Since childhood, when he dreamed of being a veterinarian, Craig A. Lesser has measured his success by how helpful he is to others. Now, as Regional President for Tribul Merchant Services LLC's Midwest office he helps merchants large and small with their payment processing needs. As Vice President of the National Association of Payment Professionals, he also serves the overall payments community.
His proudest moment since entering the payments arena in 1999 was when he kept someone at a major corporation from being canned by saving the company $20,000 in credit card processing fees.
In this article, Lesser discusses how to educate merchants and help them thrive, shares his take on professional development and suggests how to reduce unethical practices in the industry.
The Green Sheet: What business/profession were you in before?
Craig A. Lesser: I started my career in biomedical research and then ventured into expedited freight.
GS: What do you like best about your current career in the payments industry, and what's been most challenging?
CL: Meeting new and exciting people and their businesses; educating the merchant about the ever changing processing technology.
GS: Are you working as an employee or contractor for someone else, or do you own your own company?
CL: I own my own company, which is an agent office of Tribul Merchant Services LLC. Merchants know that they have to accept credit cards to survive in the marketplace, but some have no idea if they are getting ripped off. If you alleviate the merchant's pain by doing it right the first time, you have the merchant for life. Emotion is overwhelming. I would not be an agent office for any other group than the Tribul guys out of New York. They embrace technology and understand the people factor.
GS: What has kept you in the industry?
CL: The flexibility of time and residual revenue potential, along with the people that you meet, which is exciting.
GS: How has the industry changed since you started?
CL: Margins have been narrowed, and unethical sales practices have increased.
GS: If you could change anything about this business, what would it be?
CL: I would have a certifiable education system - with penalties for violations of rules and unethical practices - enforced by the major credit card companies. I would also increase the lateral communication between major credit card Associations, MLS's (merchant level salespeople) and merchants, making MLSs an integral and recognized part of the process and having certification at all levels (ISO, MLS and risk management).
GS: Looking back, would you have done anything differently in your career?
CL: I would have gotten into this business a lot sooner.
GS: If you were going to call it quits and do something completely different with your life, what would you do?
CL: I would own a unique bed-and-breakfast.
GS: Describe a typical day in your life.
CL: I get up about 4 a.m. to take my wife to work at a large retailer, where she works in the accounting office. Then I go to my home office to read and answer e-mail. Next, I key in applications to the online system and fax them to the main office. By 7 a.m. I am at a local networking group, meeting local businesses and telling them how I can improve their credit card processing.
The rest of the day, I meet with clients one-on-one to explain the process and sign them up. Some days I hand out flyers, and other days I make phone calls setting up appointments and doing training and installs.
GS: Do you set goals for yourself?
CL: Yes. A goal of 25 credit card deals a month and a new agent every two months, with this office doing 100 deals per month. That is for this year.
I am working with a business coach to obtain the entrepreneur level of the Wheel of Success [an educational series designed to teach salespeople how to become more successful by developing a people centered approach]. A continued self-development program will bring me there in a couple of years.
GS: What's the funniest sales experience you've ever had?
CL: Showing up at a merchant to fix a terminal that appears to be fried because it is constantly beeping. When we get there (I brought my 13-year-old son), we look at the terminal and, within seconds, my son pushes the stuck No. 3 button, and it stops beeping.
GS: What are the most significant things you've learned on the job?
CL: Patience - and learning that a team has to have absolute communication in meeting merchant expectations.
GS: Have you ever tried to move your merchants from one processor to another?
CL: An ISO stopped paying residuals. I looked for a better deal and found a group out of New York called Business Payment Systems [now part of Tribul]. They let me sell the deals and had a good agent program.
I saved the merchants the termination fee and moved them. The merchants bought my service and agreed to be moved.
GS: What is unique about your sales style/method?
CL: I am a consultant type with an emphasis on educating the merchant with persistent follow-up. I ask for the sale until they say no, they are not interested, or they say yes.
GS: Merchants are savvier now about credit card processing. How does this affect MLSs?
CL: MLSs have to distinguish themselves from the masses in what makes them different: services, products and technology.
GS: How do you balance the demands of your work and personal lives?
CL: I very carefully balance the increasing demand of my work and personal lives by specifically setting time aside for my personal life.
GS: How do you generate leads?
CL: By using networking groups, referral agreements, flyers and calls.
GS: How do you explain interchange rates to prospects?
CL: By educating the merchants that Visa Inc. and Master Card Worldwide have different rates for how cards are processed, when they are processed and what is being purchased.
GS: What would people be surpr-ised to know about the way you do your job?
CL: That I answer my cell phone at all hours of the day.
GS: Why is it important to have a full arsenal of products to offer merchants?
CL: God did not make us all the same. If he did, life would be boring. The same goes for merchants; one solution does not always work for everybody.
The solution you sell to mom-and-pops probably will not work for the Fortune 500 companies.
Having gift cards, payroll cards, prepaid services, check guarantee services, e-commerce, ATM, automated clearing house capability, cash advance funding, background checks, and patient access and revenue cycle management solutions for health care providers gives the ability to lead with a companion product that will solve the merchant's pain and close the deal.
GS: How do you ensure account retention?
CL: Service, follow-through and constant contact. Education after the sale is important.
GS: What types of merchants do you prefer to work with?
CL: A merchant who is willing to learn the proper way to accept credit cards and adapt to technology to improve credit card solutions.
GS: Do you think there will always be street sales?
CL: Yes, there are always people who need to have it visually explained to them and need that personal contact.
GS: What do you think about "selling" free terminals?
CL: The word "free" in reference to terminals is not accurate. The terminals cost money to produce, and someone has to pay for them. In the long run, the merchant is going to pay for the terminals by having higher transaction fees, monthly minimum fees or annual fees.
GS: What does it take to succeed in this business?
CL: A lot of knowledge, being persistent in asking for the sale and thick skin (being able to accept rejection).
GS: What is your experience with agent training?
CL: The first company I wrote for had a good knowledge training program, but lacked follow-through and good street smarts practices.
GS: What would a good training program consist of?
CL: A good program would consist of educating on a regular basis, knowledge, street smarts, good ethical practices and having a technically advanced agent Web site.
GS: How should an MLS go about choosing an ISO partner?
CL: Choose very carefully; not all ISOs are the same.
GS: Did you know enough about industry contracts before you signed one?
CL: No, I lived and learned. The first company I wrote for didn't burn me too badly; I was able to move most of the merchants to retain residuals.
GS: If you had to bring a new sales rep up to speed on interchange right away, how would you do it?
CL: I would first have the MSL read "Interchange for Dummies" [By Steven Feldshuh, The Green Sheet, Oct. 8, 2007, issue 07:10:01]. Then I would go over the interchange charts from Visa and MasterCard and explain the different categories. I would finish by going through sample statements and doing an interchange price analysis.
GS: How has The Green Sheet helped you?
CL: If it had not been for The Green Sheet I would not be where I am to day. GS Online's MLS Forum and reporting give the trends in the industry.
The advertisers give you a wide avenue to choose from: processors to ISO to manufactures to portfolio buyers.
GS: Any advice for newcomers?
CL: Hook up with someone who will show you the ropes (one-on-one). Protect your residuals by using an industry lawyer to review contracts.
GS: What's your greatest dream?
CL: To own my own jet.
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