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Street SmartsSM:
New Year, New Deal?

By Ed Freedman

As 2003 draws to a close, you're probably starting to use the "r" word: resolution. I did some research on how the use of New Year's resolutions came about. According to one source, resolutions can be traced back to ancient Babylon. Babylonians celebrated New Year's Day more than four thousand years ago; they believed that whatever you did on the first day of the year would affect everything you did for the next 364 days.

To start 2004 off on the right foot, what resolutions should hardworking MLSs make and, more importantly, how do they keep them? I've learned there are a few basic rules to follow. First of all, don't try to transform everything at once. We're all eager to compose a long list of everything we want to change about our businesses and ourselves, but a list of 20 or 30 resolutions for one year is unrealistic. Instead, opt to stick with one or two main goals.

Another basic rule is to make sure your resolutions are worded carefully. Instead of emphatically stating what you are going to do, construct your resolutions as a plan made up of smaller steps, rather than one big leap. And be sure to write them down. Post them on your desk calendar or stick them inside your briefcase. Put your resolutions where you'll see them daily so you are constantly reminded of what you're working toward. If New Year's resolutions can be traced back to ancient times, it would appear there's a long tradition of making-and breaking-resolutions. Another rule is revisiting your resolutions from time to time. If you're not making progress, perhaps it's time to revamp your plan.

Who among us hasn't resolved to exercise and smile more or eat and drink less? Are there any professionals out there who haven't stated on New Year's Day that they'll spend more time with their families and less time in the office, or that they'll get more organized be less overextended?

There's also the universal resolution of making more money, saving more money or just becoming more productive. And the granddaddy of them all- reducing stress!

Which one of these resolutions did you accomplish last year? If we all experience the shame of failed resolutions, why do we still make them each year? I believe we make resolutions because we really do want to change certain aspects of our lives.

What do MLSs want to change in 2004? I posted the following on the MLS Forum to find out the answer:

"As 2003 draws to a close, it's time to start thinking about resolutions for 2004. When it comes to improving your business, making changes in your day-to-day operations or increasing productivity, what are your New Year's resolutions?"

As expected, the responses were interesting and thought provoking:

"I plan to adopt new methods of servicing my clients. Through on-going communications with merchants and by staying on top of their business needs, I will increase my retention, referrals and sales of supplemental equipment/supplies." -MJ

"I resolve that in 2004, I am going to create a referral program where instead of the money going to the referral source, it goes to charity...Hopefully, that will make a difference." -Desdinova

"One goal I try to get everyone to do is set up a Web site for perspective customers. Just a plain site to explain the quality (and not quantity) of what you are doing for other merchants, and what it can do for them." -Q

"My goal is to consistently sell at least 12-15 deals per month for the entire year (being a new full-timer in the industry). If I can do this for 6 months or so, I plan to increase it by another few and continue doing so as I repeatedly hit my goals." -jimmyboy126

In speaking with many hard working MLSs, I found that although many are happy with the results they achieved in 2003, everyone wants 2004 to be even better. If you want different results (i.e. better results), then you need to do things differently. More of the same will just get you more of the same. Remember January 1, 2004 will be the first day of the rest of your life. Let's get that life off to the right start. The following are areas in which I strongly recommend all MLSs focus their 2004 resolutions:

  • Contracts
  • Compensation
  • Vendor Selection
  • Lead Generation
  • Closing Deals
  • MLS Resources

Contracts

Contracts are the key to unlocking your success and ensuring your survival in this industry. Get an agreement that protects your residuals. Protect your business by ensuring that your agreement protects you from merchant loss liability. Watch out for exclusivity clauses. Be wary of language that requires you to sell your portfolio for specific amounts and at specific times. Know with whom you are doing business.

Compensation

Regarding compensation, there's not one 'best' program for everyone. It all depends on needs, likes, personal situations and financial status. Companies are getting more creative with compensation programs. Two MLSs can write the same number of merchants and end up in completely different financial situations simply because of the way they chose to be compensated upfront.

Consider the following: signing and upfront bonuses, buy rates, revenue sharing, leasing or equipment purchase programs and value-added services. Do your homework, and choose the best possible compensation program for you. You'll earn dividends for years to come.

Vendor Selection

The keys to effective vendor selection are compatibility, service and price. The ISO/Merchant account provider is paramount. When choosing a partner, the top issues for MLSs are reputation and experience in industry. MLSs want to be treated fairly and with respect. Make sure you choose the right ISO partner for 2004 and beyond. Lead Generation

Lead generation is the difference between a successful and failing MLS. Resolve to use effective lead generating strategies. Dedicate the appropriate amount of time for developing new lead sources. Remember, leads equal sales, which equal more money and a brighter future.

Closing Deals

The ability to close separates the professionals from the hacks. Successful closers control the process. Following are a few secrets to successful closing:

  • Break the ice: Introduce yourself and make the prospect feel comfortable talking to you.

  • Interview the merchant: Ask questions that lead your prospect to make small commitments; use their answers to help explain and validate recommendations.

  • Make a recommendation: Base it on the prospect's answers and explain start-up costs as well as logistics to set up the account.
  • Use the assumptive close: "We need to get started today."
Need a refresher course? Pick up every MLSs secret weapon for closing-Zig Ziglar's "Secrets of Closing the Sale"-and READ IT!

MLS Resources

Take advantage of MLS resources, especially the regional acquirer associations. They successfully fulfill MLSs' needs for locally hosted trade shows, conferences and training events, and they provide access to and interaction with leading industry vendors. It is imperative that MLSs participate for the continued success of these associations. Stay ahead of the curve, and stay informed on new products and services. Acquirer associations provide that information. Attend!!

Here are some more ideas for MLS resolutions that just might make the difference in 2004:

  • I will work on developing marketing partnerships that make my phone ring with hot prospects.
  • I will run my business instead of letting it run me. I will organize my work hours into the following categories: cold calling from good lists, developing new marketing partnerships, sales calls (phone/in-person) and servicing new and existing merchants.
  • I will keep my sales technique and presentation fresh and read one book each month on sales techniques or motivationally oriented and inspiring reading.
  • I will make a commitment to exercise at least four times a week.
  • I will be more generous with sharing income (upfront and residual income) with marketing partners and sales reps who work for me.
  • I will keep track (on a weekly basis) of the number of different prospects I've contacted (only counting situations where I made a full presentation to a decision maker), the number of merchants I service each week and the time I spent servicing them.
  • I will learn how to sell a new value-added service such as check conversion/guarantee or gift cards.
  • I will attend at least two sales training or industry conferences in 2004.
  • I will go to www.naopp.com and join the National Association Of Payment Professionals (NAOPP) for $25. My voice needs to be heard.
Since I always put my money where my mouth is, let me share with you my personal New Year's resolutions for 2004:
  • I resolve to find more ways to pay more money to our dedicated sales partners. Never be content with the status quo.

  • I resolve to commit more resources to our IT Department to ensure our company's merchant turn-around time gets faster, and that our ability to service and support our sales partners and merchants continues to improve.

  • Now that our company has completed the move into a 15,000 square foot facility, I can now make the resolution to always have more people than we need to properly service and support our merchants and sales partners. What's the worst that can happen? We'll just do everything faster and more efficiently.

  • I resolve to dedicate even more time to educating MLSs by making sure this column remains relevant and interesting, by continuing our annual national sales training conference, by speaking with our sales partners daily and by speaking at as many industry events as possible on topics of interest to MLSs.
Remember to check your progress throughout the year regarding your resolutions. Feel free to check in with me on how I am doing with my resolutions. Monitor my progress.

The word resolution comes from the verb "resolve." It means to make up your mind and decide firmly. As the curtain closes on 2003, there's no better time to make the decision to clear out all the clutter.

A clean slate will empower you to bring in the new, to make that fresh start and realistically follow your plan. Since ancient times, the New Year has been a time of looking back at what was or was not accomplished as well as a time for looking ahead. Let's look forward!

And speaking of forward, my first column of the New Year will focus on an area that troubles me-MLS fraud. Please look for my post "MLS Fraud Top Ten List" on the MLS Forum. We will delve deeper into this hot topic next time.

Finally, I want to wish Paul Green, the entire staff of The Green Sheet and all the readers of this column a very happy, healthy and successful New Year. I want to express my sincere appreciation for all your support.

I am very proud and excited to be affiliated with such terrific people, including my competitors. I hope that we can continue to fight the good fight to improve this phenomenal industry of ours in 2004.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

- Albert Einstein

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 the Web site at 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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