By John Tucker
1st Capital Loans LLC
Turkish author, Islamist creationist and televangelist Adnan Oktar said, "I've always wondered why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on Earth. Then I ask myself the same question." I have no connection to Oktar, whom many call a cult leader, but I do find this quote compelling and applicable to the merchant level salesperson (MLS) journey.
Birds have the wings to fly just about anywhere; I believe you, as MLSs, also have wings to innovate and rebrand into any professional sales position you choose. After all, if you are a successful MLS, you have already demonstrated the ability to bring innovative solutions to an overwhelmingly competitive and ever-changing marketplace.
You have the business acumen, negotiation and critical thinking skills, work ethic and attention to detail that drive forward the sales cycle. This creates value for your merchants through implementation of new solutions that reduce costs and drive in new revenue. It also creates value for your ISO or other merchant service partners by increasing their merchant acquisition numbers and portfolio sizes. And it creates value for you by increasing your standard of living.
If my supposition is true, it's time for sales agents to rebrand, adopt new titles, and stop leading in with the old "rate savings" or "free terminal" pitches focused on traditional payment processing. MLSs should lead in with other innovative solutions and tie-in merchant processing with the new product or service. This will place transaction processing in a value-added package going forward, rather than retain it as the direct lead-in.
But what do you think about my supposition? I recently polled GS Online's MLS Forum about this to see what many of the industry's veterans thought the direction of the MLS going forward.
Forum member crouellete emphasized the need to have expertise. "I am not sure I agree with selling so many different pieces," crouellete wrote. "I believe you need to be an expert in one or possibly two services to really be able to compete with the masses.
"I do agree that the old way of selling for the MLS is gone. I just had this discussion with someone. I think that payments companies need to have a recognizable brand, Apple, Samsung, PayPal and Square have really differentiated themselves in the payment market by leveraging their brand, and people feel comfortable doing business with household brands. If you are a MLS with Jo Schmo, your ability to get business has decreased significantly due to branding alone."
Crouellete made a good point. Those who thrive at selling merchant processing directly are doing so via strategic, center-of-influence networks involving banks, associations and other professionals that feed them referrals all day.
In addition to mentioning branding, crouellete highlighted the importance of technology, stating that if you are not well versed in technology and able to solve technical issues for merchants, you are out of the game. "The days of selling a Nurit 2085 and plugging it in to a telephone jack are so long gone," crouellete wrote. "MLSs need to be educated with more technology and problem solving in today's market to be successful."
This aligns with my view that MLSs will have to be much more analytical and technical than MLSs of a prior time. Companies used to be able to hire 200 random, inexperienced agents on 100 percent commission, throw them a couple brochures, show them how to do a rate analysis, give them a script coupled with 50 canned, robotic objections to regurgitate, and send them out to cold call merchants either in person or by phone.
Basically, the strategy was to hire as many "bodies" as possible, slap them against the wall and see who sticks. This approach is dead. It will not work going forward. Hiring inexperienced MLSs to sell complex solutions for complex problems, within a complex marketplace, just isn't going to cut it.
"I think we are seeing more and more ISO/MSP companies bringing on highly educated folks as employees to sell their services and they are investing in them as part of the company," crouellete noted. "The ISOs that are clinging to the old model will continue to see business decrease and eventually will become extinct in our industry." Well, can we all say AMEN to that?
Forum member Ladera Business Solutions contributed to this discussion as well, posting, "As a feet on the street since the late 1980s, things have evolved. Back when I started you could build great revenue by walking in and saving people money, so to speak. As with most things, times have changed."
I believe this worked en mass during the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s because businesses were still pretty much unaware of many aspects of payment processing, banks (for the most part) did not resell the service, and there was no explosion of information on the Internet enabling merchants to educate themselves (and shop for themselves) regarding the product/service at hand.
As a result, the industry's feet on the street provided distinctive value to where, yes, randomly walking into businesses could be very profitable, as many of said businesses needed the service, but had no idea where to get it or how it functioned.
"I agree it would be very hard to build a portfolio with just calling the [Yellow Pages]; I do think it is a good tool to employ," Ladera Business Solutions wrote. "In today's payments industry, a salesperson needs many methods, even if you specialize in a specific industry. You need to embrace many means of drumming up business.
"The great thing about this industry is there are many ways to be successful, and you, as the agent, get to define and choose what success is. In this industry, you do have the freedom to find what works for you and the control to maximize your abilities."
I agree with this analysis, as well as with perspectives in the Street SmartsSM column titled "Controversial questions and answers ‒ Part 2," The Green Sheet, June 8, 2015, issue 15:06:01. Authored by Jeff Shavitz, it touched on how our industry provides an excellent example of free market capitalism. You have the ability to customize products, solutions, technology, etc., that allow you to stand out from your competitors and serve particular market niches.
I want to thank all the industry veterans who shared insights on this topic. In the next edition of Street SmartsSM, I will highlight more of their perspectives and provide additional commentary, as we keep our focus on rebranding the MLS for a complex marketplace in need of complex solutions.
John Tucker is Managing Member of 1st Capital Loans LLC, as well as an M.B.A. graduate and holder of three bachelor's degrees in accounting, business management and journalism. Tucker also has over nine years of professional experience in commercial finance and business development. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 586-480-2140.
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