As a child, Craig Thomson, President of Beanstream Internet Commerce Inc., wanted to be an aerospace engineer for NASA. When that dream never took flight, he took on computer engineering instead. Later, he owned a computer company that developed technology to facilitate online payments.
Thomson discovered this industry seven years ago when he sold his business to new purchasers who didn't take on the payment technology. In turn, Thomson morphed the technology into a new company, Beanstream, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of LML Payment Systems Corp.
Keeping his mother's favorite expression, "you only have one name" in mind, Thomson tries to never do anything that may undermine either his or the company's credibility.
In this article, Thomson discusses the integrity, professionalism and dedication required to prosper as an MLS.
The Green Sheet: When did you know you'd be able to succeed in this business?
Craig Thomson: As a technology company, our biggest challenge was that we had to spend millions of dollars to develop technology before we could even start selling. By 2004 we had finally recovered the initial development costs and had a monthly recurring revenue stream that exceeded our costs. At that point I knew we would be successful.
GS: What business/profession were you in before?
CT: I worked in the computer retail and distribution sector for 10 years prior to starting Beanstream.
GS: What do you like best about your career, and what's been most challenging?
CT: I enjoy the fact that every day presents a new opportunity and challenge. We deal with a number of very large customers and banks and there is always a new problem to solve. The ever changing landscape of compliance and regulation takes a lot of time and effort to address and is probably the most challenging aspect of our business.
GS: How has the industry changed since you started?
CT: I think that in many ways the sale of merchant services has become more complex; there is a greater requirement for salespeople to be more knowledgeable about a wider range of services to differentiate them from the competition. When I started seven years ago, merchants had less of an understanding of how interchange and the card Associations worked and there were far fewer choices.
GS: If you could change anything about this business, what would it be?
CT: I would prefer to see more consistency with the application of card Association rules and programs and also a greater access for the ISO and MLS to the associations.
GS: Looking back, would you have done anything differently in your career?
CT: Had I known at the time that my career would involve more sales and management than engineering, I would have perhaps considered an MBA or CMA program as a postgraduate option. I could probably have repaid the tuition pretty quickly with the savings from avoiding some of the rookie mistakes I made early in my career.
GS: If you were going to call it quits and do something completely different with your life, what would you do?
CT: If you are asking me today, then the answer would probably be: retire. I am sure that the novelty of lying on a beach somewhere would probably last about a week, but I haven't thought past that at this point.
GS: Are you working as an employee or contractor for someone else, or do you own your own company? Are you satisfied? Please elaborate.
CT: Beanstream is now wholly owned by LML Payment Systems Inc. of Vancouver. LML is publicly owned so I guess it is fair to say that I rule the Beanstream domain, but ultimately I work for the Chief Executive Officer and shareholders.
I don't mind being part of a public company. There is a lot of additional compliance overhead with SOX [Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act of 2002], but on the other hand I get to meet and interact with people in various finance and business sectors that I probably would not have come across otherwise.
GS: Do you set personal and business goals for yourself? If so, what are they? What steps are you taking now to ensure you will reach them?
CT: Most of the goals I set are financially driven.
I try to forecast merchant count and revenue in order to plan operations around that. In order to meet these goals, we pay a lot of attention to benchmarks, we measure everything we can from lead generation to call response times to conversion ratios and report those statistics daily to our staff.
GS: What's been your greatest success so far as an agent?
CT: In 2001, I cold-called eBay and won a contract to perform credit card-based risk management services for eBay.ca and eBay.co.uk.
At the time the company was only 2 years old and was a very small shop. The relationship with eBay gave us the credibility we needed to land several large accounts and strategic relationships which eventually ensured the success of the company.
GS: How do you balance the demands of your work and personal lives?
CT: I try to work a fixed schedule that allows me to have breakfast with my children in the morning and then be home for dinner with them in the evening.
I generally try to avoid work on weekends, and if I need to travel then I will book early morning or late night departures and arrivals in order to save a day on the road.
GS: What are you doing to ensure that your clients are compliant with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS)?
CT: We provide free PCI DSS scanning services to every one of our acquired merchants. We also provide free assistance with remediation. We absorb the costs to ensure that we can control the merchant experience and act as a consultant or educator to our merchants in order to build loyalty.
GS: What is unique about your sales style/method?
CT: All of our services are sold on a month to month basis without any termination or extended contract (although we require 60 days notice of cancellation).
We find that the most common reason for a merchant leaving us is due to the closure of the business in which case chasing after them for a cancellation fee is often a wasted effort anyway. We feel that not having termination fees demonstrates to the merchant that we believe in the value of what we are selling.
GS: Merchants are savvier now about credit card processing. How does this affect merchant level salespeople (MLSs)?
CT: I think that for a smart MLS it creates an opportunity to build a consultative relationship with the merchant.
The merchant may be aware of what interchange is and where they can look up the rates, but in most cases they won't be able to understand all of the nuances.
The MLS can then help explain what is relevant to the merchant and coach the merchant on how to lower costs and provide better service or more payment options to their customers.
GS: How do you explain interchange rates to prospects?
CT: We tell merchants that interchange is no different then any other commodity. Service providers have a wholesale cost of services (i.e. interchange) and then mark it up to cover the costs of running their business and providing customer service and support.
By shopping around, merchants are really determining what level of service and support they are willing to pay for. We don't focus on the various interchange categories other than to show how proper interchange manage- ment and specific interchange programs can be used to lower costs.
GS: What types of merchants do you prefer to work with? Why?
CT: I prefer large to mid-sized merchants because they tend to have better defined needs and requirements, are stickier and in general can utilize a wider selection of our products and services which in turn yields a higher overall margin. We need to have a mix of large and small merchants, however, as the sales cycle for larger organizations is much longer.
GS: Do you rely on the Internet in your business? If so, how?
CT: The Internet plays a big role for us. We rely on our Web site to provide prospects with information about our company and services and we provide all of our documentation and applications online.
We use e-mail and a Web-based customer relationship management system extensively for customer communications and follow up and all of our merchant statements and reports are available electronically online as well.
GS: What does it take to succeed in this business?
CT: Confidence, persistence and attention to customer service are the keys to success, in my opinion. The good news is that you don't need to be great to be better than most other salespeople. One agent once told me that a simple thing such as remembering the merchant's name was worth 10 basis points.
GS: How should an MLS go about choosing an ISO partner?
CT: I think that choosing the right partner can be the single most important decision that an MLS makes so it is important to look at a number of organizations and find one that can deliver the full range of products, services and support that the MLS requires. I think choosing an ISO based on price alone without any consideration toward issues that are important to the MLS (i.e. training, marketing assistance, technical support, etc.) will not yield a successful long-term relationship.
GS: How has The Green Sheet helped you?
CT: I believe The Green Sheet is a great resource for a number of reasons. There is always at least one education article that raises an issue or exposes me to a point of view that I hadn't considered previously. I also find that a quick read of the news provides an excellent overview of relevant appointments and transactions within our industry. The only complaint I have is that the issues are so frequent that it is often hard to keep current with the reading.
GS: Do you participate in GS Online's MLS Forum? Why or why not?
CT: Yes. I find that no matter how obscure the topic or question there is always someone in the MLS Forum that will have a relevant answer or suggestion. On several occasions I have asked questions that I didn't think I would find anyone to answer, but I have always had a timely response.
GS: Any advice for newcomers?
CT: Ask questions. My experience has been that the vast majority of successful ISOs and MLSs are willing to spend time helping someone who is new to the industry (as long as they do not compete in their market).
I think that the biggest mistake someone new can make is not asking for help and then making mistakes that could have been easily avoided.
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