By Bill Pirtle
MPCT Publishing Co.
I attended the Midwest Acquirers Association's annual meeting in late July 2011. I had planned on attending the show in prior years, but something always interfered. For this article, I decided to ask GS Online's MLS Forum members why they attend industry conferences.
SLICK STREETMAN responded, "My favorite event is the 'non-event' of hobnobbing with my peers in the halls, exhibit areas, happy-hour mixers and what have you. If I were a golfer, I would get there a day early for the networking that will take place at that event.
"When MLSs are not on our home turf, we tend to open up more and share little trade secrets with others. I have learned more ways to help grow my business in this manner than at any class or seminar I have ever attended. Of course, it is also nice to meet the owners and [other] key people of the ISOs to which you send business.
"Other reasons I like attending regional conferences are that it gives us a much needed break from the everyday routine, the meeting and mingling camaraderie we enjoy from being among 'birds of a feather,' seeing and experiencing different parts of the U.S., and last but not least, it's a great tax deduction for doing something fun and informative."
The agenda for the MWAA had several topics of interest, including Mark Dunn's Field Guide Seminar; Rori Ferensic, Director of Education and Professional Development at the ETA, discussing the Certified Payments Professional (CPP) credential; and a panel discussion on mobile payments.
SLICK STREETMAN is right. Most merchant level salespeople (MLSs) do come to meet others from the GS Online Forum or to meet current or prospective processing partners.
CCGUY said, "[I want to] see all my current vendors, see new vendors and learn about new products. [The] breakout sessions are usually good. ... If you are going to do the CPP through the ETA to maintain [your standing], you need 36 hours of continuing education, so attending breakout sessions will count towards that.
"Also, you can socialize, party, mingle and meet fellow Green Sheet forum members."
BLUESTAR added, "I have attended SEAA [Southeast Acquirers Association] up until this year when we decided to exhibit there. As an attendee, I think the main focus is to try to get a glimpse of what is new in the business or to stimulate some ideas for new ways to market/sell/grow.
"As an exhibitor, our hope was to create some exposure for our new product that we released just before the event. We were very pleased with the results, adding 11 new agents to our program and establishing some nice connections for future ISO relationships.
"The value of face-to-face meetings is tremendous. We talk to each other on the phone in this business all the time, but when you can meet someone and have a drink with them after speaking to them 10 to 50 times prior on the phone, it really helps to cement the relationship. When used properly, the event list of names is probably the biggest value. My guess is that most aren't using that data to their benefit the way they should or could."
THECREDITCARDMAN offered, "The reasons to go to these shows have changed as the life cycle of my business has changed. When I first started out, I would go strictly to pick brains.
"I would try to identify which attendees seemed to personify my ambition. Once I weeded out the guys with the fake Rolexes, I honed in on the truly successful and the up-and-comers - game on.
"Trying not to be obnoxious or too obvious, my mission was to find out what made them winners in this business. I remember meeting people who were making $10K, $20K, $50K a month and thinking, 'Wow, I really could do that.'
"One time I met a whale. He had his minions around him fetching drinks. The old man was very tight lipped about his operation. He sent his son to get him another drink. I followed the kid to the bar and started a conversation. The son was not quite as sharp as the old man.
"I pumped the kid with questions. He loved to brag. Those few moments and the nuggets I gathered still help me to this day.
"As soon as the father saw what I was doing, he yanked the kid behind the proverbial woodshed for a good beating. It was like Don Vito Corleone [from The Godfather] telling Sonny, 'Don't ever tell anyone outside the family what you are thinking.' I got what I was after and received the evil eye from the dad for the rest of the show.
"As my business matured, I went to the conferences to evaluate processors, new products and for the educational sessions. I wanted to know that the grass was not greener on the other processor's side.
"Schedule A's only tell part of what you get from a processor. The presentation of 'How to Become a Millionaire' by Jason Felts at the SEAA in Jacksonville is a session I will always remember.
"Now, I am a bit less inclined to go. The cost in dollars and in time away from the office versus the benefits gained is the main reason. It showcases the same basic products, the same workshops.... Location could be a reason to go.
"I see that the Western show [WSAA] is in San Francisco. From the East Coast it's a long trip. I asked my wife to go, but she is a teacher and school will just have begun. I would go and make a vacation out of it; I love Northern California in September. St Louis, Jacksonville, Chicago, New Orleans, just don't do it for me.
"I like Chicago; it's just not a destination for me. I love New Orleans, but I have been there a few times already. Vermont in the winter [NEAA] is not for me.
"How about Aruba in the winter? Or some place like a high-end casino in Vegas where you have something to do 24/7? About the annual conference hosted by the Electronic Transactions Association THECREDITCARDMAN added, "It's not that I can't afford the entrance fee. It is that I don't feel I should have to pay that much to attend ... and it is not geared to me, the little MLS office."
But there has to be some real business going on, right? After all, sponsors pay up to $2,000 for a booth and other sponsorships go for even more.
There are great reasons small ISOs and MLSs should attend regional or even larger tradeshows. Suppliers, of course, are there because of the large number of potential opportunities such events present.
If your business revolves around merchant processing or meeting people, attendance is a must. The MWAA also provided an opportunity to play golf.
Theodore Svoronos, founder of Merchant University, and I recently founded C3ET Credit Card Consortia for Education & Training Inc. Our goal is to create a comprehensive training program for the industry. We are seeking experts to write about close to 100 topics we have identified.
We both have extensive contacts, but we'd have to travel all over the country to meet experts in so many fields; regional or national conferences are great places to network with these individuals.
I met The Green Sheet General Manager and Chief Operating Officer Kate Rodriguez on the first night of my stay at the MWAA. We enjoyed a stimulating conversation about the industry.
One thing I learned about these conferences is that business casual attire is fine for most regional shows, but the dress code may be more formal for the ETA's annual meeting and expo.
Some people wonder about tradeshow pricing. CLEARENT said that for regional shows, each year the cost for attending as an exhibitor is hard to offset, and the regional shows "don't let you attend in any other fashion, with the exception of the WSAA."
He then weighed further pros and cons. "The positive is the chance to catch up with several people in the business, but the negative weighs greater if you are unable to meet your expectation of gaining a lot of new business from these shows," he wrote. "There may be some, but not much gained.
"Another positive is name recognition potential ... but the negative is that it only provides benefit to those who attend, and other exhibitors.
"Some regional shows offer value to exhibitors through email listings, etc. Others don't even provide that. As for attendees, I would be interested in hearing about their opinions or thoughts on content. "All too often, the content repeats show after show (not exactly, but close enough) so attendance ends up suppressed at the later shows."
Forum member SEAZELL said, "I would say that the reasons I attend the shows are many, but the main reason why we started the regional shows was to be the voice of the 'little guy,' so to speak.
"The ETA represents the acquiring industry as a whole, but the annual show and the networking show that are put on every year are always a little too highbrow for the average sales rep who makes up the heart of this industry.
"The regional shows are designed to meet the needs of the average MLSs who represent the very soul of the acquiring universe.
"They are out there every day working only for residuals and whatever monies they can generate demonstrating their own diminishing value proposition at the street level.
"These guys are out there day in and day out eking out the American Dream a little bit at a time in hopes that someday they will be able to become one of 'those guys.'
"But to be honest, most of these guys and gals will do nothing more than provide a good living for themselves, for their families and for the companies they do business with.
"Most cannot afford to take time out of their busy schedules to attend these shows for one day, let alone two or more.
"We cater to them and try to provide a complete value proposition in the shortest amount of time possible, so that these giants of the industry can get some networking, education and more tools for their road satchels before returning to their grind they call the 'day to day'."
The MWAA ran from July 26 to July 28 at the Oak Brook Hills Marriott Resort in suburban Chicago. The next regional acquirers meeting is the Western States Acquirers Association conference coming up Sept. 21 to 22, 2011, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
For details about the WSAA meeting, visit www.westernstatesacquirers.com.
Bill Pirtle is the President of MPCT Publishing Co. and author of Navigating Through the Risks of Credit Card Processing. He is also a merchant level salesperson for Clearent LLC, Electronic Payments Inc. and Electronic Merchant Systems Inc. Bill's website is www.creditcardprocessingbook.com, and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He welcomes all connections on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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