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The Green Sheet Online Edition

January 21, 2009 • Issue 09:01:02

Street SmartsSM

Return to the hunt

By Jason Felts
Advanced Merchant Services Inc.

Assuming you've been selling within the payments industry for a number of years, more than likely you've advanced from hunter to farmer status. You're probably quite comfortable with hoe in hand, turning the fertile soil of your merchant database, getting the occasional referral, reaping from the network you've built over the years. Life is good.

Maybe you're not a top producer, but you've reached a point of security and comfort that provides a predictable residual income, as well as five to seven referral sales per month.

You believe your days of trudging the open plains, shotgun in hand, seeking any viable prospect that wanders within sight are over. You leave hunting to the youngsters in the business.

It's been a long time since you left your office in the morning and wondered where your next meal would come from. No need to beat the street anymore, right?

Well, you may be in for a shock this year. The verdant fields you've been plowing may not be quite so fertile. You may discover that no matter how hard you work, you can't keep up with the weeds that grow like, well, weeds in what used to be highly productive fields.

This year the soil may be rocky, the irrigation insufficient and the sunlight too scarce to generate the crop you have become comfortable with. Why? Record-breaking business closures coupled with a vast increase in competition.

Your most solid merchant accounts will likely stay in your fold, but some will surely become enticed by hunters on the prowl.

You might have to put on your hunting boots, take up your gun and hit the trail once more. And it might be the best thing that could happen to you.

Hunter versus farmer

Hunters get their sales energy from actively pursuing new customers. They are often consultative salespeople who innately find and assess opportunities (even when there doesn't appear to be one) each prospect might offer. And they find solutions within their offerings that meet specific needs.

Hunters are networkers; they are independent; they generate buzz and excitement. Typically, they are strong one-call closers and solid producers. However, they often do not excel at follow-through, follow-up and focus.

Farmers build and cultivate relationships and opportunities, typically within existing accounts. Farmers are the salespeople who turn customers from good to great by the nature of their relationships and the loyalty they gain from their ongoing efforts.

Farmers nurture; they collaborate; they are team players. They are experts at securing referrals from existing accounts. However, they are not always proficient at prospecting, and they typically close over a period of time, not necessarily on the spot.

Sure, farmers get new business when their merchant clients request new products or services, open new locations or refer friends or colleagues to them.

Some more ambitious farmers have also secured and nurtured relationships through referral partnerships. And this can produce a significant stream of warm leads.

New salespeople do not have the luxury of remaining comfortable in their offices waiting for the phone to ring with a hot referral. If they want to eat, they have to go out and find their food. To this end they must spend the majority of their time hunting for sales.

They hit the phones and wear out several pairs of shoes per year cold calling. They attend every networking event possible. They stick their business cards on bulletin boards in cafes.

They desperately e-mail any contact they have; they fax fliers all over creation; they do anything else they can think of that might produce a prospect on a thin budget. They are hunters by necessity, not necessarily by choice. They'll take business wherever and whenever they can find it.

Farmers, on the other hand, have chosen to slow down and enjoy a little comfort and ease. Farmers are comfortable in their routine. Sure, farmers work hard at tilling their fields.

However, farmers have reached the point at which they work with those they want to work with and pass on those they don't. They knowingly and willingly pass on some business because they don't want to engage in certain activities to generate new business.

Farmer-hunter hybrid

But in economic environments such as we faced last year and will continue to face in the upcoming year or two, farmers who don't also hunt run a very real risk of having no alternatives when they discover their fertile soil has been depleted by the current economic dust bowl, leaving their fields insufficient to generate a full crop.

Here are some thoughts about hunters and farmers from members of GS Online's MLS Forum:

    "I think you need to be a smart hunter and have a well-producing farm at the same time."

    - Anna Solomon

    "To be good in this industry, you have to do both since we get ongoing residuals. Farming is the retention tool. So I hunt the merchant, then farm the relationship. I have programs in place to keep the relationship going and to keep getting referrals. If you are just a hunter, your merchants will be leaving as quickly as you are signing new ones up.

    "I do quite a few one-call closes, but you have to know when it will take some extra work and then become the farmer. Most all of my merchants call me about every 60 days, which allows me to keep the relationship and get more referrals. Every morning when I get up, I am the hunter.

    - Sonny Gartin

    "I am a hunter by this definition. Since I am an alpha male, I'll never have the ability to lay an egg and would probably look foolish sitting on one as well - although I do have more than the needed patience. The other difference I find about hunters is that the expectation levels they require to be satisfied with themselves are never met."

    - The Dustman

    "I am a farmer by nature, but one has to do both hunting and farming, especially when starting out in this industry (unless one is a salaried employee). In the beginning, you had better hope you can develop some hunting skills quickly.

    "When you hunt, you can enjoy the kill right away. Case in point: Bills have to be paid on a regular schedule; some have to be paid monthly (mortgage or rent, car loan or lease, utilities); some are weekly (fill up your car); others are daily (cup of coffee, lunch).

    "Unfortunately, if hunting is all that one does, then one has to go out and hunt again and again. To create wealth, though, one also has to do some farming."

    - Clement Muweleent

Options before us

Those who stick to farming alone have two choices in today's economy:

  • Dig in: That's right, work the soil harder. Tighten your belt, and determine to survive. If the recession is short enough, you just may succeed as a farmer.

  • Return to hunting: Others, hopefully you and I, will learn to become aggressive hunters once again. We must reacquire those once well-honed prospecting and hunting skills that got us where we are today.

    We must step off the comfortable farm to grow our businesses.

Although the idea of becoming a hunter once more may, at first, be unappealing, we can realize a number of benefits by hitting the hunting trail once again:

  • Expanded business: Most of us, no matter how large or well-tended our farm, could always increase business. Our businesses haven't grown as quickly as in the past because we've moved from being growth-oriented salespeople to maintenance-oriented account managers.

    It isn't that the business hasn't been there; it's that many have chosen not to pursue it.

    New business is there in today's marketplace; we just have to go get it. And when your merchant volume and stability recover as the economy improves, your original farm of business will still be there, despite some attrition.

    And the farm will have been expanded, giving you more merchants, more referrals, more income and greater security for the future.

  • Sharpened sales skills: During this time, we must not only polish skills we've allowed to rust, we must also learn new skills. Many of us will have to catch up to a new world of social media, more sophisticated and critical prospects, and new opportunities to find and connect with potential prospects.

    These newly acquired and polished skills will go with us as the economy improves. And if we continue to use these skills, we'll be able to grow our businesses quicker than in the past.

  • Better client service: Whether we like to admit it or not, many of us farmers have become far too comfortable with our level of industry knowledge to the point that we are now lagging well behind many competitors.

    In today's environment, as we hit the trail hunting for new business, we'll have no choice but to sharpen our product knowledge.

    We will be forced to become experts once again. And that will allow us to serve our existing merchants even better than we have in the past.

Indeed, this year will be tough. Fewer businesses will open, and many will fail. I'm seeing some businesses in my county open and close in 90 to 180 days. Unbelievable. Many of your merchants will close their doors as well. It's the very sad but true reality.

The next year or two will challenge even the most well-established salespeople. If we want to thrive instead of just survive, we'll have to get out of the office; we'll have to become "real" salespeople once again.

Please don't misunderstand. Farming is very important; you must nurture and take care of the relationships you already have. You must learn to work your base for more referrals and network within your realm of influence. Find the best attributes of both the hunter and the farmer, and incorporate them into your own unique style.

Don't wait for something to happen - get out there and make it happen. If you do not like your current situation, create new circumstances and opportunities for yourself. The wise understand and accept the things we cannot change (such as economic downturns) and determine to succeed in spite of what happens around us.

Hunt and then farm your crop to ensure greater success. end of article

Jason A. Felts is the founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Florida-based Advanced Merchant Services Inc., a registered ISO/MSP with HSBC Bank. From its onset, AMS has placed top priority on supporting and servicing its sales partners. The company launched ISOPro Motion, its private-label training program, to provide state-of-the-art sales tools and actively promote the success and long-term development of its partners. For more information, visit www.amspartner.com, call 888-355-VISA (8472), ext. 211, or e-mail Felts at jasonf@gotoams.com.

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