Steve Wachs, Founder of Cincinnati-based Lead Source Call Center has found that cold calls to potential merchant clients that secure follow-up appointments but do not gather information about the merchants' businesses result in, on average, a 10 percent merchant boarding rate
That's not a bad ratio in itself, but the Holy Grail of lead generation is a call that yields a merchant processing statement, according to Wachs. Getting that statement in advance of an appointment gives the service provider at least a 50 percent chance of boarding the merchant in question; with some companies, that figure is as high as 80 percent, Wachs said.
That is the outcome sought by Lead Source Call Center employees working leads on behalf of merchant services firms. And Wachs believes it is the Lead Source phone brigade's uniquely successful methods for obtaining merchant statements that set it apart from other outbound callers.
"A lot of companies can get you an appointment," Wachs said. "We're interested in getting you that appointment, but we also want to get them the kind of specific information they can use to really sell the merchant. When you get a statement, it's such a commitment [by the merchant] that you really have them in the palm of your hand. Getting that statement and giving our clients warm leads that they can work with is our number one goal."
According to Wachs, obtaining statements aids in identifying merchants' "pain points," which service providers can use in leveraging sales. Common pain points include high interchange rates, hidden fees, payment terminals that are rented instead of owned and inflexible merchant service agreements.
Wachs said Lead Source callers are skilled at identifying merchant pain points, thus making it easier for them to obtain merchant statements. For example, a Lead Source representative can tell a merchant that, because his or her interchange rates are too high, it would behoove the merchant's company to do a price comparison that could yield something better.
From there, ISOs can use the information from statements to sell the merchant on an offer that is more enticing than the existing service agreement. Such ISOs have the clear upper hand, according to Wachs.
For Lead Source representatives, persistence is a key, as sales jobs often require multiple rounds of calls and information gathering. For instance, a merchant may express interest in switching service providers, but only at the end of the merchant's current contract, Wachs said. Good lead generation entails painstaking data gathering that ensures merchants are not only followed up with, but contacted in a time-specific manner that maximizes every sales opportunity, he added.
Lead Source records its phone calls and maintains extensive computer records about when calls were made to what merchant, and what the upshot of each call was. If a merchant doesn't want to be called again, the individual is placed on the company's own "do not call list." If a merchant wants to be called back at a certain time, that is noted in the database, and a call representative is automatically alerted to make that call on the designated day and time.
"If you tell me your contract's due to expire in November, you're going to get a call then," said Jerry Jenkins, Call Center Manager for Lead Source. "Having that time set and the hard figures about that client can really help you get that client's attention."
Lead Source Call center was founded in 2001 as an outbound calling floor strictly for the subprime mortgage business. When that industry hit some well-known bumps in the years that followed, Lead Source branched out into other industries, which led to its involvement in the payments industry.
Wachs said the difficulty of working in the floundering mortgage space prepared the company for the challenges and complexity of selling transaction processing services to merchants. In particular, the business-to-business calls between mortgage brokers were instrumental in developing a cutting-edge system of lead generation that included finesse calls seeking nonpublic information.
"We cut our teeth doing difficult work, and it forced us to find good people who could generate strong leads," he said.
Twenty-five people work the calling floor at Lead Source, which is a relatively small number for the cold-calling business, Wachs said. But the company's callers are mostly longstanding employees who work with extreme efficiency: the average caller working merchant services generates one lead an hour and one statement every three hours; all told, the call center makes up to 10,000 calls a day, Wachs added.
Lead Source's inbound and outbound calling services are always open. "It drives me crazy when you call a business at 5:02 p.m. and you get a voicemail," he said. "We're 24/7. We'll take a call at 4 a.m."
The majority of inbound calls go immediately to a service representative without a wait time, and callers who, on occasion, are put on hold wait a few seconds to a minute. "Are there times when calls can spike?" Wachs said. "Yeah, it's possible. But you generally get a person on the phone right away."
Merchants also have the option of a live online chat, during which Lead Source call representatives can answer questions regarding everything from contractual points to technical issues through instant messenger (IM).
"IM is great for getting an immediate response to basic questions that we can answer in real time," Jenkins said. "You get questions ... like, 'What's your interchange rate? [Do you have] batch fees?' Or if the person wants to know whether to purchase or rent their equipment, 'How much do machines cost?' These kinds of questions can be turned around in real time."
Wachs attested that the company's callers are well trained in the specifics of the industries they service. These include mortgage, insurance, health care, construction, debt collection, order fulfillment and merchant processing. There is some crossover. For example, merchant service firms that use Lead Source Call Center for lead generation might also use the company for order fulfillment for merchants needing equipment and supplies.
Wachs said that, while every caller is trained to make and receive calls for all the industries Lead Source Call Center serves, certain callers have special expertise in particular segments, and calls can be referred to them when complex, industry-specific questions crop up.
Beyond that, the company's computer system facilitates the call process. Outbound calls are made automatically, based on a list of prospects compiled by either the client, by Lead Source or by the two partners together.
"As you develop a list, you have to make a script concerning what companies you want to target, what sized companies you want to focus on, what areas or ZIP codes you want to target, the types of business they do - things like that," Wachs said. "Most of our clients provide us a list, but we can also help them make that list if they want us to."
Most notably, the company keeps a thorough database with information about the existing and potential merchants of its ISO and processing clients. When a business in the Lead Source Database calls, the information pertaining to the client is immediately presented on the computer of the rep fielding that call.
"It tells the callers who they're talking to and all the pertinent information, such as the particular service agreement," Wachs noted. "So all of that background information does not have to be re-obtained again and again."
Wachs also pointed out that merchants who call with customer service issues get a seamless experience through which they feel as if they're talking to their ISOs. The service rep who answers a given merchant's call knows exactly who that merchant is, the ISO or processor the merchant is contracted with and the specifics of that contract.
In addition, for merchant prospects who express interest in new processing partners, Lead Source has a direct connection feature that allows callers to transfer merchants directly to ISOs, keeping merchants on the line while leads are still hot, according to Wachs.
The company's outbound call campaigns include not only lead generation and management but also customized research campaigns to help clients better gauge how to target merchant prospects, as well as how to serve current merchant customers. Such campaigns typically include a series of five to 10 questions that center on customer satisfaction.
"We want to know what their clients like about working with them," Wachs said. "Do they understand the rates and billing? Is the customer service top rate? When they call the company they're under contract with, are they put on hold and have to wait?"
ISOs that enlist the services of Lead Source get a full reporting suite at the end of every week or every month that shows them, for example, how many hours were spent calling, how many merchants were called, the names of those merchants, how many leads and statements were generated, what merchants were removed from the call list and what merchants requested follow-up phone calls.
Jenkins added that, while Lead Source Call Center services merchant processing firms of all sizes, most of its clients tend to be small to midsize businesses looking for ways to cut costs. "We're perfect for a smaller company that doesn't want to staff someone to take calls and develop leads," Jenkins said. "This is just a much cheaper and easier way to do all that legwork."
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