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A Thing

Street SmartsSM:
Friend or Client?

By Ty Rosean

When entering a new field, salespeople are usually encouraged to contact their friends, family and acquaintances. Guilty! As a merchant level salesperson (MLSs) in the payment processing industry, as you become more familiar with your career, it is easier to work with people with whom you have existing relationships.

There is, however, a fine line that, once understood, is easy to avoid.

In general, most business owners are less than enchanted with the industry. Once you have notified everyone on your "friends and family" list and given them your pitch, you should simply let it be. Let the existing relationship endure, and when they are ready or curious, hopefully you will be the first one they call.

You may be their only friend that is in the merchant services industry, but you are not the only friend that has a product or service that they use.

So, if you are rejected, it's not the end of the world. Don't be discouraged. I know that with the turnover in our industry, they simply may wonder how long you will be around after you make the sale or if you will still work for the same company.

After six months or so of your working with the same company, these friends or family members may be more inclined to do business with you.

It is an instantaneous deal, and you may count on your personal relationship with these people to serve as the closing tool. It's a three-year agreement, though, for them.

Sorry to say, but sometimes "the devil you know is better than the one you don't." Unless they have completely ruled out ever doing business with friends or family, they will purchase a product on some level from a friend or family member. So there is an opportunity, it just may take time to develop.

I learned this lesson the hard way. My friend of several years was absolutely tired of me asking indirectly or directly for his business. It's not as though I called him once per week, but when I saw him I just couldn't resist the temptation.

I would invariably ask for the order. I could have been stopping by just to say hi, but because I am dedicated I would mention credit card processing.

It seemed harmless, and in my mind there wasn't a problem. I was sadly wrong and had been blind to his perspective of every interaction that we had.

He later told me that I came across as though I was more interested in a business relationship than in our existing friendship. He put it in perspective for me.

He cleans carpets by trade, and his comparison was, "How would you feel if every time I saw you I asked when you were going to let me come clean your carpets?"

Realistically, I don't need my carpets cleaned that often, and this question soon would become annoying and ultimately strain the relationship.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would probably begin to go out of my way to avoid him, just to steer clear of his pitch.

In turn, I thought about my own pitches to him. Even though I knew for a fact that I could lower his rates and fees considerably, and that every day I could have saved him money, the truth remained: I was hounding him.

I have a three-year-old son, and my carpets could use a cleaning probably every other day, and he never said a word. But when I did need to have them cleaned, I called his company because he is my friend and because he does a good job.

There is no suave way to constantly pursue a friend or family member. It is received the same way every time. Let them know what you do for a living, and leave it at that.

When you do call on them in a professional capacity, make sure it is exactly that: a business meeting. Let them know when you set the appointment that this is a sales call, not just a friend stopping by.

That way, they'll know that when you're there to talk business that is exactly what you will do. By the same token, when you stop by as a friend, it will be a friendly visit, not an attempted sales call.

NAOPP asked members of GS Online's MLS Forum, what they thought about selling to friends and family:

Although most would agree that signing them as customers can present complications, some MLSs have found success in this endeavor. What has been your experience with selling to acquaintances? Is this something you would recommend to an industry newcomer? We want to hear it all: the good, the bad, the ugly and the humorous.

The responses that we received, follow:

"I avoid it like the plague. If you want out of a relationship just sell them a merchant account." - Harvco

"I once sold card processing to one of my in-laws. He didn't speak to me for over a year. It was great. If I had only thought of selling him a lease." - Side Swipe

"Every time a friend wants a merchant account I tell them, 'Go to your bank and get pricing and show it to me.' Then I ask them how long they plan on having the account. Usual answer: 'I just need it for this one transaction or one show.' What are these people thinking?

"Just last week a so-called friend called and asked if we could lend him a wireless machine for a few days.

"Ha Ha Ha ... I was laughing. I was too expensive and his processor would not do it, and he was calling on Thursday and needed it tomorrow. You have to love family and friends, but never do business with them. It ends up either costing you a relationship or money or both." - ccguy

"A general rule in sales, and something I abide by, is to let everyone know what you do for a living. I believe in word of mouth. Though I avoid selling to relatives, I generally hit them up for referrals.

"I have had friends and relatives come up to me and give me their business. So far, every one has been satisfied with what I've given them. Friends are still friends and relatives are ... well, you know." - MLS-KING

"I sold to someone in the family. They are no different from customers, but you might want to give them the family discount. The benefit is that they are highly unlikely to switch to someone else." - johnmckee

"I sell to relatives at my cost. I make sure they are aware of this. This way I pretty much know they'll be happy and spread the gospel to nonrelatives, which I can sell above my cost." - chett2787

"NEVER sell to friends or relatives is our motto. [I] learned that selling cars 20 years ago.

"It usually comes back to bite you, especially when you have to count on a third party to provide the service, and there is no telling what they will do to piss your merchant off (or in this case a relative or friend that has your cell phone number).

"We try to avoid [it] whenever possible because a problem deal is usually one you make little money on but spend lots of time on." - rbelcher

"If you have a lot of control over your accounts and processing, it can be fine to deal with family, although I'd much rather get referrals from them and pay them a residual on it.

"If you are brand new in the business and just getting started, you have to walk the friends and family path very carefully to make sure that you don't burn bridges and alienate those closest to you just because you are learning the ropes yourself at the same time." - cdgcommerce

"If you are sold out on what you are doing, why not? I expected my friends and family to do business with me, now all of them do.

"If you don't feel like you know enough about this industry to offer your services to your friends and family, you need to go out and learn more about the business before you go selling." - converter

"When it comes to family and friends, you would definitely want to be the company providing this service rather than turning them away to a company who may not be so honest in revealing all rates and fees and you know what.

"Just be honest, reveal the fine print and all fees, explain and educate how this works, the risks and costs involved, and their financial obligation and responsibility. Go into more details than you would normally do to any other client, although it would be wise.

"Just because they are friends or family, make sure you are profitable, and they have a need. Otherwise, send them to PayPal. Don't tell them I said that!" - rhendrix76

"Well said, rhendrix. I agree with you totally on that point. Tell them exactly where you stand and exactly what the terms are. In the past two years I have had fewer problems from friends and family than my other merchants, and I give the same rates to all of them." - SCStevens

"I've got a 'friendly' competitor ['X'] in my area that does business honestly. Relatives? Here's my spiel: 'We're kind of specialized and, in all honesty, ['X'] is really set up to address your particular situation better than I am. I'll have him give you a call.'

"Of course, I get either a referral fee or half the proceeds if it's a relatively large account. He sends his relatives to me. [This] has worked swimmingly so far. I make money on the accounts and don't have to avoid my family at social functions." - hipoint

Thanks, everyone, for your responses. Now back to my story. After finally winning my friend the carpet cleaner's business, I went there to download the terminal and found him in a meeting with an advertising rep for a radio station. She was also his friend, and I listened to her for over half an hour trying to get him to purchase some ads.

I watched her try to use their friendship as a basis for him to buy some airtime. Her station's listeners were not his target audience, and he had already spent most of his budget on other campaigns.

It was painful to watch, and what I thought I understood before became even clearer: If it's business, it needs to be just business. We wouldn't begin to talk about politics (I would hope) in the middle of a sales call, so why would we talk about the turkey we shared last Thanksgiving?

MLS Forum member Desdinova posted the following:

"I think the real issue is: Do I depend on family and friends to make my living? I would be happy to write a friend or relative at or near cost, as I don't depend on them to make my living. And this is why we do not participate in local lead groups. Everyone in the group thinks they are all 'friends.' And they expect the family and friends rate."

We are dealing with business owners who sometimes happen to be friends or family. They are out there to make as much money as their market will allow.

Even though a previous relationship exists, we have the same goals. I don't have a service charge if they need technical support. It costs nothing but my time. But my time is important and needs to be compensated.

If I have an account that is constantly calling for help or "I need this, I need that," or if I'm not making any money on the procesing, it's not in my best interest to even write the account. I don't give anything away because the owner happens to be my friend, but I provide a great service.

Back to the merchant I wrote who owns the carpet cleaning business. His company cleans my carpets. He has insurance, employees, maintenance, etc. I don't expect a discount.

I expect exceptional service, the same exceptional service that he would provide to anyone else that has made him a rapidly growing and successful company.

He cleans my carpet and makes a profit, which is fair. I process his credit card transactions with the same rates that I give to the neighboring merchants. If any of them call, I'm there as fast as humanly possible. Receiving great service is in many cases more important to merchants than saving money. Saving money is a bonus.

Besides, the point of a local leads group is not to sell to the other businesses in the group, but to bring sales to them from outside of the group. Writing the other merchants in the leads group is a bonus, but the groups are designed to act as a referral source not as a target source.

Treat all merchants as friends first, and make sure that they know you are there to help. Remember this every time you talk to either friends or strangers.

If you are in touch with their needs and are convincingly more interested in their livelihood than in your own agenda, they will appreciate it. And, with any luck, you will soon regard your prospects as satisfied customers and friends.

Ty Rosean is an MLS based in Billings, Mt., for Business Payment Systems. He is MLS Director for NAOPP. E-mail him at .

Article published in issue number 060101

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