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A Thing

Ingenious lead generation

By Ken Boekhaus

If I only had more good leads ... How many times have you heard these words from a merchant level salesperson (MLS)? It always seems the quantity and quality of leads are all that stand in the way of great sales stats. Yet sales reps make it sound like leads should fall from the sky like manna from heaven.

Lead generation is work, hard work. But effective lead generation is necessary to sales success.

Reel in referrals

Most successful sales reps sell primarily to referrals. This may sound like manna from heaven, but they have worked long and hard to create the environment that generates those referrals.

People don't refer anyone to a salesperson unless they feel good about doing so. The referral reflects on the referrer. Therefore, they are staking their reputations, to some extent, on the referrals they make. If you are providing a high level of service to merchants, they are more likely to refer other merchants to you. If they don't remember who you are, they can't refer business to you.

Therefore, you must make contact, follow through, provide excellent service and ... ask for referrals.

Ask and you shall receive

I am amazed at the number of MLSs who don't do this. If you ask for referrals, you will get a lot more leads than if you just sit back and wait for them. Start asking as soon as you have a merchant set up, trained and processing.

Ask if merchants are happy with your service. Then, ask them if they know any other merchants who would benefit from your level of service. Each time you provide them with exceptional service, ask again for referrals.

Rewards can be very effective in generating referrals. It doesn't take much. I know reps who pay $50 or $100 for referrals. Others just buy a client lunch once in a while. Rewards work well as part of direct mail campaigns. They give merchants the motivation they need to pick up the phone and call you.

Trade associations and franchisors can be terrific resources. There seems to be a trade association for about every conceivable vocation and hobby these days. Most of the national trade associations likely have credit card programs, but most of the smaller ones don't.

Even if associations have programs, they may be unhappy with their current acquirers. The sales cycle for a trade association or franchisor can be long, but persistence can pay big dividends. If you are the preferred provider for a trade association or franchisor, you have a great entr‚e into new accounts, and your probability to close will be greatly improved.

Seek reciprocity

Solicit the businesses that you patronize, especially if you are a regular customer. This seems obvious, but this avenue is often overlooked. Make a list of businesses you frequent, and then work the list. If you are unlikely to land an account at a particular business, consider shopping elsewhere.

Network, network, network

Networking is another often underutilized source for good leads. The people with whom you network may be leads themselves or may be able to refer you to others who are leads. Participate in local organizations that have a lot of business members such as chambers of commerce, Jaycees, Lions Clubs and so forth.

When you attend, work at meeting new people, and make sure they know what you do and how you benefit your merchants. Always, always, always have business cards with you.

Establish relationships with people who have merchant contacts. Accountants, lawyers, Web site developers, cash register installers and retail strip developers can be excellent sources for merchant leads, especially new merchants just setting up shop.

Don't ignore the networks you belong to that you might not recognize as networks, for example, Little League baseball, karate classes, card clubs or your faith community.

Also, networking groups of every stripe are springing up. Search online for groups that interest you or look like potential lead sources. I'll bet every one of you thinks you're networking already. The question is, are you networking as much as you can and getting the most out of it? Likely not.

Consider lead lists

You can always resort to lead lists; there are many available for sale. There are lists for new businesses, by SIC (standard industrial classification) code, by region, etc. If you google "leads list" you will get 142 million hits, so there is no shortage of lists to buy.

Keep in mind that many of these are not as current or accurate as you would like. Also note that your competitors are likely working many of the more popular sources.

Also, free lists are available through county government records for business license applications and new business name filings. New business names are published in local newspapers as well. New business license lists are typically less worked by your competitors because, in most cases, you have to request them at the county offices.

Keep those eyes peeled

Humans are designed to have selective perception. When you drive down the road, you really don't notice a lot of the things you see. If you did, your brain would go on overload. For example, you don't really notice all of the Toyota Camrys that you pass unless you are in the market for a Camry.

If you are not looking for leads as you pass through life, you will not notice them. Leads are all around you. You just have to look for them. Drive different routes to the same destinations. Go to new places. Meet new people.

Generating leads is work. But if it were easy, everybody would have the same leads. Work a little harder than the next guy (or gal) and you will have all the leads you need. Just don't sit back and wait for them to fall into your lap.

Ken Boekhaus is Vice President, Marketing and Business Development for Electronic Exchange Systems (EXS), a national provider of merchant processing solutions. Founded in 1991, EXS offers ISO partner programs, innovative pricing, a complete product line, monthly phone/Web-based training, and quarterly seminars. For more information, please visit EXS' Web site at or e-mail Boekhaus at . EXS is a registered ISO/MSP for HSBC Bank USA, National Association.

Article published in issue number 060601

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