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MerchantCircle today announced that it will tap into its base of merchant listings to aide in selling its local marketing services. This comes with the notion that these 630,000 businesses are already entrenched in the community and selling their own wares. Giving them an additional incentive to push MerchantCircle advertising is a logical extension, says Walt Duflock, senior director of channel development.

“In most of these cases, these are people who are already reaching out to small businesses,” he says. “They could be sales reps for other products, maybe SEO/SEM folks. So they go about their normal business and they’re already pushing other stuff that makes sense for that customer.”

This will essentially involve a $400 incentive to get 100 businesses to claim their profile (non-paid level). It will reward those that sell higher level paid advertising with monthly recurring commissions for different levels of sales. The monthly commission schedule is meant to reward these “marketing advisers” for the longevity of the accounts they commission. This will incentivize them to not just sell accounts and walk away, but advise on an ongoing basis, according to Duflock.

It’s an interesting concept and should bring in some incremental advertisers for MerchantCircle — though I don’t see it cutting into Yellow Pages sales considerably. One possibility is that the local interactions of this guerrilla sales force will differ from the sales calls of a typical local ad sales rep. This could mean that it taps into a new base of advertisers, ripe for online local marketing (Yellow Pages traditionally reaches about one-third of the addressable universe of SMBs).

The challenge will be quality control for such a decentralized sales force that doesn’t have the training and structure of a Yellow Pages sales force. Duflock argues that the incentives in place will drive them to be successful and most of the people that sign up will have sales experience and access to MerchantCircle’s selling materials online. These de facto reps’ entrenchment in the local business ecosystem could also give them an edge here. And there are certainly cost advantages to this approach.

Speaking of cost, it could be the right time for this, given an economic environment that will motivate lots of businesses to seek out incremental revenue streams. We’ll see how it works.

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