The Green Sheet Online Edition
August 10, 2009 • Issue 09:08:01
The MLS opportunity
Over the past few years the payments industry has seen a major spike in new agents joining our ranks. This, in part, is due to major companies in other industries laying off workers and downsizing.
The majority of top contributors amid fresh recruits come from the mortgage, real estate, automotive, insurance and, more recently, the funding or cash advance sectors. Most new merchant level salespeople (MLSs) are after the quick sale and potential to build an attractive residual income.
Those who are beginning a new career in payments most likely are finding it difficult to cultivate new business. Times are tough. Consistently closing deals each month can be highly challenging if you're still learning the business and have not built up a pipeline for leads.
It's not easy to hit the ground running and build a base of merchants quick enough to survive during the beginning stages of a bankcard career.
Typically it takes at least six months to a year, or longer, to learn the business and cultivate and develop a sales method that works effectively. Surviving on 1099 income derived from accounts and commissions can be trying, even for the most seasoned sales professionals.
Stand out from the crowd
For those entering the industry, the following are important qualities that MLSs must possess to help build a strong foundation for success:
- Determination: It's OK to be money motivated. Harness it.
- Desire to learn: Don't settle for standard program knowledge.
- Honesty and integrity: These qualities are more important than anything.
- Initiative: Following through and taking action will set you apart from the pack.
- Generosity: Sharing knowledge can help you build lasting relationships.
- Creativity: Focus on the goal and brainstorm about what is needed to obtain it.
Selecting a strong partner
Success in the payments space, or any other industry, requires dedication and perseverance. Choosing a partner to write business with is an integral piece of getting started. Not all ISOs are created equal, and it's necessary to thoroughly and cautiously evaluate ISO relationships before signing a contract.
A key element in MLS success is having a strong in-house support system so that the majority of the focus is on closing new accounts and supporting existing clients. In some cases, smaller ISOs may not have a robust internal team but do well supporting the business efficiently.
It's not always the size of the office that matters; it's the people behind the operation and how well they follow through with getting accounts serviced.
Go to school
To succeed, MLSs must have a strong educational support base and ongoing training from their ISOs. Therefore, when selecting a processor or ISO, it's important to do your homework. Find out what a potential partner's reputation is within the industry.
Check Better Business Bureau reports and other complaint resources online. Make sure you are partnering with a respected organization from day one. Important questions to ask about a new ISO partner include:
- Does the business offer a lucrative compensation package and options for medical benefits?
- Is it providing thorough and ongoing bankcard and sales training to agents, or just as needed?
- Will the ISO provide detailed online reporting and access to residuals and payouts?
- Do you have the option of building a portfolio and then selling it if necessary?
- How well-organized are the deal flow and paperwork processes?
- Are promotional and marketing options available to help you drive sales?
- Are value-added products internalized and well supported by the ISO?
- Are leads sources and sales tools available to help you prospect for business?
- Does the office have a strong, efficient customer service department for merchants?
- Is 24/7 technical support offered to merchants who need assistance with terminals?
As you can see, you must evaluate many areas to be sure the relationships you establish with ISOs will thrive. Initial bankcard training is very important and can make the difference for new MLSs starting out. Ongoing sales strategies and prospecting techniques should also be given to help you succeed as an agent.
Most ISOs offer basic training to new agents, but in some cases the curriculum is very limited. One reason for this is a desire to not overload the new hire and to gradually feed information over time instead. Agents will need to determine the pace at which they want to learn the material.
The consultant sales model
Don't make the mistake of relying on free terminals or selling on lower interchange rates as the primary method of selling or piquing interest with merchants. This business already has enough MLSs running around doing that very thing. Much more business can be closed utilizing value-added services in conjunction with bankcard processing.
The key is to learn how to be a consultant and employ methods that show merchants your core products and value-adds, as well as the level of service you provide, are more valuable than free equipment and bargain-basement rates.
Many of the feet on the street continue to use free terminals as the primary way to get in the door. However, there are many more effective ways of motivating merchants to set up those all-important appointments with you. Taking time to learn or understand services that can benefit a given merchant's business can make a huge difference in your ability to establish meaningful rapport with that merchant.
Ethical and responsible sales practices
Choices made early-on have a way of resonating throughout one's career. Learning about and adopting ethical sales tactics and methods at the outset can help you establish a solid, rewarding career.
Unfortunately, a handful of ISOs and MLSs continue to use predatory sales tactics and may suggest ways of selling that are not ethical. Greed and dishonesty exist within all sales verticals, no matter what products or services are being sold. The payments industry is no exception.
Typically, dishonest individuals don't last long in our industry. They are quickly discovered and weeded out. But the after-effects of rogue ISO and MLS actions can plague the industry long after the perpetrators have moved on. Established and new MLSs must steer clear of disreputable organizations and tactics.
Expending the same effort in doing things honestly and ethically instead of the opposite will pay much larger and lasting dividends in the long run. Also, misrepresenting merchants and committing fraud in this industry is no joke and can result in severe penalties - possibly even jail time.
Take the next step
A career in the payments industry is not for everyone. Because of the slow economy and lower processing volumes, MLSs starting today have added challenges compared to previous years. But one of the great things about this business is that it is somewhat recession-proof; merchants and consumers will always need to use payment options other than cash.
Economic downturns can be scary for individuals who are untested in the payment waters. However, many can attest to the resilience of the industry. The benefit that can come from selling payment services is the satisfaction of helping merchants survive in these tough times and the prospect of a solid income that, in some cases, allows for long-term residual payouts.
Times are changing within our industry. The practice of focusing only on bankcard processing is passé; those in the know approach their prospective customers as business consultants.
Focusing on solutions that help merchants increase sales and efficiency while reinforcing loyalty among merchants' new and existing clientele is what matters today. Be sure not to fall into the "turn and burn" mentality that so many others use today.
Focus on an outlook and attitude that promotes personal growth and strengthens relations with merchants. It's never too late to make adjustments or change directions. Begin making a difference today.
Christian Murray is the Director of Business Development for Global eTelecom Inc. He has more than 12 years' experience within the payments industry. GETI provides check processing and gift and loyalty solutions. For more information, visit www.checktraining.com or www.giftcardtraining.com (the sites are compatible with Internet Explorer only). You may also contact Christian directly at 877-454-3835 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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