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The Green SheetGreen Sheet

The Green Sheet Online Edition

August 10, 2009 • Issue 09:08:01

Street SmartsSM

The proper approach to MLS hunting

By Jon Perry and Vanessa Lang

There is a moment in the life of an ISO or merchant level salesperson (MLS) when you reach your plateau - when you just can't put any more deals through unless you start to work overtime. You are ready to take the business to the next level. We are talking, of course, about hiring your first sales representative.

While making that first hire will give you a great feeling of accomplishment, there can be danger ahead if you're not prepared. Vanessa found this out first hand.

A strike versus the gutter ball

Vanessa likes to bowl, so she joined a league. When she introduced herself to the league, the range of personalities was interesting. There were people like her, white collar professionals with fresh manicures and pedicures. There were also bikers clad in leather, truck drivers and mechanics, as well as retirees and future professional bowlers. Not a likely place to find a potential sales representative.

Over time Vanessa befriended many in the league. And since her team name was Merchant Services, most of them had an idea what she did for a living.

They knew she installed those darn machines that sucked their money out to some crazy black hole never to be seen again. Time passed, leagues ended, life got in the way, and she lost contact with many of those with whom she bowled.

Then, one day, Vanessa was waiting at a tire shop for new tires to be put on her car when a fellow bowling league member approached her. Let's call him John. His story was not uncommon. He had been injured on the job. He was disabled and needed something to bring in money.

He was looking for a major life and career change. He literally begged her to give him a shot as an MLS. Here was her first prospect - someone she knew, but she had no idea how to make sure working with him was a good idea. But the excitement was palpable.

We were ready to take on our first sales rep, and he had fallen right into our lap. John signed up as a 1099. Needless to say, John did not work out. It was certainly not due to lack of hustle.

Our business picked up the tab for chamber memberships. There were weeks of training and lots of time in the field. Vanessa spent close to three weeks preparing him for a career in merchant services.

Ultimately he found, like so many, that he was too worried about money to focus on closing business and building relationships. We never heard from John again.

Innocence versus experience

But one try was not enough for Vanessa. Enter Jack. Now Jack was a salesman. He had a résumé a mile long and had done everything from financial analyst to customer relationship management software installer. He had even worked in the payments industry a few years ago.

Since he had industry experience, he wouldn't require all the training, right? And he was definitely in need of money, so what better way to motivate him than to show him the money?

He had skills in cold calling, and on day one he set his first appointment. Vanessa went with him and closed the deal; Jack sat quietly, a little too quietly. But, ultimately, it got him a nice commission check on the sale of equipment. He was hooked.

A week went by, and we checked up to see how many appointments Jack had set. Zero. We asked him, "Well how many calls did you make?" His response was a long, drawn out saga of marital and family issues, bills and more. He wanted to stay with it, but eventually he started looking for another job. Like John, we soon could say of Jack - never heard from him again.

Head versus heart

Both John and Jack were brought into our organization based on emotional decisions. We wrote in our last article about the pit bulls around us. (For more information, see "Unexamined emotion, a pit bull that mangles business," The Green Sheet, July 27, 2009, issue 09:07:02).

John and Jack were Vanessa's pit bulls. They looked promising and had those puppy eyes that said give me a chance, and Vanessa fell right into the trap. While Jon had advised her not to move forward with either relationship, Vanessa disregarded his warnings and thought, "What better way to learn than by trying."

Guided by the anticipation and emotion associated with wanting to grow the organization, Vanessa made errors in judgment. Sure we got a deal or two, but the major loss was of Vanessa's time.

Strengths versus weaknesses

Vanessa had that "aha" moment after Jack dropped off the radar. Her strengths are in operations and customer service. She can balance a budget to the penny. She can hold the hand of a new merchant until he or she feels warm and fuzzy. But she does not excel at judging talent.

On the other hand, Jon is the sales and marketing specialist. His skill sets are vision and negotiation. He is also much more capable of identifying a good potential MLS fit.

There came a point in contract negotiations with Jack where Vanessa realized he was playing her. Jack understood that if he asked Vanessa for X percent, he might get it, but if he asked Jon - fat chance. So now any potential reps Vanessa finds go straight to Jon for vetting. As business owners, we wear so many different hats and often find ourselves venturing into areas that are not our strengths.

The mistakes Vanessa made were not financially impactful, but a great deal of time was lost. Looking back, that time should have been dedicated to defining the operational aspects of managing new MLSs as opposed to trying to learn how to hire them.

Although we control the hiring procedures internally, many other organizations may not. Identifying a reputable third-party recruitment firm can bring objectivity to your hiring decisions. Outsourcing recruitment responsibilities may weed out potential hires who are not a good fit and, therefore, save your ISO time and reduce stress.

The hunt versus the catch

Finding out that joy and excitement is not found in the hiring process itself, but in actually seeing your new hire prosper, was a realization.

Hiring decisions should not be forced or based on emotions. A variety of different hiring models can be used to make intelligent choices regarding whom you hire.

Gather upfront what your prospects' needs are for income, time, family and so forth. Do this before providing them any contracts. A well-tailored contract based on prospects' needs and what you can afford saves valuable time negotiating.

Knowing your best and final offer can help you to say - Sorry, this is not a good fit. Then you can move on.

Reflecting on our own experiences, as well as learning from others in our industry through GS Online's MLS Forum and acquirer association meetings, has highlighted important questions to consider when selecting the optimal approach for hiring for your organization.

W-2 employee versus independent contractor

This decision comes down to two major factors: control and cost. With a W-2 employee, you will be able to have your say regarding the job's parameters: the who, what, when, where and how.

A 1099 independent contractor is just that. Make sure you consult with an industry professional when managing your contractors, and be aware of the IRS guidelines.

Following are questions you should ask yourself when searching for MLS candidates:

  • What caliber salesperson are you looking for?
    Some organizations want only experienced MLSs; others desire zero experience. The more experienced MLSs will have a better understanding of how residuals and bonuses operate and generally will cost more, but the rewards should be greater. However, it may be difficult for someone "old school" to adapt to solution selling. On the other hand, newbies will demand much time and upfront training.

    Have your business plan in place and let it guide your choice of sales professionals.

  • Should I get a lawyer?
    Absolutely. There are industry specific lawyers who have these processes locked and loaded. There is a cost associated, so only approach them if you are serious about moving forward with hiring. Ultimately, the guidance and information payment attorneys can provide in terms of contract law are vital. You may also want to consider a human resources professional to address state-specific labor requirements.

  • What are the industry specific compliance requirements?
    To address this, you will need to involve your ISO or sales partners. Also spend time reviewing past articles in The Green Sheet that address these requirements. We always err on the side of caution to protect our organization from rogue sales agents. One bad egg can damage a good reputation.

  • What is a fair reimbursement?
    Again, there are a variety of compensation models to choose from. Many great mentors in the industry have succeeded by paying their top performing sales professionals as much as they can afford. Understand what percentages of residual are fair (if any) and what bonus structures you want to implement. Execute a standard contract, and negotiate from there.

Hit versus miss

Your decisions should be based on what will increase your top-line revenue, minimize your exposure to risk and focus on customer retention. If it doesn't feel right, don't do it.

That is a mantra we have followed for many years. Spend your time preparing upfront and learning from others who have been there and done that will be time well spent.

Happy hunting. end of article

Jon Perry and Vanessa Lang are the owners of 888QuikRate.com, an ISO based in Ft. Worth, Texas, that was named Small Business of the Year by the local newspaper, The Star Telegram. For more information, tweet them at http://twitter.com/dfwcard, comment on their blog at http://merchantservices.cc or visit their profile at http://linkedin.com/in/jonperry or http://linkedin.com/in/vanessalang">http://linkedin.com/in/vanessalang. Alternatively, you can contact Jon and Vanessa by phone at 817-857-3557 or by e-mail at jon.perry@888quikrate.com or vanessa.lang@888quikrate.com.

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