By Marc Beauchamp
If you depend on agent, referral, affiliate or channel partners to grow your business, it's critical that you develop an atmosphere that inspires loyalty to your products, programs and solutions.
The majority of profits for many ISOs come from the efforts of their sales partners. Just flip through the advertising in this publication, and you'll find a variety of innovative sales programs, compensation plans, cutting-edge solutions and free hardware options designed to entice and recruit new sales partners.
With new competitors entering the industry at breakneck speed, it's just going to get more challenging to build a consistent program for agents and maintain their loyalty. Many industries have faced the same hurdles as businesses matured and evolved. Take the insurance industry, for example: initially, their sales channel consisted of "captured sales offices" requiring exclusivity.
As competitors entered the market with new and innovative products, the paradigm shifted to nonexclusive brokers, and now you see hyper competition via brokers, internet quote sites, agents and in-house salaried salespeople working directly for insurance companies.
Many organizations in the payments industry have adopted the same distribution strategies by implementing a combination of direct and indirect sales channels. I would submit that the indirect sales approach is still one of the most effective and profitable avenues to growing and maintaining a merchant account sales channel. It's just become a little more challenging to build and maintain partner loyalty. Keep in mind that to attract, convert and keep more customers—in your case as an ISO, VAR, product creator or bank—your goal is to attract, convert and keep more quality sales partners. The challenge is not recruiting new partners; it's getting your partners to produce on a consistent basis and keeping the real producers in the fold.
Here are four keys elements that I believe are necessary to keep your sales partners loyal and producing for your organization.
Training is the touchstone to sales success. It's expected that new sales partners will have some apprehension when dealing with a new bank, new procedures, new products, new vendors and new paperwork. Make sure your training offering provides ample how-to information on the basics, as well as advanced training topics. Provide a system that is accessible 24/7 that can be accessed and navigated easily.
The most important factor is making sure new sales partners and their agents actually attend training; if applicable, an on-site visit will always be worth the investment. Remember, repetition is the mother of skill. Hold training sessions often, and offer advanced sales training as part of your mix.
Professional sales tools are paramount. Provide top notch, customizable marketing material, product sheets, lead generators and sales presentations. In today's environment a website is a must. Offer sales partners a customized, compliant sales website. Remember independent agents are just that: independent. Anything you can offer or develop that adds value to their businesses will keep them producing for your company.
Here are several examples value-added offerings that may get the creative juices flowing: leads/appointments, lead lists, sales closing assistance, co-op marketing programs, tradeshow booth loaner programs, statement analysis, branding services, business cards, CRM access, expenses-paid home office training.
One key component of maintaining agent loyalty and production is pre- and post-sales support. Your sales support team should be in close contact with new agents for the first 60 to 90 days of the relationship and be available to answer any questions that may arise during the sales process.
These days, many day-to-day communications and tasks such as support ticket alerts, email notifications, residual reports and customer inquiries can be handled by a variety of software tools. Just make sure the agent is kept in the loop. You build loyalty by building relationships. One-on-one communication from your sales support staff is the best tool to nurture and build sales agent loyalty.
Is it all about the money? The short answer is no, but the money is extremely important. If the ISO's support or systems are lacking and merchants are dropping off at a rapid clip, then it won't matter what the bonus or residual program looks like. Your attrition will be too high to build anything of lasting value.
It goes without saying that your residual split must be competitive; in addition, a robust pay plan that incentivizes partners to sell your targeted merchant categories is a smart way to drive compensation. This can take on many forms, including upfront bonuses, true-ups, portfolio buyouts options, conversion bonuses, production bonuses and a higher residual splits based on performance. Salespeople are often goal oriented; consider monthly, quarterly or yearly sales contests to round out the offering.
As the industry grows in complexity, so will the need to support and maintain loyalty with sales partners. Focus on these four areas and your independent sales channel program will succeed and participants will remain loyal to your company. Remember the adage that big doors swing on little hinges. Major adjustments may not be required; a minor tweak or enhancement to your strategy may add massive value to your sales partners.
There is no denying that the rainmakers in any organization are producing sales partners. If you want it to continue to rain merchants, then ensure you invest the proper energy and resources to maintain a loyal sales channel.
Marc Beauchamp is author of Survive and Thrive in the Merchant Services Industry and founder of Bankcard Life, a community for payments professionals. He is offering a free copy of his book to all payments professionals at www.bankcardlife.com/greensheet. Marc welcomes your comments and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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