Jerry Sellers, Principal and merchant level salesperson (MLS) for payment processor MerchantService Group West Coast's Seattle office, was selling sailboats in Southern California when one of his customers, the head trainer at Sea World in San Diego, offered him a job as a sea mammal trainer.
Intrigued with the idea of having what most of us would consider a fantasy occupation, Sellers learned to train and care for seals, walruses and dolphins. He also rode the beluga whale, hanging onto the half-ton creature with one hand while waving to the crowd with the other as the whale vaulted out of the water, thrilling audiences to end every show.
But after three years of working at Sea World in the early 1980s, Sellers returned to sales. He realized it was not only his first love, professionally, it was also a career in which he could make more money, have more autonomy and stability - and stay dry.
The Green Sheet: How did you get into the payments industry?
Jerry Sellers: Well, I got into the industry about eight years ago. I started with a couple of small companies, then worked for a large processor out of Southern California. We had some pretty high-powered clients, including every MacDonald's restaurant in their west division.
GS: How was MerchantService Group West Coast formed?
JS: After some time, I decided I wanted to start my own company, and through due diligence, my partner Jeff Dowler and I founded MerchantService Group West Coast last year, a subsidiary of Sarasota, Fla. based MerchantService Group Inc.
We're also a registered ISO with First Data Corp. and registered ISO/MSP of Wells Fargo N.A. I'm working in Seattle, and Jeff works out of our other office in San Diego. I'm doing sales as well as recruiting, and it's been a great partnership so far.
GS: What are some of the bigger challenges you face right now with the current economic conditions?
JS: Retention is always a concern, keeping merchants sticky. We are fortunate in that we have an annual attrition rate of about 6 percent, where the industry average is about 15 percent.
I believe our personal attention to our merchants helps us retain more clients than a lot of other ISOs. Still, in the marketplace last year we saw our overall merchant portfolio doing upwards of 30 percent less transactions than they were the year before.
GS: What does a typical day look like for you?
JS: Well, our head office is in Florida, and they're up three hours before I am, so I start with e-mails and telephone calls early in the morning. Mondays and Tuesdays I'm typically on the computer and on the phone all day long pursuing leads and contacting merchants.
The rest of the week I am normally out on appointments, meeting with people, collecting statements, and doing analysis and then follow-up meetings to round out the week.
GS: What, in your opinion, is the most important aspect to turning leads into closed sales?
JS: The key to success in closing deals and bringing merchants into your portfolio is getting through to the decision maker. Once we get through to that person, then we're up to bat for a sale.
And we find that, after the sale, if we do our jobs right and teach our merchants properly on all equipment and software, they see us as consultants, not just sales agents, and this builds trust and loyalty.
Additionally, it's just as important to identify where we can make the most positive benefit for our clients.
GS: Do you focus on any particular verticals?
JS: I would say that our portfolio is fairly evenly balanced. We have everything from mom-and-pop grocery stores to petroleum retailers to medical offices, restaurants, Web-based businesses and online vacation rental options. It really is nice in that it goes across the board.
GS: Are there any value added products or services your company offers that you are excited about and consider to be unique?
JS: Yes, in fact, for ourselves, we offer digital surveillance as a value proposition. It is doing extremely well for us, not only in helping us sell additional services but expanding our vertical market footprint as well. For small and medium-sized merchants especially, the benefits of digital surveillance are so compelling. They literally pay for themselves in just a few months.
GS: In what ways?
JS: They provide tremendous value to an operator, especially if they run multiple stores. The remote site management software offers nonstop monitoring service that can interface between stores, monitor cash register and POS activity, staff alarm access and personnel shift changes. It's a tremendous fraud prevention and anti-theft tool.
We also offer temperature monitoring software for florists, as well as meat and produce merchants; pump alarm software for petroleum merchants; video monitoring systems; the applications are so varied.
And the merchants love it so much, they always ask what other services and products I have available.
GS: It sounds as though the response from merchants has been enthusiastic. Do you have a success story that you can share?
JS: There is, in fact. We've got a great story of a merchant who called us two months into his program, thanking us profusely for saving him tons of money.
We said, 'It's only been two months, how can that be?' And he told us, 'Well, it's already paid for itself because I found after we installed the system that we had four emp-loyees milking us for $2,400 a month - and we wouldn't have uncovered that scheme if not for your digital surveillance program.'
GS: Are there other value added services you like to sell that you feel are on the rise and important for MLSs to pay attention to?
JS: Well, I'm excited about e-commerce and offering click-and-mortar services to our physical [brick-and-mortar] merchants. We offer a variety of e-commerce products and services and it's doing great.
We represent First Data primarily, and they integrate into just about every POS system that you can think of. So everybody, whether they're brick-and-mortar or straight Internet, has the opportunity to do their e-commerce business with us.
I'm also excited about near field communication and the up-and-coming world of cell phone payments, especially the way the merchant population seems to be increasingly migrating to mobile payments.
GS: What are some other specific products and services your company offers that you believe give you an edge, as a feet on the street, in retaining merchants?
JS: Well, our main source of revenue is credit and debit card processing, but we also have a PC cash register system; we offer ATM solutions; now we're adding the digital surveillance service.
So our goal is to have established clientele that can continue to do whatever processing they need to do efficiently and cost effectively and to have the capability to keep track of all staff and customer activity, both visually and electronically.
GS: Do you ever go to trade shows outside the payments industry to look for new verticals?
JS: Oh, I used to go to every trade show you can imagine. And truthfully, I just decided it wasn't fun after a while. It wasn't productive and I decided I wanted to build the business and make it successful with happy referrals instead of cold calling and grabbing people from an aisle, pulling them into a booth and trying to get our whole sales pitch in their ear in the 30 seconds they have to stop.
GS: Do you have a preferred method for generating leads?
JS: Honest to goodness it's all by referral. Everyone I talk to I ask for five referrals from, and it really just blossoms from there.
I mean, from one little account when we first started, I've ended up with some pretty darn giant ones. I've always had a great rapport with people and a knack for making connections with prospects.
I've found that getting referrals this way increases my networking base and helps me stand out to merchants.
GS: Has your sales techniques evolved since you started in the payments industry?
JS: You know, with success comes relaxation and a little more confidence. We're not so frantic these days to close a deal. What we are interested in is partnering with our clients; that's where the long-term success comes in.
And remember, I know it's unusual, but I'm also a customer to a lot of these merchants in one way or another, and this makes our relationships better all the way around because I'm personally invested in their growth.
GS: You mentioned that your company's attrition rate is about 6 percent annually. What do you do that you feel enables you to keep your merchant stickiness high?
JS: I think it goes back to a philosophy that initially sold me on MerchantService Group, and that is honest, ethical business practices.
As you know, there are a number of folks out there selling card processing out of the trunks of their cars. They make a sale, and you never see them again. But I think we stand out because of the little things.
GS: After all these years, what keeps you inspired and motivated?
JS: I just gain a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that we're helping our merchants enhance their bottom lines and that we can come in and offer solutions and alternatives with today's economic issues. We get to be the guys in the white hats and help save our merchants money.
GS: Will street sales always be a vital part of our business?
JS: You know, it was just this week that I had lunch with one of my merchants. He shared with me that he gets 10 to 15 calls a week from people trying to sell him new merchant service packages.
And he told me that you'll never be able to sell him anything over the phone.
If he doesn't actually see your face and shake your hand and know that you are a legitimate business person and will be there for his technical and customer service needs personally, then you'll never get him for a client.
And this is a gentleman who has over 1,300 franchise locations for his business. So, no, I don't ever see the face to face going away.
GS: Do you have any advice for newbies?
JS: Absolutely. Do your homework first, because you really want to land with a quality company with a solid track record. Additonally, check an ISO's client-retention and attrition rates, how long they've been in business, and whether they are growing both their staff and portfolio.
GS: Has The Green Sheet been helpful to your company and career?
JS: Yes, definitely. Keeping up on this ever-changing industry is a challenge, and we can always look to The Green Sheet for the latest news on rules and regulations, network issues, as well as the latest technologies coming out.
GS: Do you have a philosophy or a motto by which you conduct your professional life?
JS: When it comes to selling to and dealing with merchants, it's got to be a win-win-win. Everyone has to win in a business deal; otherwise it's not worth it, and the relationship with your merchant is not going to last or grow.
So we win by signing the client. They win through our products and customer service. And their customers win with lower costs and higher confidence. And when those efforts succeed, I'm a happy man.
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