Like many a merchant level salesperson (MLS), Bob Dickerson migrated to the payments sphere from the automotive industry. After 30 years of selling cars, he stumbled upon GS Online and read success stories posted on the MLS Forum. He was hooked. Two-and-a-half years later, Dickerson boards merchant accounts primarily through Electronic Payments Inc.
He also offers complementary services through a separate business endeavor, Money To You Financial Network. Offerings include commercial factoring, traditional financing and other financial services.
The Green Sheet: Since your payments industry career coincided with finding The Green Sheet, could you tell us how the publication helped you establish yourself in this business?
Bob Dickerson: Just before I accidentally found it, I was about to sign a buy rate agreement because I didn't know any better. After I found The Green Sheet everything changed for me because I knew what to look for in an agreement. I spent about 100 hours reading the archived articles and past forum posts. The Green Sheet gave me the knowledge to move forward in the way that would be most beneficial to me.
GS: What do you like best about your career, and what's been most challenging?
BD: I like learning all the intricacies of our business. The most challenging is signing new accounts. Since I solicit larger businesses, it is often difficult to get in front of the decision maker and, after I do, to get them to move forward.
GS: Are you working as an employee or contractor for someone else, or do you own your own company?
BD: I own my own company but am not registered. ... I am very satisfied running my own business.
GS: How has the industry changed since you started?
BD: The biggest change I have seen in the short amount of time I've been involved is the emphasis on Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) compliance.
GS: What are you doing to ensure that your clients are compliant with the PCI DSS?
BD: EPI has recently established a PCI DSS Web site where the merchant can fill out the Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) and file it with them. Prior to that I sent all my merchants the correct SAQ and offered to help them in any way they felt necessary. I am currently instituting scanning services where appropriate.
GS: What methods do you employ to ensure account retention?
BD: I visit merchants in-person at a minimum of quarterly and communicate to them any changes or PCI DSS updates that could, or do, affect them. If they are having a problem I respond immediately, including on site if necessary. I believe I have a distinct advantage for superior service owing to the fact that my primary processor, EPI, has no wait for in-house technical and customer support, including immediate notification to me anytime a merchant calls them.
GS: What is your sales strategy?
BD: I am a big believer in leading with value-add and don't use the lower rate unless it's the only choice.
I use rewards cards, POS systems, level three processing, cash advance and 90-day customer finance as lead-ins whenever possible.
I think the lower rate approach is the least likely to work as merchants hear it constantly and, if it does work, results often in unnecessary rate compression. As has often been said, merchants are not in business to save money; they are in business to make money. A relationship based on value-add inherently has a much greater retention factor.
GS: What are your most successful value-added products?
BD: Rewards cards because they generate tangible profit. And cash advance because you're providing working capital the merchant needs and can't otherwise obtain. I think the new 90-day customer financing program will be a big winner too.
GS: How do you get merchants to see you as a consultant rather than just another salesman?
BD: By establishing an advisory role at the outset, asking them what problems they have and suggesting solutions, and showing them programs that generate profit or simplify their activities.
GS: Merchants are savvier now about credit card processing. How does this affect MLSs?
BD: I am not convinced that merchants are, in fact, savvier about credit card processing. I find that most understand very little about it. This gives the MLS the opportunity to explain some of the simple facts involved and establish an advisory rather than a sales-based relationship.
GS: Why is it important to have a full arsenal of products to offer merchants?
BD: My take is anything you can offer other than credit card processing to interest a merchant leads to a much higher probability of acquiring and retaining the account. By and large, merchants are not interested in talking about credit card processing. They are, however, very interested in learning about new methods of increasing their business. The other reason you need a full arsenal of products is you're just giving someone else the opportunity to take over the account if you can't offer what the merchant needs.
GS: How do you explain interchange to merchants?
BD: I do not attempt to explain interchange unless the merchant has a specific question about it or something in my presentation dictates explaining it. I have found interchange confuses most merchants and is an unnecessary complication thrown into the mix. If I do have to explain it, I use interchange charts and briefly explain that different types of cards are assigned different interchange rates.
GS: What do you do when it looks like you're on the verge of losing a sale?
BD: Reiterate the benefits I can offer. If the reason is a much lower rate, I move on to the next prospect. I have no interest in boarding marginally profitable accounts and realize I'm not going to close every prospect.
GS: What types of merchants do you prefer to work with?
BD: Merchants processing at least $50,000 per month. A lot of times at that level and above you are dealing with the chief financial officer, and they usually understand what I'm trying to convey.
Once these accounts are boarded, the retention factor is much greater since credit card processing is a minor part of their overall responsibilities. It's not something they have the time or interest in continually revisiting. As long as you and your ISO are providing superior service and not causing them to spend time taking care of problems, they appreciate what you do for them. By developing a good relationship, usually they will consult with you before switching, giving you the vital opportunity to retain the account. The caveat is these people are usually very difficult to get in front of, and the closing time is much longer than smaller accounts that you can often close on the spot. In the end, though, I think they are much more valuable accounts to have in your portfolio for both the residual value and retention factor. The only small accounts I solicit are referrals.
GS: Do you think there will always be street sales?
BD: Yes. Although I know others only solicit by phone, e-mail or mail, the type of accounts I want to board, I think, require in-person solicitation. My prospective clients want to know there is someone physically available to service them. No matter how proficient your sales skills are, I don't think you can inspire by phone or e-mail the level of confidence and trust in a client that you can in-person.
GS: What is your approach to terminal placement? Do you lease them, place them for free or do some combination of the two?
BD: I do both, depending on the circumstances. The leases are for rewards card programs, where the entire program is rolled into the lease cost, and the 90-day customer financing program where the required terminal, imager and enrollment fee are included. I always offer a purchase option as well. For the larger accounts, I will upgrade their existing equipment at no charge as required due to failure or PCI DSS updates, but not damage. I find this to be an excellent door opener, and it is a minimal investment on my part, given the residual value of these accounts.
GS: What are three things an agent should never do?
BD: One, use any form of deceit. Two, discuss an account's business with anyone else. Three, raise rates or add additional charges without prior notification and explanation.
GS: What does it take to succeed in this business?
BD: Determination, outstanding service, ongoing education and affiliating with an ISO that is capable of supporting both you and your merchants.
GS: How should an MLS go about choosing an ISO partner?
BD: Being certain their values and capabilities match your values and needs. The MLS Forum is the best place I know of to be informed of other's experiences with a particular company. Sometimes you don't find out until after the fact you made the wrong choice, so you need to quickly make another. When I read the horror stories of some on the forum, I realize how fortunate I am to be associated with EPI. For that, I thank The Green Sheet, as that's how I got the knowledge to make the choice I did.
GS: Did you know enough about industry contracts before you signed one?
BD: Again, thanks to The Green Sheet's archived articles, particularly the Street SmartsSM one by Michael Nardy on the top 10 contract pitfalls, I feel I did. ["Top 10 Contract Pitfalls: A Simple Guide to ISO Agreements," Oct. 24, 2005, issue 05:10:02]
In fact, I thought that by writing an article like that, Michael's company would be an excellent choice. I was right and attribute much of my success to Michael and his employees. I have read about a dozen other agreements in the meantime, some of which were so inequitable I was sorry I wasted the ink and paper to print them.
To anyone reading this that feels they don't know enough about what to look for in an industry contract, they need to read Michael's archived Street Smarts article. There are enormous differences between ISOs, and I'm not referring to Schedule A's.
GS: Any advice for newcomers?
BD: Spend a lot of time reading the archived GS articles and previous forum posts. After you do, many questions will be answered, and you will have a great understanding about how our industry functions. The previous forums will give in-depth experiences others have had with individual companies. If you require training, associate with a processor that provides it, and understand you will pay for it through reduced residuals.
Always understand that upfront bonuses are paid back in other forms, and realize that it is of the utmost importance to associate with a processor that is capable of providing superior service to your merchants. Merchant dissatisfaction with processor support will lead to attrition. In-house, 24/7 support is always best.
A newcomer needs to understand that the highest split and/or upfront bonuses are not necessarily, or usually, the most profitable situation in the long run. Make certain you understand every word in the agreement you're signing if you don't get an explanation. Know that negotiation is a part of agreements. If an ISO refuses to negotiate, seek another. Realize that most ISOs will sign just about anyone without a criminal background and may entice you. Be sure you get all the enticements in writing in your agreement. When you have narrowed down your choices, post on the MLS Forum, asking for others' experiences and opinions.
GS: If you could change anything about this business, what would it be?
BD: Two things, both at the card brand level. One, have the card companies send letters - to all the merchants accepting their brand - requiring demonstrated PCI DSS compliance or the loss of the ability to accept their cards. And two, federal legislation limiting electronic funds transfer fees.
GS: Looking back, would you have done anything differently in your career?
BD: Gotten into this industry many years before I did.
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