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Street SmartsSM:
Street Smarts Welcomes First Guest Columnist

By Ed Freedman

On the first anniversary of "Street Smarts," I presented the acquiring community with a unique opportunity: Many of my peers and competitors teased me about writing this column and boasted that they could do as good a job, if not better than me, if they only had the time; so I challenged them to "put their money where their mouth is." I invited them to send letters on any issues they believed merchant level salespeople (MLS) would find interesting or helpful.

As the host of "Street Smarts," I'm very happy to welcome our first guest columnist, Alan Gitles, CEO of Landmark Merchant Solutions. Gitles was the first person to step up to the plate when he sent the following letter:

Dear Ed,

My name is Alan Gitles, and I am the CEO and principal shareholder of Landmark Merchant Solutions. Landmark is headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., and is a full-service processing center, complete with an in-house back office and an inside sales force. Your readers may remember me from American National, where we were among the first to treat salespeople as an important ally and vital cog, rather than a necessary evil.

It's this high degree of respect I have for the sales process that draws me to your column, and I greatly enjoy reading it in each issue of The Green Sheet. Your column is always rife with ways to help the sales professional, our most important asset.

Based on my 10 years of experience in both the outside and inside sales process, following is what I think are the biggest difficulties facing sales professionals in our industry and some solutions:

Problem: Not Enough Warm Leads to Fill Your Day

The typical rep's lament #1: "If only I could get in front of enough merchants who are even marginally interested, I'd close them." Door-to-door selling is simply more difficult now than ever before.

Merchants are even less receptive than before to a sales rep they've never heard of who shows up unannounced. Plus, the sheer number of merchants you can reach in a day by going door-to-door is so limited.

Sales reps need to be constantly pitching. For one, it's a numbers game. The more warm leads, the more sales. If you close one of every four interested merchants, then eight a week gets you two; 16 gets you four; and so on. Secondly, the more presentations reps make, the more "in the zone" they become.

Ask any great athlete after a great performance, and he or she will tell you, "I was in a great rhythm." Rare are the athletes who can come off the bench cold, and perform at their best. They need to get into the flow before they can perform at an optimal level.

The sales process works the same way. If you're only pitching to three or four merchants a week, you can't possibly be in a selling rhythm, so you can't possibly close as many deals.

Solution: Effective Cold Calling Techniques

We all break out in a cold sweat when someone mentions the phrase "cold calling." There's no task less desirable for salespeople than making hundreds of calls to merchants who don't want to talk to them. It's a humbling, confidence-eroding, tedious job.

But it's also the most important job a sales rep can do. Cold calling builds your pipeline; it sets up your work week; and it's an indispensable marketing engine that gets you in front of merchants.

However, the typical rep who cold calls finds, after a couple of hours, that they have gotten NO good leads and abandons the task. Here are some tips to remedy that problem:

  1. Use a more productive calling list. There are list brokers out there who will, for relatively little money, sell you lists of business names that can be targeted to specific volume sales; type of business (SIC or Standard Industry Code); length of time in business; and location.

    They will provide you with the name of the owner, address, and phone number-everything you need to make the contact. Figure out the type of business your product and sales ability is best suited to, and laser in on that specific type of business when buying a list. This will be far more productive than the local Yellow Pages.

  2. Stick with it. Nothing works all the time. Don't just cold call for two hours, find it futile and give up. For cold calling to work, you MUST devote four hours per day, for five straight days.

    While it's tough to psyche yourself up for it, you'll fill up your week's schedule and make a lot more sales. If all else fails, and you can't bring yourself to do it, work with an MSP, such as Landmark, who will provide you with all of the warm leads you can handle.

Problem: Differentiating Your Product

We exist in a fiercely competitive marketplace. Every merchant is inundated with calls and visits by ISOs competing on rate.

If your product doesn't stand out, you simply shrink the number of sales you can make with every new ISO and sales rep who comes along.

Solution: Distinguish Yourself

Find whatever it is about your program that is unique, and keep hammering away at it with your merchant. Realize that even if your price is great, someone else can probably beat it.

Whether it's service, a value-added component or some other facet of what you can provide, your merchant will separate you from the competition because of it. With price, however, all they'll do is shop it around.

One of the most effective ways to distinguish yourself is by offering merchants a free Web site for their business. Landmark is fortunate enough to be able to do this for its merchants. However, simply telling your merchants that they will receive a free Web site won't sell it.

Here's what will:

  1. Paint the picture. Tell them what their Web site will look like. If they have retail products, they'll need pictures and descriptions, as well as buy buttons. If they have a service business, they'll want before and after pictures, testimonials, smiling faces, etc. Nothing sells like a vision of what they'll get.

  2. Explain the benefits. Tell them what it means to have a professional site. Show them the importance of a Web site for credibility, marketing and additional channels of distribution.

  3. Explain why. Show them why you'll give them a free Web site. Explain how that processor makes money when a merchant does transactions, so your success is tied directly to their success. It will give them a sense of comfort, trust and partnership.

Problem: Closing

Most sales reps do a very nice job of presenting a product, explaining the process and displaying the benefits of their service. Then why is it only a select few reach their goals month after month?

Typically, they aren't good closers. For whatever reason, they have difficulty getting their merchants to "pull the trigger." When is the right time to close? What is the right way to ask for the sale?

Solution: A Couple of Helpful Hints

  1. Be aggressive. Isaac Newton's Law of Inertia states "an object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force."

    Your merchants will not act alone. They are comfortable with whom they're with, what they're doing, etc. If you expect to present information and let them decide on their own time frame, you're letting someone else come in and take a sale that you should have made.

    You MUST have the mindset that merchants need you (albeit in a professional and polite way) to take them by the collar and pull them through the closing process. If you have crunched numbers with them, and they fully understand the benefits of your program, there is NO REASON they shouldn't be closed on the first appointment.

  2. The Staircase Close. This method should help you. It's a way to be aggressive without coming across as pushy. You simply assume the sale and say phrases like "What happens next is..." "Here's what we do now..." and "The next step after that is..." This creates immediacy without begging for the sale.

Make sure you set a timeline of events for the merchant, using chronology. (Example: "Here's what happens next...I'll spend three minutes gathering info on your business. Then this afternoon, I'll prepare the paperwork. I'll be back here by no later than 3:00 p.m. I'll go through everything with you, you'll sign, and we'll get you up and running by tomorrow.")

This takes the onus off of them. You NEVER ask them "Are you ready to do this?" or "When do you want to get this done?"

Those questions only put pressure on your merchants, and make them revert back to their state of inertia.

At Landmark we have tremendous appreciation for your readership and for the professionals who sell credit card processing services. We also know that a sales rep who is equipped with enough warm leads; a distinct, quality product to sell; and a quality closing method, can't help but succeed and increase their income. If we help in that regard, we've made a difference.

I can be reached with any questions or comments at 800-882-4896 ext. 410 or you can send me an e-mail at Alan.Gitles@LandmarkMerchant.com . Our Web site is: www.LMSalesCenter.com . Thanks, Ed!

Wow! What a great column and way to kick off this series. Alan makes important points and offers very helpful suggestions on how to increase your sales and, therefore, increase your earnings. Kudos to you, Alan, for your invaluable contribution.

Now that the guest column standard has been set, I hope many other industry luminaries step up and share their expertise and experience to support the hardest working element of our industry-the MLS. It's as easy as picking up a phone or sending me an e-mail. You can reach me at streetsmarts@totalmerchantservices.com or 1.888.84.TOTAL, ext. 314.

My next column will focus on the truth behind revenue splits. From the numerous responses I received on my last post, this is definitely a hot topic.

Please send feedback on this guest column (and any others) to streetsmarts@totalmerchantservices.com . Be sure to include your name and the name of your company if you want be acknowledged.

One final note, the "Street Smarts Feedback" contest is in high gear! We've asked you to tell us how you improved your game by implementing something you read in any of the "Street Smarts" columns.

The Green Sheet will provide a one-year paid membership to the NAOPP for every MLS who responds in writing to StreetSmarts_Feedback@greensheet.com .

Each month, we will select the best or most thought-provoking response, and that winner will be awarded a one-time paid conference fee to the regional conference of his or her choice (i.e. ETA Expo Networks or a regional acquirers' association meeting). In January 2005, we will select the best response to "Street Smarts Feedback" for 2004.

The grand prize winner will receive a fully-paid trip to the 2005 ETA Annual Meeting & Expo, including full registration fees, airfare and three-nights' hotel accommodations. Please send your feedback to: StreetSmarts_Feedback@greensheet.com .

The winner for May 2004 was Mark Sandos. Mark is now a paid member of NAOPP and in June attended the NEAA meeting in New Jersey, courtesy of The Green Sheet. Mark's story appeared in the June 14, 2004 issue of The Green Sheet ("We Have a Winner!" issue 04:06:01). Congratulations Mark!

"Write the bad things that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble."
-Arabic Parable

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. Freedman 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 Freedman directly at ed@totalmerchantservices.com.

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