The Green Sheet Online Edition
August 10, 2009 • Issue 09:08:01
The working smart MLS
Esteban Marin, President of Merchant Services of Sunrise, knows the secret of success for merchant level salespeople (MLSs) in the payments industry: residuals. Of course, you have to work hard to build them up. Then you have to work to keep them up. But, as Marin knows firsthand, the residuals from a well maintained portfolio can be extremely rewarding.
The Green Sheet: Why did you choose a payments car-eer, and when did you know you'd be able to succeed in this sphere?
Esteban Marin: Merchant services got me hooked because of the potential of the residuals. After a year doing this, and after a couple of ISOs down the road, I knew that this would be my career.
I got beat down seriously for the first couple of months due to poor or no training at all, and right when I was ready to throw in the towel, I found The Green Sheet.
After reading almost all of the past articles I realized what I was doing wrong, and I changed my attitude. After that I knew that with the right tools, and lots of knowledge, I would succeed.
GS: What's been your greatest success so far as an agent?
EM: My greatest success has been to establish a name and reputation with some large local merchants; they know that they can count on me to handle more than 50 percent of their stores' total income, and they pass the word to their friends. It's very rewarding when a stranger calls you and says he heard great things about you.
GS: What has been your most significant learning experience?
EM: Working for a large ISO. I went to their training trips a couple of times, and boy, those are very intense.
GS: What do you like best about your career, and what's been most challenging?
EM: I love the potential (even with the competition and margin compression). And I also love the freedom that this career gives to you.
On the flip side, some ISOs are using all kind of tactics (from giving the house away to flat-out lying to the merchants) in order to acquire new merchants, therefore making my life a little bit harder.
GS: Are you working as an employee or contractor for someone else, or do you own your own company?
EM: I am in a 1099 position, but I did work for some very large ISOs who trained me and taught me a lot. I am very satisfied right now, but I would not eliminate the thought of working for somebody again.
GS: How has the industry changed since you started?
EM: I started when free terminals were starting to emerge, and that has affected the industry in so many ways, mostly bad ways. I now see a lot of new merchants getting interchange plus pricing, when that used to be reserved for larger accounts only. But I also see that merchants are more educated, and I appreciate that because it is easier for them to identify the good from the bad.
GS: What goals do you set for yourself?
EM: I set weekly goals, and I go over them every Friday. If I don't make it, they roll over for the next week. (I am a little behind right now).
GS: Describe your typical work day.
EM: I try to pitch every day; I am more a face to face kind of person rather than a phone cold caller. I usually work straight from 8:30 a.m. all the way to 5:30 p.m., and I am definitely putting in more hours than when I first started working.
GS: How do you balance the demands of your work and personal lives?
EM: That has to be the most challenging part of this business. I give my merchants my cell phone number, and sometimes merchants call at crazy hours.
If it is something that I can handle, I usually help them out, but if I see that it may take hours, I reroute them to tech support and do a follow up call later.
GS: Have you ever tried to move your merchants from one processor to another? If so, what happened?
EM: One of the first processors that I sold for let me down big time with several customers. After I stopped sending them deals, they cut my residuals off. I tried to move one of the merchants, and I got a letter from them threatening to send me to court. After that I learned to read my ISO contract.
GS: Have you ever lost or almost lost a residual stream?
EM: I lost residuals due to minimums hiding deep in a contract, and every time I'd ask the recruiter about that, he would keep going around the bush. I learned to read before I sign.
GS: What would people be surprised to know about you or the way you do your job?
EM: I like to keep an eye on everything. I treat my merchants in a very personal way. I know their partners' names and give them a call on their birthdays.
GS: Do you have a surefire way to resolve conflict?
EM: I always tell the merchant that the first number they need to call is my cell phone, that they are supposed to be running their business, not waiting on hold. That usually keeps me in the loop with any potential problem.
GS: What is unique about your sales style?
EM: I am very passive and act the opposite of a salesman. I also approach the business as a consultant trying to see how I can help him to make more money and streamline his operations.
GS: What is your most successful value-added product? Why?
EM: That has to be POS. I was lucky to partner up with a very knowledgeable person who only pitches large businesses, and we have a deal. She doesn't go into merchant services as long as I don't go into POS.
GS: Merchants are savvier now about credit card processing. How does this affect MLSs?
EM: I see this as an edge; educated merchants know right away if your offer is too good to be true, and they would send you out the door if you are trying to pull a fast one.
GS: How do you secure referrals?
EM: My best advice is to focus within your existing clientele base; a happy merchant is the best lead source that you could ever wish for.
GS: Why is it important to have a full arsenal of products to offer merchants?
EM: Merchants are demanding; so is the market. And if you only focus on one product your chances get slimmed. By offering several products you are building the value of your relationships, and value has proven to weigh more than cost.
GS: How do you explain interchange rates to prospects?
EM: I tell the merchants that interchange plus pricing is similar to when they go to a market and they get a very detailed receipt showing exactly what they are paying for. On the other hand, tiered pricing shows them: bread, milk and cheese.
GS: What types of merchants do you prefer to work with?
EM: I love high-risk merchants, travel, time share, et cetera. I find great pleasure working with them, and I was lucky to establish very good partnerships for those types. These merchants won't be flipping just because somebody offers them a free terminal or a 10 bps [basis points] lower rate. They know that it takes time and hard work to properly place them, and they appreciate that by sticking with you.
GS: How do you get merchants to see you as a consultant rather than just another salesperson?
EM: My approach is very informative. I try to keep up to date with all the new technologies by reading and talking to my fellow professionals. I try to steer away from pricing and rather show them why my services will benefit their bottom line.
GS: Do you think there will always be street sales?
EM: Savvier merchants like to do business face to face. Telemarketers are so stereotyped that I don't think large merchants would trust them.
GS: What is your approach to terminal placement?
EM: I am a firm believer of the lease. If well-used it gives a merchant an edge. That being said, if the accounts justify, I like to do my own loaners from time to time.
GS: What are three things an MLS should never do?
EM: Never lie to a merchant. Never save your way to a sale. Never give up; this business is rewarding if you work hard.
GS: What does it take to succeed in this business?
EM: This business takes consistency, constant training and ethics. You miss one, and you are condemned.
GS: What is your experience with agent training?
EM: I trained agents back when I worked for the super ISO, but I'd rather be a one man band now.
GS: What would an ideal training program consist of?
EM: Basics of interchange, how to read and understand statements, how to properly price an account and, lastly, how to make money. Lots of people in this industry are driven by bonuses, and they would forget the true potential of this business: the residuals.
GS: Did you know enough about industry contracts before you signed one?
EM: I knew little about bankcard contracts when I first started in this industry. I only looked for the Schedule A, and I was not aware that a simple choice of words would make it or break it. Some ISOs take advantage of the new agents by emphasizing bells and whistles in their contracts, and they forgot to mention that you are signing your future away.
GS: How do you research new verticals?
EM: I try to research vertical markets by reading a lot. The Green Sheet is an excellent source, especially the press releases because they show what the big boys are up to.
GS: How else have The Green Sheet's publications and Web site helped you?
EM: Without The Green Sheet I would not be in this industry. You guys have earned my devotion.
Anybody in this industry should read The Green Sheet in order to be aware of the changes in the industry. I found the online forum when I was giving up, and it opened my eyes, literally. I chose to participate because that allowed me to get in touch with professionals across the country. It also allows people to learn from each other at no cost.
GS: Any advice for newcomers?
EM: Read your contract, know your partner, educate yourself in merchant services and read The Green Sheet.
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