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Street SmartsSM:
Sales in the off season

By Michael Nardy

Counter-culturist Timothy Leary coined the phrase in the 1960s, "Turn on, tune in, drop out," as encouragement to the youth of America - who were increasingly detached from the social hierarchies of the time - to further remove themselves from the cultural norms that were prevalent in the preceding decade.

While Leary advocated the use of drugs to achieve a counter-cultural revolution, the framing in which he proposed his ideas can be adapted for modern-day ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs).

As we approach the late fall, it is getting darker earlier, the leaves are falling and, for many of us, the summer season's boon is coming to an end. Indian summer days are fewer each week, but that doesn't mean our warm-weather mentality needs to fall by the wayside or our summer fun is over.

For many people, the brisk fall days present excellent opportunities to sell merchant services. Like the changing seasons, businesses, too, have times in which they are busier than others. Knowing when to tune in and take advantage of those opportunities can help groom you into a better salesperson.

Seasonal sales funk

There is no worse thing than a sales funk, but knowing how to overcome some of the issues with a sales trend running shallow or a pipeline running dry is one of the ways successful salespeople differentiate themselves from those who are fair-weather ISOs and MLSs.

The most common type of sales funk is seasonal - like that just described - when the seasons change, and those cheery summer days are no longer fueling your sales machine. The colder it gets, especially for sales professionals north of the Mason-Dixon line, the harder it is to feel the reward of a long day of trudging around as a feet-on-the-street MLS going door to door.

Especially when sales calls don't always convert into new merchants, it's tough to get the inspiration to continue hitting the streets. But it's important to look at each changing season as a new door and opportunity to drop in and make a sale.

Hidden treasures in a dual-season market

Now is the time to "hit upon" businesses that may do a brisk summer business as well as a nice amount of winter business. The ideal candidate for a sales call is a business owner with ample free time to digest what you, as the ISO or MLS, propose. But keep in mind the seasonality of the business you approach.

Soliciting a flower shop on the day before Valentine's Day - a mistake that I once made - will ultimately result in embarrassment and a business owner who probably won't be open to future sales calls, despite better timing in the future.

Keep keen mind to the season, and you will be rewarded by the available and willing business owners who, during the height of their season, don't want to change a thing but, during their off-time, will think carefully about moving to your services.

Some great businesses, which I call hidden treasures, are garden centers. These gems are usually in full swing during the summer and then have a lull in the fall before they pick up for the winter holiday season.

Indeed, so, too, are taxi and limousine companies, bakeries (surprisingly, many have seasonal fluxes from summer to winter), landscaping services (especially those doing snow removal in the winter), and fuel dealers delivering propane and heating oil.

Focusing on locations, such as bed and breakfasts from different areas, is a great alternative as well. Many B & Bs are busy during the summertime in typical summer tourist areas (those that are cold in the winter), and others are booming in the winter. (Check out those close to ski resorts or in the northern climes.)

Nearly every business has a time in which it is slower and more receptive to sales calls. Don't ignore a business that may have ignored you during your prime selling season. Instead, keep a log of businesses that may have turned you away on an initial call, and come back at a more appropriate time.

Persistence is a key quality of successful salespeople. And sometimes a little levity helps them stay in game when it looks like an arctic blast has frozen all of their leads solid.

Sales as a fishing analogy: A fish for all fishermen

The GS Online MLS Forum is filled with fishermen and fisherwomen alike. Many of you post links to your boat pictures or talk about your most recent fishing trips. Well, now that the season is winding down, let's bring back a bit of the summer fishing fun with an analogy. Look at sales as a form of fishing: We have surf-casting, bottom-fishing, trolling, fly-fishing, deep-sea fishing, bread on a hook, and the unfortunate snagged-lure method.

· Surf-casting is the method used by most ISOs and MLSs: They cast their sales lines over and over and are able to catch all sorts of merchants - retail, restaurant, MO/TO, Internet, etc. - but the percentage of closings can vary just as the tenor of the sea does.

· Bottom-fishing, as the name implies, occurs when a sales professional goes after the bottom-tier merchants.

· Trolling is a nonconfrontational approach to soliciting new merchants. It involves leaving door hangers, doing mailings and stop ins (in which you quickly stop in and leave material for a business owner to read), and pursuing other passive methods of sales.

· Deep-sea fishing is the method used by sales professionals who either go on long journeys to sell merchant services or work on proposals for larger merchants for whom deals can take several months to materialize. These two kinds of selling often go hand in hand.

· Fly-fishing takes place when a sales professional casts a lure with some bait - as in a free-terminal program, rebates and incentives, and the like - to sell services to a merchant.

· Bread on a hook, also known as the dumbest-luck method of sales, describes times when a merchant just falls into your lap, and you make the sale with ease (i.e., the equivalent of when we were kids and put bread on a hook and still caught fish).

· Snagged lure describes times when sales professionals work so hard to make the sale, think they have the "big one," and it turns out the big one is a tiny merchant doing one-eighth the processing anticipated (like when you just end up with a clump of leaves instead of a fish).

As with any fishing trip, sometimes even the best fishermen can get skunked and end up without a catch. I use this fishing analogy because a sales slump or slow time can often be very similar to times on a fishing trip when everyone is coming up without any fish. The last thing to do in a slump is reel in your line and return to port.

Boost your confidence with referrals: Turn fish into food

During slower times, it's always a good idea to revisit some long-time merchant accounts that have had success using your services. It isn't unprofessional to visit with a pre-existing merchant customer and say, How are things? or, Is there anything I can do for you?

Inevitably, many of these customers will also talk to you about your business and ask how things are with you. Use any current customer's question about your business pace as an opportunity to ask for a referral of a friend or colleague who is in a similar business.

Let's say you visit with Joe, who owns a pizza restaurant. When there, ask, Is there any possibility that you know another business owner I can call upon?

Fishing for business comes in many forms. There's no shame in revisiting a place where you already caught a fish and asking about other locations to cast your line.

Turn on, tune in, drop in

At the heart of this article is one mantra: Get back on the streets. Salespeople can't sell without hitting the streets, the phones, the mail, or your favorite lake, river, stream or brook.

Use what Timothy Leary was advocating to get back to a higher tune of perception and rebel against your usual surroundings.

Go after a new market or a new town or city that you haven't attempted to sell before, or hit upon that new merchant or a new market you previously avoided. Turn on your sales radar, tune into the needs of your businesses and drop in. You'll be surprised by the results.

Michael Nardy is Chief Executive Officer of Electronic Payments Inc. (EPI), a founding sponsor of the National Association of Payment Professionals and one of The Green Sheet magazine's Industry Leaders. EPI is one of the nation's fastest growing privately held payment processing companies offering ISOs and MLSs profitable partnership programs and cutting-edge tools to help their portfolios grow. To learn more about partnering with EPI, visit epiprogram.com or e-mail Nardy at mike@elecpayments.com

Article published in issue number 061002

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