In his payments industry career, Bill Pirtle has encountered towing company owners who believe merchant level salespeople (MLSs) are a crooked bunch. One such owner even threw a shoe at him when Pirtle mentioned what he does for a living. He finds this ironic since he's heard many a lament about questionable towing company practices. But Pirtle gives his prospects in that vertical market the benefit of the doubt as he strives to dispel their mistrust and improve their payment processes.
Pirtle, who has been in the payments industry five years, has more than a decade of retail management and cashier-training experience. He believes an agent should never mislead a merchant or an ISO and never make a promise when uncertain.
The Green Sheet: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Bill Pirtle: An astronaut - the moon launch was when I was a kid, and to this day I am intrigued when looking at the sky.
GS: When did you know you'd be able to succeed in this business?
BP: Just recently when I found nonexclusive contracts and gained flexibility in matching solutions to merchants. I never knew contracts were negotiable. I never knew some of the quirks and things of different contracts.
I work with Fast Transact Inc., so I can help merchants with electronics or Canadian businesses. Electronic Payments Inc. gets most of my business, but I also deal with NWBC LLC because of the POS systems. So the ability to work with more than one processor has just been a godsend because now, no matter what kind of customer approaches me from my business associations, I can help.
GS: What profession were you in before?
BP: I spent 10 years in retail management, most recently in operations and front-end management, training cashiers on accepting credit cards. Then I spent time in computer sales, and I had a couple of businesses.
GS: What do you like best about your career, and what's been most challenging?
BP: I like helping my merchants while making a decent living. The challenge has been in finding partners that treat both clients and me well.
GS: How has the industry changed since you started?
BP: PCI DSS - what used to be commonplace practices are now dangerous to merchants. This does help the consulting side of the business.
GS: What are you doing to ensure that your clients are compliant with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS)?
BP: I am letting them know that noncompliance may result in putting them out of business. What I found is just by following the guidelines that MasterCard and Visa lay down on how to process, and by making little tweaks in your policy, you can actually eliminate many of the questions with PCI DSS.
You don't need to ask for additional information. Make sure the card is signed on the back. As you're inputting the information, you don't want to save the three digit number. If you use it for the processing, you have to shred it afterwards. Just little changes are all it takes to really be compliant and stay that way. And, most importantly, I tell them they need to be vigilant every day.
GS: Are you working as an employee or contractor for someone else, or do you own your own company?
BP: I own my own company, Merchant Processing Consulting & Training LLC, but have no employees. I became an LLC to protect myself in PCI matters. When I signed up with EPI (the first company I signed up with this year after getting back into the industry) I read on their statement that if anything happened with a breach, they would come after the agent. And then I said, "Well, I've been thinking about becoming an LLC, I'll just go ahead and do that."
As long as a breach isn't due to negligence or intentional on my part, the LLC will protect me. If anything should happen, I won't lose my house, my car, my toys.
GS: You just mentioned getting back into the industry. When did you leave and why? What brought you back?
BP: In August 2008, I pulled back over the discouragement of having my processor help me land a merchant capital deal and then not pay me the commission on it. I created my own company in September to do consulting with merchants to help them create standardized work instructions and train employees to ensure Visa and MasterCard policies are being followed and fraud prevention tools are utilized.
Reading GS Online's MLS Forum brought me back to sales in December 2008, which I do in addition to consulting. I was able to find several partners I could trust. Now my company has more complete solutions for most any merchant.
GS: What is keeping you in the industry now?
BP: My drive to get everything right, and I see a lot of potential.
GS: Describe your typical work day, and tell us how many hours you put in now.
BP: Most days are meetings, phone calls and e-mails - about 10 to 14 hours per day. I participate heavily in business organizations and am busy cultivating relationships. I spend hours writing Excel spreadsheets to check, double check, and triple check numbers.
GS: Do you set personal and business goals?
BP: Since I have attention deficit disorder, dyslexia and other issues, I need to write goals and plans on a daily basis. I have a business plan written with goals on production and financials. I need to start writing more personal goals.
GS: What's been your greatest success as an agent?
BP: Setting up a small chain of auto parts stores on a processing and gift card program, along with coupon cards and Web site gift cards.
GS: What's the funniest sales experience you've ever had?
BP: Speaking to a group of towing company owners, I got hit with a lot of comments and misconceptions about the card processing industry. I finally told them it was like a novice suggesting you separate a truck cab with a broken axle from a trailer in a ditch and tow them up separately. The room laughed. No matter how bad the axle is, it still has wheels, and it will always be easier to tow the trailer up with the cab attached.
When I put it into their own words, they understood immediately. What seems like common sense is sometimes dead wrong. They wanted to photocopy the driver's license and other things that people wanted to give them.
They were concerned about getting chargebacks because customers would get their cars out of impounds with credit cards and then file an immediate chargeback on them. And what I helped them do was to set up separate companies and do debit cards only on that account. The company I was with at the time allowed a surcharge of $10 for the transaction.
Several towing companies have asked me how to set up an account that was chargeback-proof for impounds. I set them up on debit-only accounts on those, along with a MO/TO account for the towing.
GS: How often do you check on your merchant customers? What other methods do you employ to ensure account retention?
BP: I check in every few months. I give great service, and I consult to resolve issues they may not be aware of just by keeping tabs on statements.
GS: How do you secure referrals and otherwise generate leads?
BP: I join business associations and trade associations and learn about the businesses and markets that affect them. I also pay for referrals once merchants sign and use the processing service. I make friends of Web developers and use them as referral partners. I am not opposed to using anything as long as it's honest.
I don't cold call like a lot of agents do. I join chambers of commerce and business associations, and I let the business owners know that they can come to me. Then I answer questions for them at the meetings on general procedures. And in a 24-hour period last week I had two construction companies approach me.
I wound up signing both of them and getting three companies out of that. But it's something that I just never had the knowledge of until I started reading The Green Sheet. I mean I'd been a subscriber of The Green Sheet for years before I found the Forum back in September. I've learned more about the industry itself, not the nuts and bolts like I learned in the training but in the process of how all the companies fitted together just by reading in the Forum.
GS: How do you explain interchange rates to prospects?
BP: I explain that interchange is like the wholesale price to all processors and that with interchange plus pricing, there is no incentive not to help a merchant with processing errors such as skipping address verification service.
GS: What do you do when it looks like you're on the verge of losing a sale?
BP: Back off once given all information. One customer signed up one year after my initial contact because I did not burn the bridge.
GS: What types of merchants do you prefer to work with?
BP: Start-ups, contractors, business organizations, chambers of commerce and a few I don't want to share. I can lead with my consulting and not "I can save you money."
GS: How do you get merchants to see you as a consultant rather than just another salesperson?
BP: I take an interest in their business, and I am patient. I let them see that I understand their problems and can give some creative solutions.
GS: What is your approach to terminal placement? Do you lease them, place them for free or do some combination of the two?
BP: I do not like to lease for smaller businesses. I am in the process of creating a rent-to-own purchase plan on terminals.
GS: What is your experience with agent training?
BP: Ten days of training with ABN AMRO Merchant Services. AAMS, shared an office with Bank of America Merchant Services. ... Bank of America was the company behind Visa 30 years ago, so I felt it was the best training possible on the Visa side because they taught me all about interchange, and they taught me bank card procedures.
It was one of the best types of training I could have received. I mean sales training would have been fantastic, but I had the nuts and bolts of the industry, which has helped.
GS: What would an ideal training program consist of?
BP: Ethics, education on interchange, preferred pricing structures and how to get your merchants to become and remain compliant with PCI DSS.
GS: How should an MLS go about choosing an ISO partner?
BP: Ask people on The Green Sheet forums. This is how I found my partners. I also look for nonexclusive agreements, pricing flexibility and residuals that are vested immediately.
GS: How has The Green Sheet helped you?
BP: I mentioned it helped me to find the partners I have today. It is also a way to network and bounce ideas off other forum members. The MLS Forum is an excellent source of information and allows me to see and engage other agents and ISOs.
GS: If you could change anything about this business, what would it be?
BP: Honestly, I would eliminate early termination fees. Keep your customers by providing the best service at a fair, honest price.
GS: Looking back, would you have done anything differently in your career?
BP: I would have avoided offering free equipment and started reading The Green Sheet earlier.
GS: What's your greatest dream?
BP: Being happy in all facets of my life and balancing a great work life with a great personal life.
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