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The Green Sheet Online Edition

February 09, 2009 • Issue 09:02:01

Helping merchants help themselves

By Christian Murray
Global eTelecom Inc.

Merchants are often not savvy marketers of their own services. They may be clueless about how to use value-adds to capture more sales. In fact, most merchants are in desperate need of help with marketing and exploiting technology to their advantage. But ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) might ask, So what? It's not our job to market their business for them.

But think again. If educating merchants on effective marketing strategies helps them become more successful, who do you think it ultimately benefits in the end? Answer - everyone.

Assisting merchants with marketing can pay big dividends to ISOs and MLSs over time. It helps increase portfolio size and volume along with driving retention and ISO-merchant relationships that last.

There is no better way to strengthen relationships and cultivate additional sales than by helping merchants succeed through planned and targeted programs designed to generate repeat business and increase cash flow.

Some might say, No way. It's too much work and it's not our core business. It will bog down our agents and hurt sales. The answer to that is times are changing and assisting in merchant marketing has become an essential component to doing business.

ISOs should employ follow-up teams after sales are completed that contact new merchants and brainstorm ways of helping them generate more income through marketing or value-added solutions.

Following are marketing ideas to help merchants:

Online advertising

Merchants benefit from marketing online. Many online providers offer affordable, easily implemented solutions. The goal for ISOs and MLSs is to promote the right online services to merchants. After merchants are signed up, they can be directed to the appropriate online vendor. In many cases these Web service providers are more than willing to share in revenues if ISOs are throwing them business.

Local advertising

Some merchants already focus on local marketing, but they may not be aware of the myriad advertising possibilities. A few examples: local newspapers, Better Business Bureau listings, sports sponsorships, school and charity events, business lead meetings, flyers, TV ads and so forth. The key for ISOs is that they align with third-party marketers that can manage these channels for merchants. Creating effective alliances will limit ISOs' direct involvement.

Direct mail marketing

Merchants can also generate business by routinely sending out special offers and welcome letters to potential new customers. A great way of doing this is by ISOs helping merchants create welcome letters to be sent once a month to new home buyers in the area. Letters can welcome new families and offer special promotions to attract them to merchant locations.

New home buyer listings can be purchased from multiple lead sources and letters can be easily distributed using services that specialize in direct mail campaigns. Aligning with a few of these types of providers can offer merchants that extra marketing help they need.


More and more merchants are tuning up their sales efforts by utilizing online shopping carts. This solution best fits the retail and restaurant sectors and can greatly increase sales. Unfortunately, not all merchants take advantage of online carts because of cost, time or lack of knowledge. ISOs can easily align with providers; extra profits can also be earned for referrals.

Online food ordering

In some demographic areas merchants utilize online menu systems to help streamline operations and increase profits. Online menus assist merchants in accepting orders and payments made over the Internet or from personal digital assistants. This service is ideal for businesses located in metropolitan areas, where offices, colleges and professional buildings are prevalent.

Cash advances

Through merchant cash advances, merchants may be able to expand or buy additional equipment/supplies or put dollars into marketing their businesses. Nothing new, right? The goal is not to go after the sale only, but to help merchants see cash investments as a way to grow businesses and increase efficiencies.

Rewards or loyalty

Selling rewards or loyalty programs to merchants and then walking away with no follow-up hamstrings merchants to a 50 percent chance of success with these programs. But such prepaid card solutions can be profitable for merchants if ISOs and MLSs take a hands-on approach.

E-commerce Web sites

Many payment providers already offer e-commerce and Web site services to merchants. This is another great way to increase residuals and earn online accounts. ISOs can partner with Web designers that will handle sales and support for merchants.

SEO services

For merchants with existing Web sites or ones in development, a good search engine optimization (SEO) solution can greatly increase exposure and bring in new customers. Partnering with SEO providers that handle the working relationships with merchants are a great value to them.

Online blogs

Localized or business-specific blogs can aid merchants in attracting business. Blogs now promote just about every town across the United States and are growing in popularity. Such blogs serve as a low cost, or in some cases free, resources that will build relationships within communities. But merchants must dedicate a few hours a week to manage blogs and add new content. Chambers of commerce Merchants can easily join local chambers of commerce, from which they often gain business and free advertising. This can be combined with special chamber offers that attract new customers from local areas. Often chambers promote businesses active in their communities.

Drawings or raffles

Merchants can promote local drawings or raffles that bring in new customers and are easy to launch and manage. These programs often create a sense of excitement with consumers and get patrons to join mailing lists that can be used toward future marketing efforts.

Just the beginning

The marketing strategies just mentioned represent a small portion of possible solutions that ISOs and MLSs can offer merchants. Many other ways exist of bringing value to merchants without ISOs having to support their marketing efforts directly.

Partnering with good public relations or marketing firms that offer these types of solutions is the easiest way for ISOs to go. But researching low-cost, effective marketing options for merchants is essential.

The best way to begin mapping out marketing campaigns is by holding brainstorming sessions to come up with good ideas that will likely add value to merchants and help them succeed. So get your team involved. Identifying the types of merchants that would utilize these solutions is important. Then aligning with third-party marketing partners and value-added providers is critical to the cohesiveness of your efforts. It's a good idea to create a simple, one-page information worksheet for MLSs to gather from merchants upfront. This is an excellent way of getting the right feedback from merchants to generate the right questions and probe merchants on what they are currently doing to promote business.

It can also include qualifying questions designed to find out if merchants can utilize marketing services ISOs already offer. But launching marketing solutions for merchants will not work without ISOs and MLSs having a true desire to help merchants. The formula must include ongoing sales efforts, quality vendor selection and useful services. Initiatives will not take-off unless merchants feel confident in partnering with ISOs.

The goal is to build enough value that merchants view your ISO's services as more beneficial than your competitor's, and that your services go beyond just processing electronic payments. ISOs who realize this merchant marketing need have already begun transforming the standard sales approach to include these types of additional, value-added services from which merchants can benefit.

So take the challenge. Begin researching marketing packages or a menu of solutions targeted toward helping merchants increase business and sales.

Come up with distinctive names for programs, such as the "Merchant Marketing Club." And make sure every merchant is pitched upfront on your marketing program, or at least on the back end after the install. Internal teams may have more time to support merchants and work with them to find the right mix of solutions.

The goal for ISOs and MLSs should always be to help merchants and, by helping them, help themselves. Working together, ISOs and merchants will reap the rewards of true business partnerships for years to come. end of article

Christian Murray is the Director of Business Development for Global eTelecom Inc. He has more than 12 years' experience within the payments industry. GETI provides check processing and gift and loyalty solutions. For more information, visit www.checktraining.com and www.giftcardtraining.com, or contact Christian directly at 877-454-3835 or cmurray@globaletelecom.com.

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

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