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Jennifer O'Neil for the Toronto Star
Case Studies
Posted: January 8, 2013
by Barb Gormley

Fighting for the right salespeople: London’s independent Zomaron Merchant Services takes on the big payment companies, but experienced sales staff are elusive

Vital Stats
Owners:
Tarique Al Ansari and Joseph Jongsma
Contact:
Zomaron.com, 888-900-9192
Field:
credit and debit card processing solutions
Employees:
16, plus 100 salespeople
Last year's sales:
$740,000, projecting $5 million for 2012
Notable:
Pays $500 if it is unable to save a customer money by switching to their services. They haven’t paid a company yet.

The economy was tanking in 2008 when Tarique Al Ansari and Joseph Jongsma joined forces to launch their payment processing business Zomaron Merchant Services.

 

In a sector they consider recession-proof – “credit card and debit card use goes up every day,” says Jongsma – the business partners believed the country’s dismal fiscal landscape wasn’t an issue.

 

They were right. Zomaron’s latest two-year revenue growth was an explosive 640 per cent, and they now process millions of transactions, valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars, every year.

 

“Because we run a lean operation and aren’t greedy with our profits, we’re able to charge 10 to 50 per cent less than our competitors,” says Jongsma, who worked as a sales manager at a major independent payment processing company in the late 90s.

 

But while the pool of prospective customers has proven to be vast and the company’s sales growth is impressive, it’s hindered by one persistent and critical shortcoming: an inability to recruit sufficient seasoned sales talent to exploit seemingly endless opportunities in the marketplace.

 

Zomaron’s current sales team focuses its efforts on the customers of the industry’s big players – Moneris, Global Payments, TD Merchant Services and others – who, according to Jongsma, have between 85 and 90 per cent of the market. To date, the independent company has enticed thousands of Canadian small and medium enterprises – a variety of retail, restaurant and e-commerce merchants – to make the switch.

 

Jongsma attributes the company’s success in part to its steadily increasing name recognition – they’re a 2012 Chamber of Commerce Business Achievement Awards Finalist in London, Ontario, and rank 15th on Profit magazine’s latest Profit Hot 50 list.

 

He’s also quick to praise his salespeople for their efforts, but at the same time, he’s anxious to bolster the team with more experienced pros who can boost revenues even higher.

 

Currently, about half his salespeople are part-time independent contractors who, Jongsma feels, view their jobs as added income on top of another full-time job. The remainder are full-time contractors earning between $40,000 and $100,000.

 

An early attempt at a commission compensation approach and later, a base-plus-commission offering, proved unsuccessful at attracting candidates and motivating sales. The current model starts new hires with six weeks of non-paid training and moves them into a relationship with potential to earn base salary, commission and profit share — dependent on their numbers. Salespeople also own up to half their portfolio, even after they leave the company.

 

Why so generous?

 

“They brought us the business as a partner,” says Jongsma, “so we think that they should be rewarded.”

 

Though the profit sharing model is attracting and retaining high calibre sales reps interested in long-term relationships with the company, he admits the unpaid training period is a stumbling block.

 

“Many people can’t afford to work that long without a paycheque,” he admits.

 

Like business owners everywhere, Jongsma’s dream sales rep is a quick study superstar with 15-plus years of experience, plenty of connections, and a knowledge of how to push deals ahead.

 

“What we need are full-time entrepreneurial people who want to determine their own paycheques,” he says.

 

The current recruiting strategy relies solely on online job ads that are posted simultaneously on Workopolis, CareerBuilder and Monster websites. Jongsma, the company’s sole recruiter, spends about half his time on the task. He’s increased the staff by 30 people this year, up from 15 two years ago and 20 last year.

 

For every 100 resumes received, Jongsma estimates he interviews 25 candidates and then hires 10 to 15 people. But despite regularly tweaking job postings and adding social media to the mix this year, experienced candidates remain elusive.

 

Realizing the company needs additional support, Jongsma plans to start searching for a full-time recruiter soon.

 

Retaining control of every aspect of a business is a classic problem for many entrepreneurs, says Philip C. Wilson, a 30-year talent management expert and vice-chair of the Toronto-based Human Resources Professionals Association.

 

“A well-informed human resources recruiter can handle all the tedious pre-screening of candidates or manage the entire hiring process,” says Wilson. “Plus, many are highly skilled at seeking out candidates who are not actually looking for work.”

 

Many young business owners don’t have a lot of experience with the human resources field as employees themselves, he says, so they don’t understand the added value that a recruiter provides.

 

“Once a company gets to 80 or 100 people, there’s a need to have HR expertise as part of the evolution of the business.”

 

Zomaron’s founders recognize this, and despite their staffing issues, are anxious to grab more market share.

 

“The passion and drive to succeed is huge in our company,” says Jongsma. “To achieve greater things, all we need is more great people.”

 

EXPERT VIEWS

As Interviewed by: Tom Henheffer

Zomaron is a small firm taking on Chase, Moneris, and TD Bank — really big players. But it looks like their biggest challenge is recruiting salespeople. Anyone with 15 years experience probably has a good job already, which makes them tough to attract, especially with a six week unpaid training period. That’s a long time to go without a paycheque, and when these hires are so experienced already, I wonder if there isn’t a way to shorten the time they spend learning the ropes. The best way to do this is through leveraging technology — using self-directed and virtual training so new hires can go on their computers and choose which modules they need to complete based on their own strengths and weaknesses. Making it available online and on tablets can make the process even faster by letting staff work from home or when they’re on the go. Also, I’d recommend using collaboration and virtual office tools to expand the company’s hiring beyond its normal geographic reach. That will grow the potential talent pool beyond London, and also bring in salespeople with a diversity of connections.

by Tisha Rattos - Rogers

Zomaron have had a very broad approach to recruiting so far and with mixed results. As a rapidly growing company with what seems like a very generous compensation model, I think they would find more success if they focused their recruiting efforts to bring more experienced salespeople on-board. One approach would be to look for salespeople from the financial services or merchant services industry online or at networking events. Due to the nature of their work, professional salespeople tend to have a presence, and they often make themselves easy to find. I’d also recommend Zomaron hire a recruiter, or contract out to an HR firm that can do this work for them. At the end of the day, attracting the right people is often about emphasizing what you offer. Zomaron is small but growing, with plans to stick around for the long term and reward their successful staff. This is an attractive offering that would give potential salespeople the opportunity to establish relationships, grow their portfolios, and eventually earn a higher salary. Zomaron just has to put it in front of the right people.

by Don Ludlow - RBC

Jongsma needs a recruiter, but doesn’t necessarily have to hire one full-time — once he reaches critical mass his need to continuously hire will go down. I’d recommend he bring in someone with experience hiring salespeople on a fixed-term contract, with a salary based on performance. That way he won’t be stuck with a recruiter he doesn’t need down the line. Also, it’s great to be an up-and-coming business, but this means your brand isn’t well established. The founders need create and market a culture that caters to what the best salespeople want. Paying competitively will certainly be part of this, and I’m not sure the company is accomplishing this at the moment because a lot of it’s salespeople are part-time. You want this to be their primary business, and its probably worth cutting numbers to pay more for high-performers who consistently knock it out of the park. Finally, Jongsma needs to pay for training, and may even want to add incentives like guaranteed commission to the introductory period. It’s an investment in the company’s future — one that’s attractive to a higher caliber of talent.

by Tara Talbot - Workopolis