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GS Advisory Board:
Gift Cards, Cold Calls and Quotas - Oh My!

At the recent ETA meeting and through the MLS Forum, we have had the opportunity to talk with numerous sales professionals in the last several months. Almost everyone we spoke with had a question or two for us to pose to the GS Advisory Board. This is a sample of those questions and the responses we received from the Advisory Board members.


  1. Are you selling gift cards and/or loyalty cards? What type of presentation or information works for you to position these products?
  2. How do you recommend the MLS generate leads for cold calls?
  3. How many cold calls per day/week do you expect of your sales team in order to be successful?
  4. Do you set quotas for the independent MLS channel? Are these goals set per individual or region?

If you have something on your mind, please let us know by e-mailing with your question.


· Neal Anderson, NGA Enterprises

·Steve Christianson, TransPay Processing

·Wayne Damron, Lynk Systems, Inc.

·Ross Federgreen, CSRSI

·Jared Isaacman, United Bank Card

·Douglas Mack, Card Payment Systems

·Allen Kopelman, Nationwide Payment Systems

·Steve Norell, US Merchant Services

·Dave Siembieda, CrossCheck

·Scott Wagner, Hypercom

Gift and Loyalty Cards

Many of our readers have asked if they should consider the new card-based loyalty programs, what benefit there is and how to position the products. Our Advisory Board responded that this is a growing market that recently has caught on with the merchants in a big way.

Consumers have embraced the stored-value gift card product as an excellent substitute for mailing checks or cash. Employers have found gift cards to be a no-hassle, low-cost form of incentive. Merchants have embraced the computerized gift certificate accounting system, which simplifies the extensive tax liability inherent with prepaid certificates.

Gift cards and loyalty programs are obviously most easily sold as value-added to existing clients. These programs give the MLS a terrific reason to make return calls and strengthen existing relationships. Here's what our AB members said:

Neal Anderson

NGA Enterprises

"I am very excited about gift cards/loyalty cards. The best area I have seen using this approach is for employee incentives. These cards are a great way to 'spiff' someone for a job well done. The stored-value type of cards is the best.

These can be used over and over again by simply recharging the card with an amount. This is also a great payroll product, especially for the many workers in the U.S. who refuse to use traditional bank accounts."

Steve Christianson

TransPay Processing

"While we do let the merchants know we have these services available, most of our signings are the result of [the] competition coming in and pitching the merchant on gift cards. Then the merchant calls us and we put our product in."

Wayne Damron

Lynk Systems, Inc.

"We aggressively sell gift/loyalty products. Our solutions in this area are fully integrated into our terminal platforms, and most include swipe activation. We have developed these stored-value products internally and our reporting is in-depth, online and exportable into Excel. Our loyalty application supports two programs running concurrently. Our target markets are spas, salons, restaurants and specialty retail.

"We position this in many ways:

  1. most profitable sale for merchant in that cash goes into the register but no merchandise goes out the door,
  2. full value is rarely used,
  3. can be used for returns in lieu of giving back cash,
  4. excellent advertising for store,
  5. gives appearance of having same options mass retailers have,
  6. can be used as giveaways or donations to charitable events and therefore brings additional consumers into the merchant's location,
  7. much less susceptible to employee fraud and theft versus paper certificates, and
  8. much easier to account for versus paper."

Ross Federgreen


"Loyalty cards/stored-value programs are becoming more common and more competitive."

Jared Isaacman

United Bank Card

"Around three years ago the idea of a gift and loyalty card program really sparked the interest of our ISO and agent sales channels. This prompted us to take on the program in partnership with Valutec. Although we had the products and began the offering, the program really didn't take off until the beginning of 2003.

"At this point the spark of interest has turned into a sales momentum. We have seen more gift card packages sold this year [2003] so far than we have in total the last three years running. I think the credit for this is partially the result of gift card providers developing standard card programs priced more economically for the smaller retailers and restaurants.

"Gift cards have a wealth of advantages for both merchants and the ISOs who support them. The biggest and by far most noticeable advantage is the lower attrition rate. Once merchants are happy with a merchant account, gift cards and checks, the less likely they are to be converted to a competing provider."

Allen Kopelman

Nationwide Payment Systems

"We are selling Valuetec. I think they have a great product, and it has marketing materials for the merchant. It is not for everyone; they just came out with the launchbox product, and I think that it will have more success. We offer the gift cards in a package with a terminal with a cash price and lease pricing."

Douglas Mack

Card Payment Systems

"Yes, we do sell gift and loyalty products and services. We all know it is less expensive to retain existing customers rather than try to acquire new ones. Therefore, we feel the key to successfully selling the program is to establish a value to their [existing] customers and demonstrating how rewarding their [the merchant's] client for loyalty is advantageous. It is also important to be creative and show where and how they [the merchant] could use gift/loyalty as a marketing tool."

Steve Norell

US Merchant Services

"Yes, we are selling gift cards. We attempt to sell this to two types of merchants: the one looking for something different even though the volume would not be that great, and the recurring/high-volume-customer type merchant such as a coffee shop or fast food [establishment]."

Dave Siembieda


"We don't compete with our ISOs; our business focus is checks. We have found that many of the successful offices we partner with are selling gift cards as part of their merchant offerings and have positioned them as an additional source of revenue for their clients. "It's important to keep your eyes open and find leads in places your competitor might miss. Check the local business journals and see who's being promoted or what business is moving into your area.

"Don't overlook organizations you belong to that are outside your business realm because being active in the community can translate into strong relationships that can turn into referrals.

"Partnerships with others you do business with can generate leads as your business grows, as well. Having an alliance between you and a complementary provider will mean opportunities to bring leads to each other."

Scott Wagner


"My [Hypercom] terminals support a wide variety of gift cards and gift card applications. I have seen this space become increasingly popular, and the MLS is asking for terminals with this functionality more and more."

Cold Calls and Quotas

According to GS Advisory Board members, "cold calling" between appointments remains the most successful lead-generating approach. Wearing out a pair of shoes regularly is the determining factor for the independent salesperson. Sales quotas, however, are another story. The verdict is mixed on whether these work and/or are an appropriate incentive for the MLS. Everyone did agree that sales goals and a plan of attack are required for a successful sales career. Here are some ideas on building a successful merchant base from many who have proven success:

Neal Anderson

NGA Enterprises

"Cold-call leads are always the most challenging. My approach is to target a specific industry or market and focus the activities on similar companies. That way, when you have a success, you can leverage that success with the next call.

[For] example: 'Ms. ABC at XYZ Company recently invited me it to make a presentation. I thought that perhaps you would have a similar need and interests.' Use voicemail to your advantage. Leave a message that will raise the curiosity of your prospect, especially if his competitor down the street is meeting with you.

"I expect 100 [telemarketing cold calls] a day. With this volume, we hope to find two leads per day. On the street, we use cold calls as fillers between appointments. The team hopes to not have to cold call when traveling. This is because we want them fully tasked during the time in the field.

"We do not set quotas for sales agents."

Steve Christianson

TransPay Processing

" 'Feet on the street' means just that: cold calling! Some will use new business licenses and dba listings in local papers [to find leads]. Other than that, most of our new business comes from referrals.

"The individual rep should cold call before and after appointments in the area he/she is in at that time. Straight cold calling should generate enough followup opportunities to keep them [the MLS] busy. Twenty to 50 cold calls per week will set the base for the successful rep to make a real healthy income within two years. Cold-call phone solicitation also works, but it does not develop the personal side of the merchant relationship.

"No [quotas]. Our reps are true independent contractors. We only suggest and guide them in what they need to do to make a good living. Some do, some don't, so what, next! We like the truly independent type of person who knows sales and what it takes. We spend our time in sales management training reps in the products and services we sell."

Wayne Damron

Lynk Systems

"Generating leads for cold calls is almost an oxymoron in that true 'cold calls' are walking in cold, with no lead. [Cold calls are] most effective when done in a canvassing approach where you hit every merchant in a given area. There are many resource guides such as the yellow pages that many salespeople use to do niche calling.

"For instance, for the next two weeks I am only going to call on spas and salons and I am going to refine my presentation to specific needs of that segment. In other words, I am going to learn their business inside and out and know what to lead with and how to leverage satisfied merchants I have previously sold within this niche.

"In the beginning we expect 40 cold calls per day. As the salesperson gains product knowledge, confidence and, most important, a customer base, referrals can replace a percentage of cold calls. Our top people never quit cold calling altogether and consider it an instrumental part in keeping their pipeline full. If you refuse to cold call, then you need to be in another profession. We all should start out as hunters, and hunting should always be a part of our sales strategy.

"We set quotas for all salespeople as well as all sales management. Our expectation is that this is their primary vocation and if minimum performance levels are not maintained we actually will [automatically terminate the salesperson]. Now, we are different than most in that our salespeople are all W-2 employees and are eligible for all corporate benefits, including insurance and 401(k)."

Jared Isaacman

United Bank Card

"There are plenty of success stories I have seen for MLS/ISOs to generate leads. I think a combination of telemarketing, mailers and walking the street will generate a certain amount of deals by just the rule of averages alone. Once MSL/ISOs start generating their first couple of deals and getting down and dirty in the business, they will naturally start to refine their marketing and sales techniques to achieve a higher closing rate and an overall greater amount of success.

"We don't have any quotas for our ISO and agent sales channels. They each set their own standards and minimums for their own success.

"This is not something we would ever do. I always saw quotas and minimums as a requirement for in-house sales teams. ISOs and MLS by their very name are independent and thus run their own show. I think the fact that the ISOs and agents working with us have the ability to make their own rules and expectations is a big factor in their individual and collective success."

Allen Kopelman

Nationwide Payment Systems

"[I suggest that the MLS] make good flyers and pass out a lot of them. When I first started in the business I would pass out about 300 to 500 per week, and I averaged one call per 100, so that would generate three to five good leads = buyers per week. Also, join a networking group and you will get business. It will not happen overnight, but it works.

"We [Nationwide Payment Systems] tell reps that you need to do a combination of things to be successful, and this is one of them [cold calls]. We suggest that they do about 50 per day. That means walk into a location, introduce yourself, get their business card, find out who the owner is, do not make a presentation unless asked to, set an appointment for another day or later that day, and leave. Then you know if the person is interested. ... They have a flyer, business card or brochure, and when they are ready they will call. I have left merchants and gotten calls up to a year later.

"We have goals, but we do them with the salespeople based on how much time they want to invest and how much money THEY want to make. Then we assist them in making a business plan. We have a three-year plan - we show them that if they take that plan and work it, it has worked and continues to work. If you have a plan, work the plan and the plan will work. All you have to do is work the plan. This business is not hard; it is easy. All you have to do is work.

"I came from the hospitality industry - hotels and restaurants where managers and owners put in 80 hours per week. In merchant services if you work 40 hours in sales you can make money in this business. This business is a numbers game - the more people that you call on or who know what you do, the numbers are in your favor.

"As an MLS I do not cold call that much anymore. I have taken getting referrals to the level [where] all I have time for is to just work referrals and my sources. I do some cold calling when I sign some one and install them. I ask them to introduce me to a couple of their neighbors."

Douglas Mack

Card Payment Systems

"It depends on the client each salesperson/organization is trying to acquire. The three most successful campaigns to capture new businesses are:

  1. face-to-face cold calls
  2. telemarketing
  3. direct mail

"The most successful ways to acquire accounts are

  1. referrals,
  2. face-to-face cold calls,
  3. direct mail. These are at least our methods based on experience.

"A simple goal is 10-15 face-to-face cold calls per day. That doesn't mean hit a strip mall and call it a day. It means 10-15 calls on new or select businesses (i.e., a business that you would like to have as a client). Even if you have 3-4 appointments in a day, you should still be able to call on an additional 10.

"In between each appointment and cold call is where the cell phone comes into play ... following up on cold calls from the week before scheduling for the next. A good CRM like GoldMine (on a laptop) or at the very least a PDA/Pocket PC will help keep you in check on the followup calls. The key is to set your plan, directions, calls, etc. the night before and review [it] first thing the next day.

"We really don't feel quotas are necessary. If the person isn't writing enough deals, they won't survive. We do encourage additional deals by month-end bonuses, though. We found it helps push for that one extra account needed to hit bonus."

Steve Norell

US Merchant Services

"We use survey [personnel] as well as telemarketers. The only cold calls that we believe are worth anything are the ones that are made after completing pre-appointed sales calls. There are usually 10 businesses around or near the one you just sold or made a presentation to."

Dave Siembieda


"We [CrossCheck] look for 50 cold calls a day, including followup or callbacks. A successful rep also will spend approximately two hours per week telemarketing, setting appointments by phone, building relationships and/or gathering information. It is a consistent, day-in and day-out effort that will really pay off in the end.

"We don't require quotas for our independent agents. We do provide leads and sales support to help them with calls, but we've found that fewer restrictions work better than setting requirements that we have no control over."

I want to thank our Advisory Board members for taking the time to respond to your questions and sharing their knowledge with our readership. Each is supporting our industry by giving time to GS; time spent writing can't be spent selling.

My goal is to support your sales success with each word we publish.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.
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