Mark Dunn experienced nearly every facet of the acquiring business before starting Hartland, Wis.-based Field Guide Enterprises LLC, a consulting company for ISOs and banks.
In 26 years in payments, Dunn has worked for a vendor (Verifone), for processors (TSYS and Global Payments), as an ISO national sales manager (Newtek and Optimal Payments), and as a senior vice president for acquiring at a bank (the now-defunct Universal Savings Bank in Milwaukee). He also helped start the Midwest Acquirers Association and is a past president and the current treasurer of the trade group.
"I like to say that gave me a 360-degree view of payments," Dunn said of his wide experience. "It helped me a lot in terms of assembling the tools I use every day." Those tools include knowledge of sales, marketing, operations, legalities, products and trends.
Dunn began putting his acquiring tools to work independently 10 years ago, when an investment firm hired him to spend nine months starting an ISO on its behalf. "A light bulb went on," he said, describing the moment he realized the time had come to strike out on his own.
Dunn's business began with two-day, one-on-one tutorials on how to start and operate an ISO. He still teaches those workshops, and by now he's conducted roughly 90 of them. "I do these one-on-one because every case is different," Dunn said. "Everyone is trying to create a niche."
Though he customizes the workshop to fit the student, topics often include a macro view of acquiring, a micro view of the industry, the intricacies of interchange, the essentials of marketing, advice on building a sales force, instruction in the fine points of selling, a rundown on hardware and software, a survey of services ISOs offer, an introduction to ISO operations, and the basics of the many agreements an ISO signs.
In the workshops he places special emphasis on common pitfalls. One dire error occurs when new ISOs neglect to hire an attorney to review agreements. Too often, ISOs unwittingly sign exclusive agreements, or they give away their right to residuals or lose portability of their merchant portfolios.
Most of the workshop students already have some grounding in the industry, and about 90 percent soon become registered ISOs, Dunn said. Recently, more workshop students have come from the software business or from companies that have merchants as customers and want to make payments a sideline, he noted.
About the time the workshops were beginning, Dunn began producing and emceeing Field Guide Seminars at the regional acquiring association conferences. The presentations, which typically include six speakers, teach ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) how to run their businesses and how to sell merchant services more effectively, he said.
The first seminar took place in the Drake Hotel in Chicago during an MWAA show, and he's now overseen 32 of them. Besides holding the events at the Midwest conference, he has presented them at conferences held by the Southeast Acquirers Association and the Western States Acquirers Association.
In 2007, Dunn got the idea that he could reach ISOs and MLSs who need sales training by offering an online course. He approached Paul Green of The Green Sheet, who offered ideas and support, Dunn said. Next, he set to work writing the course material.
Two years later, he completed a 60,000-word treatise – about the length of a college textbook. Since then, the course has continued to grow as the industry adds complexity, like the EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) standard. Dunn discounts the per-student cost when an ISO signs up enough salespeople. And for a fee, he creates white-label custom versions of the course to fit particular ISOs' business models.
Dunn also performs executive-level consulting for ISOs and acquiring banks, guides vendors in their efforts to reach acquirers and provides expert testimony in court cases.
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