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Street SmartsSM:
It's Never a Sure Thing

By Kathy Harper

Editor's note: The Green Sheet is pleased to announce that beginning with this issue, the National Association of Payment Professionals' (NAOPP) Board of Directors will serve as the new hosts of "Street Smarts." Individual members of NAOPP's Board will rotate authorship of the column.

When The Green Sheet first approached NAOPP's Board about taking over the "Street Smarts" column, I must admit that I felt more than a little apprehensive.

However, once someone explained to me that NAOPP Board members would rotate the responsibility of writing the column, I began to see this as a great opportunity. Real merchant level salespeople (MLSs) would write the series intended for the "feet on the street."

Although I thought this was a great twist on the previous format, my initial excitement soon turned to panic when NAOPP asked me to write the first article.

My first thought was "Me? A guest columnist?" With barely three years' experience in the industry, I'm hardly an expert. So I called my friend and mentor, Neil Mink, to ask his opinion.

A New Voice for "Street Smarts"

When Mink's laughter finally subsided, and he had some time to think about it, he said he thought it might be a good idea after all.

He reasoned that the column's former author, Ed Freedman, although very knowledgeable and experienced, was not out pounding the pavement every day like I was.

After selling his first million or so accounts, Freedman now sits near the top of the bankcard food chain, so he is somewhat removed from the rat race below.

Mink believed that I and other MLSs could offer something that Freedman couldn't: a true voice from the little guys, er, gals.

Now don't get me wrong. I have the utmost respect for Freedman, and like many others, I pattern myself after him, one of the industry masters.

At a recent association meeting, I almost lost my balance and fell over on my face because I had leaned in so I could hear what he was saying (He said he planned to have the Caesar salad for lunch that day).

Mink's point was that the industry has been through a few changes since Freedman sold "in the streets." Increased competition, declining lease and equipment prices, and free equipment have made it difficult for new agents to break into this industry.

MLSs Have Resources

The cost of gas has driven many agents, who previously targeted brick-and-mortar retail locations, to the desk and phone. They are now forced to retrain themselves in this challenging arena of sales to learn more about selling to online merchants.

The average merchant is becoming savvier about equipment and processing and turning to the Internet to buy.

On the plus side, as agents we now have a wealth of resources to turn to. We have The Green Sheet. We can attend any number of excellent national and regional association meetings held across the country.

We have access to the Electronic Transactions Association's (ETA) training sessions, and we have the NAOPP, an organization built with MLSs in mind.

With 260,000 miles on my "office on wheels," two rambunctious kids to support, more bills than merchant accounts and never enough in residual payments, I decided to take on the challenge of imparting in this column the only wisdom that I can, which is wisdom from the streets, baby!

Returning to the MLS Forum

Julie O'Ryan, President and Editor in Chief of The Green Sheet, announced the new "Street Smarts" format on March 8, 2005. She posted the following on my behalf on GS Online's MLS Forum:

"The [next 'Street Smarts'] topic is 'the sale is never finished.' Never assume that you have a 'sure thing' on your hands. Please share your stories of the SURE THING."

To O'Ryan's post I added, these are "situations where you are led to believe that the deal is closed, and suddenly, you find that it is not. [An] example would be finding out, contrary to what you have been told, that you are not dealing with the true owner.

"Or you get a call saying, 'Come on by so we can do the paperwork' and finding that when you arrive, that you've got to go over the whole presentation again. Even the seasoned professionals must be surprised sometimes."

Following are MLS' responses to those posts:

"My rule of thumb is to never talk about a sale until it has batched. Giving yourself a pat on the back before you are paid is a sure way to jinx the sale and not finish the sale!" - Desdinova

"I'm sure every MLS will have war stories like that. I remember back in the days where approval took two weeks as opposed to two hours, and you could write a deal, take the pictures (Remember the Polaroid?) get the 15 pages signed, void check, the whole nine yards.

"Then, after waiting two weeks for the approval, you call to advise the merchant of the installation date only to find out while we were waiting, someone came in and sold them for $5 less per month. We have come a long way!" - SalesAMS

"Reminds me of my first 'independent sales' job. I was about 22 and had just gotten my real estate license, and for the first time didn't have to punch a clock or answer to anyone. I was on floor duty, and this big fancy limo pulls up and wants to buy some beachfront real estate.

"It was my floor day and my clients, so I ended up spending about a week with these people, cruising around in the limo, drinking champagne, thinking 'this is the life' ... the lady even had a little dog whose feet had never been on the ground outside (her name was Precious) ...

"They decided on two condos on the beach, which would have netted me about $8,000 back then (about 20 years ago ... now everyone knows how old I am).

"That was more money than I had ever seen, let alone made, so I was feeling pretty good about this new career. Anyway, I mentally had this money in my pocket, so for the next couple weeks, [I] didn't do much prospecting. [I] went and had wine at lunch and thought 'What easy money this job is going to be.'

"Well, the client end[ed] up waiting until the listing ran out and then bought the condos from the owners themselves, thus cutting me out completely. What an eye-opener!

"After a couple months of general real estate and believing everyone who said they were going to be back and never did, I started selling timeshares ... now you had two hours to get people to buy, and they drilled in your head 'There is no such thing as a be-back' ... sell them while they are here (they had to be bribed [with a gift] to come in), or you will never see them again.

"I still had faith in my 'buyers,' so when they told me they had to go home and think about it, but they would call me back, I believed them. Well, I sold timeshares for about seven years, and in that time, out of hundreds that said they would 'be-back' or call, I can count on one hand those that did.

"So after those two experiences, it has been drilled into me there are no such things as 'be-backs and 'buyers are liars.' It's a harsh reality but true.

"I am in my 10th year of the bankcard business now, and I would have to say 90% of my sales have been a one-visit deal. Had I followed up on others that I contacted, I may have a much larger portfolio, but because of those earlier sales jobs/experiences I rarely follow up because I lost my faith in the 'be-backs.'

"I am trying very hard to change that view now and am going to try and follow up with my 'be backs' ... if you notice my other post about ACT, that is the whole idea. It will be interesting to me to see how well my following up does." - destin5440

"This is a REALLY GREAT idea." - toby

"We have written 42 deals with one marketer since the new room started, and all but maybe two were follow ups, not sold the same day we contacted them. We retain a database of over 400 merchants [who] at any one time requested more info and need credit card services.

"We, too, use the ACT program to do our calls and follow up (great tool). Follow up is the core of our business plan, and IT WORKS." - rbelcher

The Sale Is Never Finished

Thanks, MLSs, for all your responses. You've provided some interesting perspective.

In my own example of being caught off guard, I made the mistake of assuming that I had sold the clients before I had completed the paperwork. Why did I do this? Because the clients told me they were sold, of course.

My cell phone rang and the friendly voice on the other side end said, "Kathy, can you come on by? Barbara Jean and I are ready to sign that paperwork."

I politely explained that since it was late on a Saturday, I had dressed in blue jeans. I would happily come over right away like they requested, but would have to come dressed as is.

My soon-to-be clients were a young couple with a casual buffet-style restaurant; they quickly assured me that my casual dress would be just fine with them, so with rent due, I turned the Jeep around and headed in their direction.

Of course, I had to be somewhere else in just over an hour, but this would only be paperwork; it was a sure thing and would never take a full hour to complete, right?

On the drive over, I grabbed one of several calculators floating around in my car and quickly added up all the bills I could pay with the proceeds from a new lease.

To say that I was happy would be an understatement. I felt giddy, and I sang along with the radio on my way over.

When I arrived, a modest crowd made its way through the buffet line. I asked the couple if they would stop long enough to sit down with me. They replied that this wouldn't be a problem since their parents were the owners, and on paper, and I would deal with them.

At this point I'd like to remind everyone of Jim Nabors' famous line in his role as Gomer Pyle on "The Andy Griffith Show": "Surprise, surprise, surprise."

Learning Lessons

Let's go over some of the many mistakes Happy Kathy made on this sales call, shall we?

Contrary to what some of you might think, I asked this couple a lot of questions in the first meeting. I asked them if they were the owners, and if they had any other partners. In retrospect, I can only assume (there I go assuming again) that pride kept them from being truthful about this because their answer was "No."

Suddenly, I found myself in the position of "meeting the parents" and having to completely resell them on my services.

"Start from scratch," the parents told me. "Barbara Jean and Homer haven't had time to go over anything with us, and we want to know what we're signing."

The parents were nicely dressed, and I immediately felt uncomfortable in my blue jeans and sweater. They were intelligent, thoughtful people and wanted to know everything about the processing industry. Say goodbye to my evening plans.

What I and everyone reading this sad tale should take from this experience is that the sale is never finished. Never assume that you have a sure thing on your hands, and never, ever count your chickens before they hatch.

We've all had the experience of having another agent come in after us with a better offer. Even after we install the equipment, we must continue to service these accounts. We must keep selling merchants on the idea that we are the best salespeople for them.

And we must convince them that the processing company with which we work is the best in order to prevent them from moving their business elsewhere. We are not, by a long shot, the only pretty faces walking through their doors.

Leave the Blue Jeans at Home

I'd like everyone to say this out loud along with me, "I will not ever, under any circumstances, wear blue jeans on a sales call."

Even though the sweater I wore was nice, and the circumstances that put me there in the blue jeans were understandable, I was underdressed compared to my clients, and that put me at a disadvantage.

It's okay to dress better than your clients. In fact, unless you plan to go way overboard with a top hat and tails, you should always dress professionally. We are professionals in the financial services industry, and we should dress accordingly on sales calls.

Singing on the way to my meeting? Of course we all need to relax at some point throughout the day. Working out of a car all day long is exhausting, and we should all eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water and take breaks from time to time to recharge. Oh, who I am kidding? We really just don't have that kind of time.

Preparation Is Key

Preparing for the appointment might also have been a good thing to do too, don't you think? I should have spent that time in the car going over everything that had transpired with these clients. I should have prepared myself for the possibility that they wouldn't just roll over for me.

And I should have considered that a surprise might be waiting for me. If I had done all this, then they wouldn't have caught me with my blue jeans on, so to speak.

Always prepare mentally for the appointment on the way over. No matter how long you've been working as an MLS, surprises can still trip you up. Count on them and be prepared.

It took me well over an hour to convince this new couple that I was the right person for the job. We discussed their options, and in the end, they decided to go with me.

They also had some great news to share with me. A friend of theirs planned to give them a credit card terminal, so they wouldn't have to lease after all. Oh happy day!

(Another lesson: Give all appointments the ample time that they deserve. If you finish early, you can always call on neighboring merchants until your next scheduled appointment.)

So I slipped the lease agreement back in my book. As I filled in the equipment section of the contract with the word "Hypercom," I struggled to keep a smile on my face. If this had been a lease contract, I would have been trying to hide the happy Snoopy dancing in my head.

Pride for a Job Well Done

Wait a minute, I reminded myself, I had almost lost the account, but I was still hung up on the lost lease money. I looked around and noticed that the restaurant had filled up.

It finally dawned on me that I had just won a pretty good account. So not only did I have a new account, I had really learned some things from this sale.

On the drive home I cranked up the radio to let Snoopy loose. I thanked my lucky stars for being in this business. After all, at the end of the day, I had closed the sale.

Kathy Harper of Griffin, Ga. is Vice President of NAOPP. E-mail her at advpaytec@aol.com or call her at 770-843-3399.

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