The pedestal that ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) in the payments industry strive for is that of a closer; that is, a salesperson who has a special knack for completing the deal on a merchant account, someone who boards merchants with uncommon regularity and relative ease.
These "super" ISOs and MLSs are precisely the type of sellers targeted by Century Payments Inc., a company formed in 2006 by a group of high-profile executives with extensive backgrounds in the payments business.
Within the indirect sales division of Century Payments, called Reliable Payment Solutions, the aim is to have the best sales force the world offers, and to get there by recruiting the industry's best ISOs and MLSs with a platform of first class support and top of the line compensation.
"We started with putting together an 'A' team of executives ... the best team of executives from the industry," said Garima Shah, Senior Vice President of Reliable. "We said, 'What is missing? What can we do to make the industry better?'"
What this brainstorming session produced was a singular idea: the creation of a company that homes in on superior ISOs and MLSs - those with at least two years of industry experience and tremendous skill in the selling of merchant accounts.
The company contracts with these super agents and provides them with what it calls its concierge service: education, training, assistance with paperwork, updates about industry news and developments, access to an array of tools, top of the line processing partners, and the help of an army of support staffers manning the phones in case an MLS has any sort of question or request. In other words, all of the supporting tools the feet on the street need to leverage their sales expertise and maximize their returns.
On the face of it, the idea seems counterintuitive: why help the ISOs and MLSs that, owing to their experience in the industry and track records of success, seem to be the least in need of assistance? According to Shah, there are several reasons.
First, among even the most savvy sellers of merchant services and related products, many who can effortlessly close a deal nonetheless struggle with the technical and procedural aspects of merchant sales (for example, selling the newest technology, troubleshooting problems that arise in the boarding process, maximizing up-sell opportunities, and so forth).
"We leverage all of their strengths while giving them the support they need to be successful," Shah said. "People who know how to sell to merchants sometimes just need the extra tools to be successful. They can use our support line and talk to someone on the other end for the best support with any problem that you can find."
Second, the strengths of high-powered ISOs and MLSs can be leveraged to increase the amount of money they're already bringing in. Their expertise is used as a launching pad for developing new revenue streams in a host of different ways.
For example, a salesperson who has mastered terminal sales can be trained to sell newer, higher-end terminals or various value-added products and services - such as state of the art gift and loyalty programs - that add new revenue streams to what the agent is already bringing in.
Shah noted that Century Payments is contracted with two of the world's largest processors, allowing the company to offer its ISOs and MLSs any number of different merchant products and services. "Between our two processing partners, we have almost every certification out there," she said.
Perhaps most significantly, Century Payments pays a higher residual percentage to its ISOs and MLSs than they would normally receive, according to Shah. The higher percentage reflects the experience and know-how agents bring to the company.
Shah said such agents have been particularly hard hit in the down economy, with merchants focused on getting the lowest prices while growing less interested in the superior salesmanship, high-level support and expertise provided by top of the line ISOs.
Merchants have become more willing to sacrifice quality of service for a lower price. The same goes for ISOs looking to recruit new MLSs; those working on the cheap are preferred, now more than ever.
According to Shah, even the most skilled agents typically don't receive higher residual percentages than their less savvy counterparts - at least not when they begin working for a particular ISO. Eventually, their percentage may go up when they establish themselves as topnotch salespeople, but that can take a little while.
By contrast, because Century Payments recruits only the best salespeople in the business, those ISOs and MLSs get an unusually high residual percentage right off the bat, Shah said. Such favorable splits help Century to attract the industry's best talent, she added. "It's a win-win," she said. "They get paid more, and we're getting more ISOs - and boarding more merchants - because we are paying those ISOs a larger share."
Paying a higher residual does two things. One, it attracts top of the line talent; two, it brings the company extra money through the additional merchants it ends up boarding.
Thus, what Century loses in the extra residual money it's willing to part with, it wins back with the unusually high number of merchant contracts its sales force brings.
"Our system is transparent," Shah said. "A lot of times, people are receiving 70 to 80 percent of their residuals, but it's really a percent of a percent. So they're told they'll get 50 percent, but it's actually 50 percent of 50 percent, which is actually only 25 percent. When we say 70 percent of the dollar amount, they are getting the full 70 out of 100."
Shah added that the company can afford to pay more because the experienced agents they employ require a much lower level of support than the average agent would, saving resources and money.
"Oftentimes, these guys are not getting paid what they should be for their experience and expertise," she said. "When we go after an ISO or an agent who knows what they're doing, we know we can give them a larger percentage of the pie because they're doing all the work. We're just the support structure and the backbone, so we can pay them more than we would agents who require more support."
The company still provides plenty of support where needed, Shah added. The firm's support staff helps with everything from building referrals and partnerships, helping with business management, training ISO sales teams, teaching new pricing methods, conducting business analytics and providing what Shah called "competitive intelligence" - or knowing what practices are needed, in the context of an ever-changing industry, to stay ahead of competitors and at the front of new trends.
"We show them trends from their own portfolio and do a portfolio analysis," she said. "Like we'll tell them, 'Did you know you're pricing a lot of your merchants where they shouldn't be?' We'll analyze their specific attrition rates, trends, margins - how they can make the most money possible - help them understand pricing, equipment, how to improve their rate of merchant approvals. ... They may know how to sell to a merchant but might not be maximizing their returns."
Such individual portfolio analyses are often provided in conjunction with industry-wide trends and news about such things as new products, pricing fluctuations and POS trends. With individual profiles examined in the context of broader trends like these, the company believes it can assess how its agents can maximize their returns.
"We help them with everything from technical support to questions of how to make their business better," Shah said. "And we keep them abreast of current events, of new technology and of new or impending financial regulations like the Durbin Amendment."
Such updates flow in from a number of places, Shah said. For one, ISOs and MLSs receive automatic email and text updates about sales information; the company also holds weekly conference calls with agents where they go over all the relevant current events, as well as both industry and company updates.
Finally, for issues that generate a lot of questions and for other important news, the company holds live webinars where the issues in question are discussed in detail.
"Any significant industry news we set up a live webinar - like something about mobile payments, because we're seeing a lot of that," Shah said. "People may want to know, for example, what's the difference between ROAMpay and PAYware Mobile? And we'd explain that this is the different pricing, and this is how the different platforms work."
Aside from these updates, salespeople working under Century Payments can call the company's support staff and receive immediate help on a variety of issues or questions. "They will speak to a person, and we will help figure out exactly what they need," Shah said. "This is not a cookie cutter approach; it's a system tailored to the specific needs of each ISO or MLS."
Shah has observed that many of those questions pertain to the paperwork-based process behind boarding a merchant. "They may have a quick question on something that needs to be faxed, or they are missing a form they forgot - for example, they might be missing a wireless contract - and we'll take care of all of that for them," Shah said. "Or if something is pending, we'll know what is pending and work to fix the problem."
The way the company recruits top notch salespeople is through networking, Shah noted. The company's executives, as well as its existing ISOs and MLSs provide referrals. "We are all very well networked, our executives have years and years of experience and that's really how we find our sales agents," Shah said.
She added that the company can provide stellar service to its ISOs largely because it has the financial backing to do so: it is capitalized by Texas-based Austin Ventures.
"With the expertise and financial backing, we have the ability to provide just about any service that caters to an agent's or a merchant's specific needs," Shah said. "We're only three years old, but we're so nimble that we can leverage all of our resources to provide a perfect fit to our agents, rather than having a cookie cutter, red tape approach that doesn't necessarily address the very different problems faced by each ISO."
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(a division of Century Payments Inc.)
Century Payments Inc.
2601 Network Blvd., Suite 200
Frisco, Texas 75034