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Street SmartsSM:
Preparing for the Slow Season

By Kathy Harper

In any industry, certain times of the year are slower than others. For example, retail stores and restaurants in my region produce less volume in the summer months than they do during the rest of the year.

Various factors come into play when looking at the ebb and flow of business, and I am not pretending to be an economist but rather an observer. When these factors affect my livelihood, though, it becomes much more personal.

Many merchant level salespeople (MLSs) find the holidays to be a slow time. In my experience, January always has been slow for new merchant accounts.

After my first year, I decided to plan ahead; however, I still get caught off guard and find myself praying for spring. Spring is full of hope, new ideas ... and new start-up businesses.

To find out if other MLSs across the country experience slow periods during the holidays or at other times, and if so, how they handle them, I posted the following on GS Online's MLS Forum:

Do you see a drop in business during the holidays or at other times? If so, how do you cope? If not, have you done anything specific that has improved your bottom line?

Following are the responses that I received:

"I've been an MLS for four years, and December has always been the slowest month for me. I still get out of bed in the morning, but I usually work on my existing merchants to add other services such as gift/loyalty cards and check services. This year I will push hard to sell loans with credit card deposit repayment." - Chett2787

"I've found that maintaining a large pipeline (150+ prospects) keeps monthly production at a steady rate, not too much spiking in the number of deals signed. There's also a rise in gift card accounts and re-orders at this time." - MLS-KING

"We have been in the business for seven years and five years on our own ... slow months [are] the reason you build a residual stream. Slow sales in December equals lots of residuals due to the high sales merchants do. If you have residuals there is no slow month." - Ccguy

"I used to be in the sports collectables business before bankcards, so I will sell off some of my stuff on eBay ... it isn't worth it to me to do just a few $10 sales during the busy season ... but blowing out a bunch of stuff like 100 - 200 sales at once can bring in some nice cash." - PlasticWorld

Many new agents are still working to build up enough residuals to get them through the slow times. I recently spoke with Bill Paul, a 13-year industry veteran and one of the founding members and the Immediate Past Vice President of NAOPP. I asked him to provide new agents with some advice. He responded:

Basically in this business you're not selling rates. I've found that this is not something that people are going to respond to. You need to have a sales presentation, you need to know what you're going to say, and you need to know which questions to ask, because in a sales presentation, whoever is asking the questions is in control.

My sales presentation doesn't change more than 10 words no matter whom I'm talking to. I know within the first 10 minutes whether I'm staying and working on the deal or not.

Some of the tools I use are to point out to them how to save money, not on rates, but on services such as check guarantee and how to accept debit cards properly. I also educate them on the downgrades. Using reflexive quetions, I get a lot of mini yes's or no's depending on the question.

By using reflexive questions and getting their agreement, it's tougher for them to turn me down at the end of the presentation.

Great closing advice! If you are a new agent, though, who will pay the bills in the meantime? Sure, by concentrating on existing, proven businesses, your residual stream will grow faster, but if you don't have the funds to do this, you will have to start somewhere else. For new agents, sometimes it is a catch-22.

If you find that most business is non-existent in your area during the holiday months, try seasonal businesses that are not currently in season. These include landscaping and nursery suppliers, swimming pool suppliers and manufacturers, even some restaurants ... the list goes on.

You can bring on clients who have a higher processing volume in the summer months. This takes care of your summer residuals but it still doesn't solve the winter residual problem.

To take a broader look and increase your overall performance, I spoke to one of my personal heroes, sales veteran Frank J. Rumbauskas, and author of "Cold Calling Is a Waste of Time."

Rumbauskas has been in the trenches and knows first hand the approaches that work and do not work. His somewhat radical approach is for salespeople to drive business to themselves instead of the other way around.

He said when someone calls you, you have a much better chance of closing; at that point you hold the majority of power.

He also said when making cold calls, you are positioned as needy, and prospects have all the power. When prospects approach you, however, you hold the power and authority. Frank suggests getting potential clients to call you by positioning yourself as an expert in your field.

A monthly newsletter is a must for existing and potential clients (however, ask for permission to send the letter first). In the newsletter, you can show that you're an industry expert by providing links to articles that you've written.

One way to do this is using the Web site Ezinearticles.com . Here you may write and submit up to 10 articles at no charge.

At your direction, prospects perform a search of the site and see that you're listed as an industry expert.

Rumbauskas said cold call prospects come and go because they usually don't stay in your pipeline very long.

On the contrary, the number of newsletters that you send out will grow every day, and you are keeping these folks in your pipeline.

When merchants need your service, you'll be the first they call. They will feel that they can trust your judgment and will see that you can fill their need. You also can place your sales pitch at the end of the newsletter.

For the payment processing industry, I think this would work especially well with existing merchants. There are also many other tactics to use to improve your bottom line.

These include:

Reading Books on Selling and Closing

When is the last time you read something by the great salesman Zig Ziglar? Dust off your books and read them again. His advice is timeless. It will provide you with a fresh outlook and help you hone your skills.

Pick up a copy of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War." Or, choose a book from the large selection that The Green Sheet has reviewed (go to www.greensheet.com/books.html).

Most agents now giving away equipment have found that they still have to know how to close. Use downtime to improve your presentation; this will pay off the next time you're in front of a merchant.

Getting Organized

If you are like me, this is an area with which I constantly struggle. After I clean my office I always am amazed at how much easier my life becomes. It's a simple approach that yields high returns.

Studying the Competition

Take a look at what your competitors are doing. Learn from them and apply their successes to your own business.

Staying Informed of Industry News and Trends

Take the time to read back-issues of The Green Sheet, or visit GS Online. We are all in this for the money, and if you are one of the lucky ones who can foresee the next big thing, you won't have to worry about slow times again.

If none of these tips work for you, maybe the answer is to change your focus entirely by:

Selling a New Product or Service

Merchant cash advances, for example, might help boost your sales during slow periods. For restaurants especially, the holidays are so hectic that system flaws become more pronounced. Once things die down a little, many restaurant owners and managers will reevaluate their businesses and look for areas to make improvements.

Some may want to expand. Some will realize that they need new equipment. If you can provide them with the cash to pay for any of these things, you will be rewarded with their processing and a nice residual from the advance company.

What most agents don't realize is that many restaurants can't get a traditional loan from the bank. A true business person will realize that "expensive money" as it sometimes is called, can have a huge return for them through increased sales.

Selling to a Niche Market

A niche market can be convenience stores, government cards or restaurants. Find a merchant type that yields a higher than average return on residuals and become an expert in that field. One way to do this is to do the legwork.

Ask these businesses what they want and then try to give it to them. If you find out where their pain is you can focus on a solution and become their hero.

With convenience stores, I've found that if you sell to one correctly, you will end up with many more. Not only do most convenience store owners have more than one location but they also know owners of other stores.

They like to brag about getting a better deal and the next thing you know ... well, you get the picture.

If you are lucky enough to have built up your residual income to a level that provides you with time to take off, do so.

This industry can be stressful, and we all need to recharge from time to time. Your business will benefit from you taking time to reconnect and coming back with a fresh perspective and new ideas.

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

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