way to go after the bankcard business, build up residuals and reduce attrition," Neita said.
An important aspect of retaining customers is relationship building. "The agent-to-agent, person-to-person interaction is important when building relationships," Neita said.
However, it is difficult for MLSs to build long-lasting relationships with merchants if they only see their clients when something goes wrong or when they receive notification that a merchant account has been closed.
With YourTownMall, MLSs become the merchants' partners. "If I am an ISO and walk into a merchant, I am not just talking about rates," Neita said. "Now I am walking in as a B2B consultant. We have the total package to help their business run better, more efficiently."
This approach offers MLSs a reason to keep in contact with merchants because of the potential for additional sales and residual opportunities. "By bundling a variety of merchant offerings as a value-added service, YourTownMall offers the ISO/MLS arena an integrated set of services that provide a competitive advantage in acquiring and retaining customers," Neita said.
MLSs and ISOs don't have to be tech savvy, and neither do merchants. Neita and his company handle all content issues. Once a representative sells a service, YourTownMall handles the rest.
There are no accounting, administration or processing requirements and no startup costs. And the company supports its feet-on-the-street approach with TV and radio advertising.
Neita believes ISOs and MLSs should serve as the frontline of customer service. "The reason is that this allows the sales group to interact more with the customer, which will help to identify additional sales opportunities, as well as to reduce attrition," he said. If the representative does not handle the customer's needs, YourTownMall staff will act as a safety net.
YourTownMall agents are compensated via a revenue share and buy rate model. Upfront commissions are based on a percentage over the buy rate. ISOs and MLSs are free to set their own pricing.
"The pricing structure is flexible, which allows the field to price the services based on conditions in their marketing areas," he said.
Neita's years as an MLS also taught him the value of residuals. "Our compensation model is based on lifetime residuals," he said. "It is our strong belief that residuals are the key to the long-term success of an independent sales program."
As long as MLSs continue to service their accounts, they will continue to receive commissions on recurring fees, including setup fees, equipment sales, leases, merchant funding and processing fees.
"YourTownMall enables the sales organization to be creative and offer more options to a merchant," Neita said. "It is this flexibility that enables ISOs and MLSs to create additional revenue streams that would not be realized in their current bankcard situation."
Small and medium-sized businesses face stiff competition, and merchants are seeking different and easy ways to compete. Therefore, YourTownMall offers a variety of programs for merchants. These include Internet display ads, online video advertising, Web coupons, online circulars and charity fund raising programs.
"Our network of 72,000 Web sites allows us to offer advertising at the local, regional and national level," Neita said. "Our pricing structure is based on a monthly flat fee. This allows a business to budget, unlike pay-per-click structures." The online circular and coupon programs can be linked to both existing sites and to advertising spots. They offer scheduling functions and printable coupons. They can also be bar-coded with merchant or manufacturer scan lines. Also, coupons have less likelihood of ending up in the garbage, as they are printed on demand.
"We've created a reason for people to come to YourTownMall. Being able to reach my customer is a big thing," Neita said. "We give merchants an affordable medium to do that."
YourTownMall strives to meld the personal and the technological. MLSs are skilled in creating and nurturing relationships with merchants; the Internet provides tools to create the most value from those relationships. When both work in concert, it can mean profits for the MLS.
"As an independent representative working with YourTownMall, you will be able to build your own independent business, earn substantial commissions and generate a monthly residual income that could provide you with substantial financial freedom within a short period of time," Neita said.
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Donovan A. Neita,
Phone: 800-599-2867, ext. 133
181 South Franklin Avenue,
Valley Stream, N.Y. 11581
Web site: www.yourtownmall.com