Before becoming a merchant level salesperson (MLS) six and a half years ago, David E. Hanlin Jr. served in the U.S. Air Force and later flourished selling structural steel and metals to businesses. Then he spent a decade working in the mental health sphere.
Itching for change, he tried his hand as a dock inspector, a longshoreman and even a carpenter until he returned to sales.
In this article Hanlin, who loves to travel and fish in his spare time, reveals the payoff in persistence and why he wouldn't change a thing about his career.
The Green Sheet: Why did you choose this profession?
David Hanlin: I didn't really choose this profession, per se, as in weighing different options. The commission sales job that I had at the time was not panning out too well, and I was rather desperate to quickly find something better. I replied to a classified ad in our local newspaper. I had an interview over the phone and was offered the job. I didn't have a clue what the bankcard processing industry was all about, but the guy that interviewed me assured me of easily attaining a six figure income. I thought I'd give it a whirl.
The following week, I attended a day and a half of training in a hotel in New Orleans (about 150 miles west of my hometown of Mobile, Ala.) The school was on a Thursday and Friday. The following Monday, I was … giving my memorized, canned sales pitch on preset appointments.
GS: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
DH: My dad was an auto mechanic, and I wanted to be just like him.
GS: What do you like best about your career, and what's been most challenging?
DH: Being my own boss is probably tops because of the freedom that can only be found in owning your own business. Then, of course, are the residuals and the sky being the limit as to where one can take his vision.
The most challenging part is staying on top of the learning curve of all the changes, new products and services, so that we can best advise our merchants.
GS: How has the industry changed since you started?
DH: When I started, it was all about leased equipment to keep the bills paid while you built your residuals. The "freebie" [free terminal] folks have changed the landscape considerably.
But, knock on wood, I have yet to lose a decent account to them. Having found very reasonably priced sources for terminals, I put on a reasonable mark up and sell them. I see POS systems coming in a bigger and bigger way, and I hope to get over the learning curve and become a re-seller, and perhaps get back into some lease programs on POS systems.
GS: If you could change anything about this business, what would it be?
DH: I'd like to see NAOPP [National Association of Payment Professionals] start wearing some bigger shoes and get some sort of lobbying effort going to protect our industry and way of life.
GS: Looking back, would you have done anything differently in your career?
DH: Not really. I think the Lord works in mysterious ways and all of the rocky roads, blind alleys, quagmires and various calamities that I experienced have eventually led me to where I am today. … I am still a long way from financial freedom, but I can envision it as something very doable.
GS: If you were going to call it quits and do something completely different with your life, what would you do?
DH: I haven't a clue. I would just have to trust … that another door would open that would be a good fit.
There's been a lot of doom and gloom on GS Online's MLS Forum lately about where our industry is headed. I hope there will be a big push, and all MLSs and ISOs will get more involved in NAOPP.
GS: What's been your greatest success so far as an agent?
DH: About four years ago, I was out cold calling on a hot, muggy, dog day of early August. I don't remember getting so many no's in a single day. Every time I'd get back in my car it was like opening the door of a clothes dryer. I kept telling myself that all of these no's would eventually lead me to a yes.
By around 5 p.m., a little voice in my head kept telling me to call it a day and find the tallest, coldest beer in town. I trudged on. Finally, about 5:15 p.m., I called on an automotive accessory shop, gave my few opening sentences, and voilà!
The merchant said he was very unhappy with his current provider and was so glad that I dropped in. He pulled out a statement before I could get seated, and I wrote him up on the spot.
That one, hot, sweaty cold call has, over the years, resulted in dozens and dozens of very loyal merchants being added to my portfolio.
GS: Do you have any chargeback horror stories? Success stories?
DH: I had a business go belly up, and we lost $8,500 in uncollectible chargebacks. My half was $4,250, and it caused a domino effect that nearly wiped me out.
After that, even if the ISO I write an account with doesn't have shared liability, I scrutinize them with a giant magnifying glass.
GS: How do you balance the demands of your work and personal lives?
DH: I can't. I have just slowly learned to embrace and enjoy chaos.
GS: Have you ever tried to move your merchants from one processor to another? If so, what happened?
DH: Only if they are out of contract and I have found a better deal for them.
GS: Do you have a surefire way to resolve conflict?
DH: If at all humanly possible, carefully and tactfully dig out the bones of contention and make my best effort to resolve them, one piece at a time. Sometimes, on rare occasions, they are irresolvable and one must … move on.
GS: What is unique about your sales style/method?
DH: I think mastering a good opening statement that tweaks the merchant's interest is most important and then just letting the conversation flow until you find the merchant's 'hot buttons' and offer a solution.
GS: Merchants are savvier now about credit card processing. How does this affect MLSs?
DH: The savvier, the better. This gets all the smoke and mirrors (free this and free that, rates below cost, etc.) out of the way from the get-go.
GS: How do you explain interchange rates to prospects?
DH: I have the tables in my presentation manual and give them a thumbnail sketch as part of my presentation.
GS: What would people be surprised to know about the way you do your job?
DH: That someone as disorganized as I am could get anything done.
GS: Why is it important to have a full arsenal of products to offer merchants?
DH: If you don't do it, someone else will, so you might as well give each call your best shot in meeting all of the merchant's needs.
GS: How do you ensure account retention? What do you do when it looks like you're on the verge of losing a sale?
DH: Always answer my cell phone and, when time permits, drop in and make sure everything is going OK.
If I seem to be on the verge of losing a sale, I restate the benefits that I offer and try to uncover and resolve any problem area that the merchant may have.
GS: What types of merchants do you prefer to work with?
DH: I like them all in a big way. However, I have a lot of Asian clients, and I have become very fond of doing business with them.
I feel like a guest in their homes when I enter their businesses. They are cordial and gracious hosts/hostesses;
they offer me free food if it's a restaurant, or some bottled water or juice if it's retail.
They don't seem to have the thinly veiled contempt and hidden agendas that we sometimes encounter in other places.
GS: What is your experience with agent training?
DH: Never had any real structured agent training. This is not rocket science. If we feel we have to know it all, we'll never get out the door.
GS: How should an MLS go about choosing an ISO partner?
DH: The best way is to go on the MLS Forum and ask questions, private-message other MLSs and spend some chat time on the phone with them.
GS: Did you know enough about industry contracts before you signed one?
DH: Not an iota. I just signed whatever was sent to me and went to work on a smile and a handshake. Yeah, I know, in retrospect, not too smart.
GS: How has The Green Sheet helped you?
DH: In every conceivable manner that you can think of. I had been in this biz for about two years before I heard of The Green Sheet and subscribed.
I immediately found good sources of terminals and direct leasing sources, instead of paying the inflated prices/factors from the ISO.
I didn't check out the MLS Forum until a couple of years ago, and wow! The clouds opened up; I found a whole new landscape.
The Forum created a networking area for us MLSs to compare notes about the very best ISOs. Before the Forum, we were all lone wolves in the woods.
Hardly a week goes by that I don't learn something on the Forum that helps me in my business.
Plus, we joke around, tease, cajole, and laugh and cry together. It's about the best combination of business and pleasure that I've found.
GS: Any advice for newcomers?
DH: Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Find two to four good ISOs.
GS: What's your greatest dream?
DH: To become financially free enough to travel the entire 50 states and then see most foreign countries. I also hope in some way to leave this earth a better place than it was before.
GS: Do you have a motto that you live by?
DH: A quote from Davy Crockett: 'Be sure you're right; then, go ahead!
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