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Street SmartsSMTaking the Lead
By Ed Freedman

When I talk with merchant level salespeople around the country and even experienced bankcard partners that have been working with our company for years, the conversation goes like this:

"We've done our homework. We've got the right agreement. We've selected the right vendor partners. We have product knowledge with terminal equipment, software and bankcard services. But we're not making a lot of money. Ed, how did you write thousands of accounts on your own? How can I do it too? What do I need to do to be successful in this business?"

My answer is simple. "Now that you've gotten everything set up, your job is not to sell merchants. Your job is to generate leads - and lots of them. The difference between a sales agent making $50K-$100K per year and another agent making $250K-$400K per year is just one thing - the agent who generates the leads is making the big bucks."

When successful merchant level salespeople are asked how they get business, they respond quickly and intelligently. They're endorsed by a local community bank, a trade organization, etc. The ones who are struggling usually have a response that shows they're not dedicating an ample amount of time to generating leads. They don't realize how important lead generation is in this business. Every merchant level salesperson has to spend as much time as possible developing quality lead sources if they want to be successful.

The next question I'm asked is obvious: "How do you get these leads and what types of leads are best?" In order to include other effective MLS lead-generating strategies with my response, I posted the following query on the MLS Forum:

  1. Which of the following types of marketing are working for you ... and why?
    • Third-party telemarketing/appointment-setters
    • New business lists (What types of lists? Are you sending out mailings or making phone calls - or both?)
    • Affiliate/trade association marketing partnership programs
    • Sales representatives
    • Internet marketing (What type - search engines, banner advertising, bulk email, etc.)
  2. Is there anything else you're doing that's working?

  3. What is the most effective use of your time and money?
  4. Are you utilizing any lead generating strategy that doesn't cost money?

  5. What type of cost-per-acquired merchant are you looking for?

  6. Are you paying any referral fees? Are you sharing any back-end residual income? A funny thing happened after the posting. Several days went by with no response. Then I re-posted it and received the following response:

    "I think you found the magic formula for shutting up some of our big mouths. I imagine some hold their Lead Generation strategy closer to the vest than an ancient Chinese secret, if it's successful. You've touched on MOST of the possibilities. But if someone throws in something not on the list as something new under the sun, I suspect someone will yell from the back room, 'We need more Calgon!'

    -Desdinova (MLS Forum User Name)

After that initial response, others quickly followed:

"Very good topic. Some salespeople are very good on the phone and others are good in person. To be truly successful, I believe you should work out a strategy that is comfortable for your personality. In training a new rep, these are some of the strategies I employ in training:"

"Use six different flyers and choose a business area with a minimum of 250 businesses and put a flyer on every business in that area. Keep a log about new construction, under new management and new startups, etc., and have your phone number on the flyer. Do this in six different areas and then the seventh week come back to area 1 and start over with a new flyer."

"As you build up customers in your area, they will start to call you with referrals in their area, making your job easier. As you learn these six different areas, make 25 cold calls a day by offering to clean the merchant's terminal and exchange worn-out VISA/MC decals with new ones."

"Other ideas:

  • Send out 50 postcards a day offering a free analysis of their statement.
  • Join the local Chamber of Commerce and become involved.
  • Join a leads club in your area or start your own.
  • Work from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week and put in the time to develop your market.
  • As you become an 'expert' in a particular field, (restaurants, auto service, etc.) work that vertical market.
  • Put a small advertisement in the yellow pages.
  • Contact one new merchant in a related business such as a cash register supplier, restaurant supplier etc. and exchange leads on a weekly basis.
  • Offer to speak at association meetings about your product and services on credit card-related topics such as fraud prevention.
  • Read a book a week about sales-related improvement and learn all you can about the bankcard industry.
  • Contact your manager when you have questions or problems.
  • Go out in the field once a week for four weeks with an experienced rep to see how they work and how their presentation goes.
  • Continually work on your presentation skills and industry trends.
  • Go back to your merchants every 30 to 60 days, clean their terminals and offer value-added services such as gift cards, Web sites, online ordering systems, check products, payroll, etc."
- Tom Goad

"Referrals are HUGE ... in fact, most of our monthly business is from referrals. What's great about referrals is that they are 80% sold at the time you get the lead AND you are WELCOMED by the merchant since a friend or associate referred you. All you have to do is listen to their needs, take care of them as a customer and confirm their already positive image of you as a good provider ... and then they, in turn, can become a new referral source."

"You might, for instance, want to leverage your existing retail accounts. See if they can refer you to other merchants they know by name. Certainly, it can take longer to work through a stream of referrals, but as you do more accounts in your area, your reputation will grow and it will become increasingly easier and also potentially lead to some very juicy larger accounts."

- Chris West

Now it's my turn to share some strategies. I've categorized them into two distinct groups - the first group does not come with a third-party endorsement and the second one does.

Group #1 - Lead-generation Methods - Non third-party Endorsement

  • Cold Calling
  • Telemarketing
  • Direct mail
  • Lead-generation companies
  • Media - newspapers, yellow pages, advertisements
  • Internet - search engines, banner advertising
Group #2 - Lead-generation Methods - Third-party Endorsement
  • Referrals from your existing merchants
  • Marketing partnerships
  • Trade/business association endorsements
  • Local business lead-exchange groups

Although I agree that all of these methods can be effective, I encourage our sales partners to focus on Group #2 above - leads that come with a third-party endorsement. The goal is to generate lots of "hot leads" that come with a third-party endorsement. Your closing percentages will skyrocket. They literally could go from 5%-10% to 70%-80%.

Here are some suggestions on good types of businesses to contact to develop lead-generating relationships.

  1. For retail storefronts and restaurant leads, seek out companies that sell MICROS systems and other cash register types of systems in stores, restaurants, hotels, wholesale restaurant-supply companies, trade associations and local chambers of commerce.

  2. For new business leads, check out printers of stationery and business cards, sign shops and commercial real estate agents specializing in leasing retail stores.

  3. For wireless merchant leads call on tradeshow operators and service-oriented business associations (electricians, plumbers, locksmiths, towing companies, etc.)

  4. For Internet-based merchant leads, investigate the following:
    • Web hosting/design firms
    • Internet marketing/advertising firms
    • Domain name registration companies
    • Search engine submission services
    • Banks that do not accept Internet-based businesses

Now you have the knowledge of how to generate tons of hot leads. You are on your way to joining the ranks of the most successful Merchant Level Salespeople in the industry. The next step is to get to work and dedicate the necessary time toward making these lead-generating relationships work for you. Remember, making just one sale at one trade association or from one referral partner can result in hundreds of merchants per year. Close the sales relationships that count. They will pay dividends for years to come.

As always, I'd love to hear from you. Please send your feedback on this topic (and any others) to streetsmarts@totalmerchantservices.com. My next column will discuss how to close all of these hot leads you are now generating. Please look for my posts on The Green Sheet MLS Forum. Obviously, this is another very hot topic, and I'd really like to include your opinions in that discussion.

"If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got." - Anonymous

I'll see you next time where the rubber meets the road.


Ed Freedman is founder and President/CEO of Total Merchant Services, one of the fastest-growing credit card merchant account acquirers in the nation. Ed is the driving force behind all business development activity as well as the execution of Total Merchant Services' marketing plan, including recruiting and training independent sales offices and establishing strategic alliance partnerships with leading vendors, so that Total Merchant Services can provide its customers with the highest quality and most reliable services available. To learn more about Total Merchant Services, visit www.totalmerchantservices.com. To learn more about partnering with Total Merchant Services, visit www.upfrontandresiduals.com or contact Ed directly at ed@totalmerchantservices.com

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