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Article published in Issue Number: 070202

Word of mouth mojo

By Jason Felts, Advanced Merchant Services Inc.

The 10 commandments or referals
To keep referrals flowing in, post these
10 commandments where you will see
them every day.

  1. Have referral tools with you at all times (and plenty of them): business cards, brochures and a pocket-sized business card file containing your preferred referral partners' cards.

  2. Set a goal for the number of people you want to meet each week.

  3. When attending a business event, act like a host, not a guest. Or, host an event yourself. Be outgoing, give presentations and introduce others.

  4. When talking with potential referral candidates or prospects, ask probing questions. Don't be superficial. Go deep.

  5. Go to events to give first and receive later. Provide referrals and useful ideas whenever possible.

  6. When chatting with potential prospects, use stories, anecdotes and case studies to enliven the benefits you provide.

  7. Exchange business cards. Don't just give out yours. And write notes on the backs of cards so you can recall conversations later and take appropriate actions.

  8. Spend more time with new contacts and less time with friends and associates. If you meet someone who could become an incredible referral ally, invest time to form a good connection.

  9. Put effort into remembering individuals' names. Linger a little longer on names when you are being introduced.

  10. Follow up. Good follow-up is the lifeblood of referrals. You can obey the previous nine commandments religiously. But if you don't follow up effectively, you're wasting your time.

In last month's column, I discussed the power of referrals and the skills necessary to build a successful referral-based business. Now, let's look at how to effectively implement those skills.

During the course of your business day, you will have many chances to deliver value and stimulate referrals. The key is to recognize opportunities when you:

  • Teach a prospect or customer something worthwhile
  • Get a prospective or current client thinking in new ways
  • Do something for a merchant without compensation
  • Solve or prevent a retailer's problem
  • Help a merchant with POS installation face to face or by phone.
  • Deliver your product or service to a customer
  • Assist a prospect who is starting a new merchant business.

Carpe diem

The secret is to capitalize on opportunities through all phases of your business relationships. Use referral skills at every stage. Sometimes, little things blossom into big things.

Here are examples of what to do:

· Be generous: Charge for "extra" services only when necessary. Don't worry. You'll more than make up the money in future business and referrals.

· Reach out: Don't just be there for customers from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Write your cell phone number on your business cards. Your contacts will likely rarely use the number. But having it will reassure them.

· Keep your word: Doing what you're supposed to do when you are supposed to do it is the minimum required to provide good merchant service and generate referrals.

· Apologize: When something goes wrong - and it will - apologize. By apologizing, you're not admitting fault; you're expressing genuine concern for your merchant's inconvenience. This reduces tension because it demonstrates you are there to address issues that arise. Also, immediately after you apologize, fix the problem.

· Set the bar: Setting high service standards will result in unequalled customer satisfaction. Be sure to tell merchants about your standards.

· Don't burn bridges: If merchants stop doing business with you, don't ruin your relationships over it. And go out of your way to make former customers feel comfortable about returning to you.

· Compromise: If you give a customer a concession, such as a reduced price, smile - even if it's not a win for you. Give in completely and cheerfully. Don't make the merchant feel guilty. Guilt doesn't create merchant loyalty or bring about referrals.

· Educate: Teach your clients the best ways and times to interact with your business to maximize their satisfaction. Explain how your systems work and why they are best for them as well as you.

· Give thanks: Above all, say thank you every time you get the chance.

Do tell

Another opportunity in securing referrals is informing new referral prospects of the benefits of the referral process. Let them know how pleased you are to have been recommended to them through a mutual contact.

Be sure to detail what you hope to accomplish. Share your vision with your prospects and merchants. Address them by name. Tell them that by giving them great advice, implementation, rates and service you hope to earn the right to receive their referrals.

Tell them you're building a business based on providing so much value to your customers, they will naturally want to tell others about you.

Let your merchants know they are foremost in your mind. In turn, you will be foremost in their minds when asked about credit card processing.

If you notice an article about a client's business in the newspaper or on the Web, send it to the merchant with a positive comment.

This lets customers know you are thinking about them in ways beyond the dollars they bring to your coffers.

In addition, ask for regular referrals. If you serve merchant-service businesses (sign companies, stationery stores, etc.), ask them to fax you their merchant lists weekly.

Or, request to display a card or flier with a fax-back form in their stores. Let them know you will do the work and pay them for the results.

If your customers prefer to give you referrals case by case, ensure that they have multiple means of reaching you: cell phone, fax, e-mail and so forth.

No matter what form your referral system takes, you want existing and future customers to think of you as the "go-to" person for credit card processing. Keep your name in front of them.

Give back

As referrals come in, how do you reward your sources? You can best answer this question, but here are a few recommendations:

  • Some people will give you referrals upfront for free setup. Waive application fees, setup fees, and first and last lease payments in exchange for referrals.
  • Offer to pay for referrals that turn into sales. You could offer $100 for each successful referral. Or you could offer $100 for each new client who buys equipment, and $25 for those who merely reprogram old equipment or take advantage of free placement offers.
  • Offer perks such as six rolls of paper and a restaurant gift card for every referral that results in a new merchant account for you.
  • Offer to send your customers a check for two lease payments for every referral that translates into new business. That way, at a 50% closing rate, customers sending one referral per month would have all of their equipment lease payments reimbursed.

Remember to make it worthwhile for your merchants. And not just by what you offer, but also by inspiring them to want to give you referrals. This is their time you're asking for.

Aim high

To take your referral program to the next level, consider these additional options:

· Other sales professionals: Befriend commercial real estate agents. They put new businesses in new offices for a living. How about copier salespeople?

Any salesperson who creates relationships can be a valuable asset. Offer spiffs. What salesperson doesn't love free money?

· Micros and Aloha system reps: For retail storefronts and restaurant leads, seek out companies that sell Micros or Aloha systems and other cash-register type systems in stores, restaurants, hotels, wholesale restaurant-supply companies, trade associations and local chambers of commerce.

· Tradeshows: For wireless merchant leads, call on tradeshow operators, flea market organizers and so forth.

· Service businesses: Pursue service-oriented business associations, including electricians, plumbers, locksmiths and towing companies.

· The Internet: For Internet-based merchant leads, investigate Web hosting and design firms, Internet marketing and advertising businesses, domain name registration companies, and search engine submission services.

· Vendor partners: To secure a variety of vendor partners, consider diverse industries such as payroll; temporary staffing; equipment and furniture sales and leasing; phone system sales and installation; phone service resellers (long distance and local); security; computer hardware, software and troubleshooting; mail box rentals; commercial and auto insurance agents and adjusters; body shops; and car dealerships.

· Financial institutions: Approach banks and credit unions. Remember, small financial institutions need reliable partners to which they can refer their customers.

· Associations: These represent a huge opportunity. Get named the rep or provider of choice with reputable associations. Then prospect their members directly.

The key is developing dozens of allies who will refer you whenever they learn about, meet with or see someone opening a new business.

Remember, the main advantage of word-of-mouth referrals is that they're from people your prospects trust.

Your referrals are getting recommendations from people they know and respect, not from strangers.

They also know the referring party doesn't have ulterior motives and isn't trying to sell them anything.

Additionally, running a business with professionalism and a high level of service will ensure your referrability. No price is too high to protect your reputation, even if that price is an occasional monetary loss.

Never forget that your word and integrity are paramount to long-term success in this or any business.

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, call 888-355-VISA (8472), ext. 211, or e-mail Felts at

Article published in issue number 070202

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