Pundits admonish independent sale organizations to "go beyond" providing transaction services by offering value-added products that help merchants increase profits. Here's an ISO that's doing exactly that.
Total Merchant Services, a 17-year-old Woodland Hills, Calif.-based ISO, began transforming itself into a more tech-oriented company a year-and-a-half ago when the founders, brothers Ed and Matt Freedman, hired Joe Kaplan as CEO.
Next week, the ISO is scheduled to launch its first technical offering, the Fanminder platform, which provides merchants with easy-to-use loyalty programs, says Jeff Broudy, the company's vice president of sales and marketing.
"This is the start of our technology transformation and how we're going to change the ISO channel," Broudy says. "It allows small businesses to become their own marketing firms."
Total Merchant Services bought Fanminder, a San Franciso-based company, about six months ago. Since then, it has tested, refined and integrated the Fanminder platform before making it available to the thousands of ISOs and agents that serve the company's more than 100,000 merchants, Broudy says.
The company is keeping Fanminder's technology for its own ISOs and agents and does not plan to offer it through any other selling partners, says Shelley Plomske, the firm's vice president of product.
Those ISOs and agents affiliated with the company are viewing Web seminars this week and next week to learn how they can use Fanminder to change the subject of their conversations with merchants from price breaks to ways of growing profits.
The Web presentations are part of a continuing sales training effort.
"We'll do the webinars, we'll get feedback from the attendees, we'll maybe change the content or the timing of it, we'll continue to improve it," Broudy says.
Some of the company's ISOs and agents will come to the new 50,000 square-foot headquarters building for additional training.
ISOs and agents promoting the platform will also receive sales brochures they can leave behind with merchants.
Why such emphasis?
"This is one of our highest priorities," Broudy says of Fanminder and the effort to help merchants. "We feel this is really important to our business."
In one test of merchants' interest in loyalty programs, representatives of Total Merchant Services visited about 20 merchants along Ventura Boulevard near headquarters and found that virtually all showed an interest in continuing the loyalty conversation.
"Not a lot of people walk in the door and have a way of helping the merchant grow their business," Plomske says. "It really is a powerful tool to help agents and ISOs sell more business."
Merchants grow their businesses with Fanminder by using the platform to make offers via text messages, email and websites or on Facebook and Twitter.
They begin by visiting a site where they can choose to rely on templates or spend the time to create unique messages. They can create the offer in just a few clicks, says Plomske.
A dashboard then enables merchants to chart their progress with promotions and make informed decisions about how to use them.
The program is designed to fit any type of store or restaurant, Plomske says.
"We're really focused on making things very easy, and we're focused on helping small businesses manage and grow their business," Broudy says of Fanminder.
Ease of use becomes a selling point," notes Plomske.
"That is the No. 1 key when you're selling any kind of marketing solution," she continues. "In a couple of sentences, you're able to sell this product."
ISOs and agents may offer the platform to merchants at no cost, or they may choose to turn the service into a profit center if they are helping merchants develop offers.
The platform has a value of $500 to $600 or more annually, Broudy estimates.
With minimal effort by merchants, Fanminder should increase sales by 6% to 8%, Plomske says. With more effort the return would increase, she predicts.
The company intends to integrate the Fanminder platform with additional products and services aimed at helping retailers increase profits.
Besides offerings that increase profits through marketing, the company plans to offer tech products that help merchants manage their businesses, Plomske says.
"The platform we're launching next week is just the beginning," Broudy says. "That's what we feel the future of payments is. If you're out there selling on price today, you should be looking at something different."