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The Green Sheet Online Edition

January 28, 2013 • Issue 13:01:02

Distancing your ISO from the pack through partnerships

By Christopher Briller and Sean O'Neil
MerchantPro Express LLC

Inside our ISO, we use the term "partner" a lot. Our sales agents are our partners. Our co-owners are our partners. A local company whose gateway and mobile product we default to is our partner. The processor where we board most of our accounts is our partner. Even competing ISOs with whom we discuss best practices and vertical market data are our partners.

So what does it mean to be partners? We get asked that a lot. Partners can be formally linked through a negotiated written agreement or informally connected through a handshake at a networking event. Some might call us partner-happy; we think of ourselves as partner-strategic. And we're confident that virtually all our partnerships have yielded at least small returns for all parties.

Also, we can't think of any partners who have been adversely affected by being referred to as our partners. Our partners have presented us with upside, and no downside, opportunities.

Why seek partnerships?

Having partners in the merchant services industry is not only helpful - it might just be essential. Here are several reasons why:

  • Credibility: Parties claiming you as a partner are publicly vouching for you. People and companies only partner with those who are trustworthy and value-adding. In addition, by identifying another party as a partner of yours, you convey that you are savvy and desirable enough to surround yourself with value-adding partners to round out the scope of the services you offer. For instance, our ISO has a handful of community bank partnerships. The mere mention of our partnership to a bank customer gains us instant credibility, particularly with a bank customer who values his or her relationship with the bank.

  • Mutual benefit: In most effective partnerships, both parties benefit equally. If one party perceives a partnership to be benefitting one party over another, the partnership typically breaks down. Knowing this, those who value the partnerships they are in are wise to find ways to bring value to their partners. We often try to refer a new customer to a partner early in our relationship to demonstrate that we are committed to giving as well as receiving. We never want to enter into a partnership with our hands out waiting for our partners to simply bring us merchants.

  • Leverage: As partnerships grow and evolve, both parties increase leverage over the other. They become entangled and inextricably linked. Perhaps there are sizable revenue streams involved that would go away if the partnership ended. Maybe there are customers that utilize the services of both parties and depend on the partnership for smooth operation.

    Salespeople working for one or both of the partners might have found success bundling the services of both parties and built in the partner as part of their sales pitch. Maybe the services of one partner improve customer retention for the other partner.As a partnership evolves, the partners tend to have greater incentive to step up and meet each others' needs and develop increasingly creative strategies for maximizing partnership benefits.

    In the bank partner example, as our banks have seen their share of recurring revenue grow, heard favorable reports from bank customers about our sales reps, and observed our sales reps repeatedly referring new merchants to the bank, bank management has asked to formally co-brand our merchant services with their banks. This served to improve our sales, broaden the range of services the bank offers its customers and further cement our partnership.

  • Comfort: This ISO world can be a rough and tumble place. We have come across enough bad actors in it to make us question who we can trust. Indeed, sometimes it feels more like the Wild West than a professional industry. But we have come across plenty of good ISOs. And forming partnerships with good ISOs has all but insulated us from the bad actors. We now have trusted partners to refer our customers to when they want a product we don't offer.

  • Differentiation: The ISO world is crowded and disaggregated. It's often hard to convince prospective customers or partners that you are different from the rest. But nothing separates you from the pack like partnerships with quality organizations and trusted people. Quality partnerships equip your organization to meet a greater range of customer needs and show the world that other good actors deem you capable of servicing their trusted customers. You are distinguished from the pack the minute you get in front of a new customer.

So maybe we are a little partner happy. But partnerships are a proven vehicle for relationship-driven sales. We often find ourselves in high-level discussions with people we would never have met but for our partnerships.

We seek partnerships and often suggest partnering when we meet someone with whom we feel we can enter into a mutually beneficial relationship. We suggest you consider doing the same. end of article

Christopher Briller is Chief Executive Officer of MerchantPro Express LLC (www.merchantproexpress.com). Prior to that, he was a sales executive with TransFirst LLC and First Data Corp. He can be reached at cbriller@merchantproexpress.com. Sean O'Neil is Chief Operating Officer of MerchantPro Express. He is a sales and management training expert with clients that include First Data, Chase Paymentech Solutions LLC and WorldPay. Sean also co-authored the book Bare Knuckle People Management: Creating Success with the Team You Have - Winners, Losers, Misfits and All. Contact him at soneil@merchantproexpress.com.

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