By Jeff Fortney
When talking to potential new ISO or agent partners, I always ask, "What do you want and need in a processing relationship?" Although their answers vary, over the past two years a common theme has emerged: transparency.
The demand for transparency at the processor, ISO and merchant level salesperson (MLS) levels has become the key component of any new relationship discussion. Many people I've spoken with have had less than transparent relationships that resulted in confusion and often significant losses in terms of both merchants and revenue.
It's sad that we have reached a point where something that should be a normal expectation of a relationship has become a demand. Demanding transparency is another way of saying, "I don't trust you." What's worse is that our industry as a whole has been tarnished because of the lack of transparency and loss of trust. To recover that trust, we should all make transparency the norm, not the exception.
This loss of trust and transparency has trickled down to merchants as well. They, too, are asking for transparency because they feel that fees, charges and other burdens have not been fully disclosed to them, or worse, that these items have been downright hidden.
Webster's Dictionary defines transparency as "a quality or state of being transparent" and provides "transparency of their motives" as an example of the term used in a business context.
The challenge with this use lies in the word "their." It implies transparency is one-way. However, in both processor/ISO/MLS relationships and MLS/merchant relationships, lack of mutual transparency results in a severe loss of trust. What, then, is transparency in the payments world?
In processor/ISO/MLS relationships, transparency is about full disclosure, a willingness and ability to provide complete details and, most importantly, to follow through on promises without subsequent, unpleasant surprises. To accomplish this, ISOs or processors must be clear about costs, expectations and contract terms. They should also possess a willingness to point out both the good and the bad in each of these areas. It's also critical that MLSs be treated as equals and respected as professionals.
Processors and ISOs must be able to clearly discuss contracts and answer all questions. The MLSs shouldn't take anything at face value. They should read contracts and look for key words like "vesting" or "minimums." They should look for areas they don't understand and ask about them.
In turn, MLSs must listen. Transparency may seem clear to the processor or ISO, since most - if not all - documents are in writing. But unless MLSs ask questions about areas they find confusing, the fault won't lie with the processors or ISOs, but rather with the MLSs for not asking important questions.
Additionally, MLSs must share their needs, what they feel they are missing and be vocal about what they need to be successful. That means being willing to provide information that helps the processors and ISOs design programs that best fit them.
MLSs must also think in terms of partnerships. If they want full transparency, they must be willing to commit to the relationship. MLSs should hold their partners accountable and expect their partners to hold them accountable in return. After all, a partnership is a two-way street.
Simply put, if there isn't a fit on either side, neither party should be afraid to say so. Processors and ISOs should tell MLSs what they can and can't do, and in return, MLSs should sign only with companies that truly meet their needs.
We've all heard the horror stories of relationships "gone bad." Many of us have even experienced them first hand. Unfortunately, the lack of disclosure, lost revenue and lost portfolios are nothing new. Yet all of that could have been avoided if the relationship was centered on two-way transparency and trust.
So, yes, asking for transparency in a merchant processing relationship is wise. However, the greater challenge is how do you provide transparency to your merchants?
The first and most important step is for MLSs to stop thinking they need to sign every single merchant. Hope to sign every merchant, but be prepared to walk away if you find you are compromising your integrity or making commitments you can't keep just so you can sign a merchant.
And remember, the sale isn't over just because the paperwork has been signed. This is a long-term, mutual relationship. Don't jeopardize the relationship by rushing out the door at the first opportunity. Take an extra five minutes to go over the fees and ask the merchant if he or she has questions. Don't rush this process. And, before the merchant signs, ask if he or she has other questions or concerns you have not yet answered.
These steps might seem simple, but they are essential to building trust and are the true definition of transparency. Look at yourself and truthfully answer whether you are transparent. If you can honestly say yes, you're on the path toward growing your business.
Jeff Fortney is Vice President, ISO Channel Management with Clearent LLC. He has more than 17 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-618-7340. To learn about how Clearent can help you grow faster and go further, visit www.clearent.com.
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