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The Green Sheet Online Edition

March 10, 2008 • Issue 08:03:01

Secret's out: How to snag merchants

By Maxwell Sinovoi
United Bank Card Inc.

What makes a good merchant level salesperson (MLS)? Ask 100 MLSs and you will get that many answers. But who has the time to conduct a study that extensive? Over the 10 years I've spent in the payments industry, I've kept a mental log of little known tips and I'd like to share them with you now.

Power of people

The adage, it's not what you know but who you know, is one if the biggest truths in any industry. A commercial some years ago for a hair product capitalized on word-of-mouth tactics: Someone uses the product and tells two friends about it; they use the product and tell five friends. Bingo - advertising from satisfied customers.

I can virtually guarantee that you know at least 10 business owners. Now that we have that established, why not get them to sign with you?

Once those 10 are signed, ask each for three referrals. Each business has numerous suppliers, belongs to at least one association and sells to numerous other business owners who can add countless more referrals.

Sharp MLSs not only sign many merchants, but they also know how to make the most of their merchant accounts. Leaving a business you have just boarded without getting a referral is practically criminal in this line of work.

You likely met some of your current merchant customers through referrals who said you are a good MLS who provides stellar service at a quality price.

Now you want to help your new clients' friends receive the same quality service and pricing. Convey that to your newly signed merchants so the message gets passed along.

Bonus feature

If sincerity, service and better pricing don't work, you always have a referral fee to offer. Today, a multitude of bonuses are available in the payments industry to easily cover a nominal referral fee.

The idea is to get multiple referrals so merchants see the reward of referral fees. Maybe $100 isn't necessarily exciting, but 10 referrals would mean $1,000 in a merchant's pocket. For merchants capable of sending you a huge number of business referrals, offer a more profitable opportunity.

For example, you could offer them a small percentage of your residual stream for each merchant they help bring in. Another idea that some ISOs use is to research merchants' tastes and buy premium wines they'll savor or take them on special outings on your tab.

This treatment will also greatly improve your relationships with your customers, since I'm almost certain none of their other vendors are taking time out of their schedules to do similar things.

Word: Association

Being a member of an organization is your greatest ally when seeking new merchants to sign. If you are not working with a fellowship, you are missing out on one of the best opportunities to easily meet a large number of merchants.

I even prefer the smaller groups to the bigger ones for making the networking rounds.

Try not to attend the same events that everyone else searching for merchants will frequent. Think about your strengths or hobbies outside of work.

If you join an affiliation dedicated to a product or service you know well, you will have greater success fitting in and building rapport with the potential merchants included in the membership.

If you are a golfer, join a golf club that will have a larger percentage of business owners as members. If you collect baseball cards, become a member of a baseball card union.

Just think of how much fun it will be to board merchants in an industry that you find enjoyable. Also, one of the best ways to find these gatherings is by asking your existing merchant customers.

Joining is easy, but you still need to do some work once you are in the door. Regularly call the president and board members of societies you join, and find out what kind of promotions you can run in conjunction with group events.

Every organization needs funding. The only way to survive is through membership fees and sponsorship money. You are capable of providing both. Also, board members are always trying to justify their membership fees.

When you offer to do special things, such as host a martini bar at an annual show, or have a cocktail hour and co-brand it with an association's name, you will be providing exactly what board members are seeking.

You want to become the preferred payment services vendor for the guild. It would be ideal to have your brochure and your business card included in the group's new member welcome kit.

If you execute this plan with aplomb, associations can truly become a lucrative, recurring source of leads for your company, and you can even have fun in the process.

Vertical leap

Vertical marketing is another great sales technique (it is also a piece of cake). Essentially, the concept is that when you sign a merchant in a specific market, you pursue every other merchant in that market within that merchant's town, city or ZIP code.

For example, if you sign a camera store, go to the next camera store a few miles away. Become a camera store expert. Similar to the method of finding associations, pick merchants you enjoy visiting.

If you like photography, visiting 25 camera stores in a given week or 50 in a month won't be a chore. If you're an avid camper or fisherman, try the outdoor sports stores.

For every merchant you sign in a given vertical, the sales process will become easier. You will also have instant credibility if you can drop the names of competitors in the area you have already signed.

Once you have completely gone through all of the similar stores in one area, you can continue the vertical marketing by widening the market. For example, when you've finished with camera stores, proceed to camera repair stores, photography stores and labs, and so on.

If you have MLSs working for you, make each rep a specialist - a camera store specialist or a computer store specialist, for instance.

This technique will also help new agents gain knowledge about the payments industry one business type at a time. I hope these secrets enable you to organize your selling approach.

With positive feedback from happy merchants, a few association memberships and some vertical markets under your belt, you will have more fun with the sales process and, hopefully, sign more merchants. end of article

Maxwell Sinovoi is the National Sales Manager of the Western United States with United Bank Card Inc. He can be reached at msinovoi@unitedbankcard.

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