Throughout her career, Karen Lazer, merchant level salesperson (MLS) and Relationship Manager for Heartland Payment Systems Inc., has seen drastic changes in the payments industry. Over 17 years ago, Lazer began her payment career with First Data Corp. and remembers when processors used to mail manually generated receipts to banks and wait 30 days for them to clear.
For the past 11 years she has been with Heartland. She is the third-longest tenured employee at the New Jersey-based processor behind Chief Executive Officer Robert Carr and Chief Financial Officer Sanford Brown.
The Green Sheet: How did you get started in the payments industry?
Karen Lazer: I came into payments by another industry. I worked for a national bridal sales company, as well as a commercial medical answering service as a sales agent. I was networking with an agent at a merchant service provider; we were soliciting each other's business, and I ended up marrying him. Ultimately, he just wasn't eager enough to write the business, so I started doing it for him and that's how I ended up in card processing.
GS: How have you seen your sales techniques evolve over the years, and what have you found that works best for you today?
KL: With regard to sales techniques, the industry has changed so drastically. You actually have to teach the merchants about the value of what they're getting again.
The basics remain the same, but now I'm cross-selling multiple product lines and putting the highest value on service. I'm also going to look out for the merchant when it comes to cardholder security and educating them on the latest rules and regulations.
GS: What has been your biggest challenge thus far?
KL: I think the most challenging thing today is when so-called competitors don't disclose hidden fees or they just give things away without putting a value to their products and services.
GS: How do you combat that?
KL: Full disclosure. We, at Heartland, are not only behind the Merchant Bill of Rights, but we're service oriented and we offer multiple products and services. We're really a one-stop payments processor for merchants.
GS: Do you have a solid method for generating leads?
KL: Well, you have to have a good mixture to keep it going and make it flow. I started a leads group 12 years ago with various vendors in my local area. There are about 15 to 20 of us in my group, and to this day we still meet every two weeks. In this regard, I am more of a consultant. I ask the merchants if they are in need of certain types of services, and that is when I recommend the professional vendors that belong to my leads group.
I either let the merchant know that I will have someone contact them, or I immediately call that vendor, in front of the merchant, to introduce them and help them make the initial contact with regard to the type of service they need. I let the merchant know that I care if their business succeeds or fails. I have a vested interest in all my merchants. They all matter to me. They're like an extension of my family.
GS: What are some things you do to ensure account retention?
KL: Heartland has an online merchant center that notifies us if there is an account that is not processing or not batching. We can monitor that and contact merchants to see if they are on vacation, if they've closed for construction or if they've changed to another processor. I follow that up by continuing to see those merchants when I'm in their area. I stop in just to say hello, see how things are going and if there is anything I can do for them.
Another way we try to help our merchants is by having our account managers and relationship managers go out and do a touch-and-greet with existing merchants.
So, if they are on their way to an install and we have other merchants in the same vicinity, we ask them to stop by and check on those existing merchants, introduce them to other Heartland product lines, and offer additional support and service as needed.
GS: Are there any new products or services Heartland is developing - or has developed - that you are excited about?
KL: Our tableside service - where customers can pay at the table - has helped with potential security and identity theft issues, is cost-effective, and allows our restaurant merchants to turn their tables over faster and accommodate more business. I see this as a lucrative niche market, and the fact of the matter is the transactions are qualified at a better rate. Interchange fees go down, and it also reduces the risk of chargebacks.
GS: What has been your most successful value added product or service?
KL: I've been very successful with our payroll services. It utilizes the latest state-of-the-art technology. I also do well with age verification solutions, and because Heartland is endorsed by a lot of the associations, I sell those memberships as well.
GS: Have merchants gotten savvier about the payments industry, and has this affected the way you do business?
KL: To some degree, yes. They think they know what they're talking about, but it's my job to let them know that they are experts in their business, and I'm an expert in mine. I tell them I am only here to explain all that I can do to help them, whether it has to do with interchange or how many hands are in their pockets.
Some processors don't give merchants all the pertinent information about processing and end up misleading them.
GS: Have you had any difficulty helping merchants Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) compliance?
KL: Not that I am aware of. You have to educate merchants about PCI and how it will affect their business if they are not compliant. Let them know the consequences without scaring them and, if you present the information the right way, they're going to want to do the right thing.
GS: With e-commerce and virtual sales media emerging, do you still see street sales as a viable and essential element in the payments industry's future?
KL: I don't see street sales ever going away. I think it will always be vital because merchants need to see us face to face.
It is both a trust and loyalty issue. When you get in front of somebody you earn their business better than if you tried to do your lead generation and sales over the phone. Street sales give merchants a personal touch that can't be found in the virtual world.
GS: What else does street sales do for MLSs that they can't get from virtual sales?
KL: It's important to building relationships as well as referrals. It also builds your self-confidence and speaking skills. It is critical our sales force continues to go out there and gain the merchants' confidence from that one-on-one contact. I don't believe that kind of loyalty can be built any other way.
GS: What is one thing an agent should never do?
KL: Over promise and under deliver. An MLS should never say, "Can I be honest with you?" Whenever I hear that, I can only wonder if the sales agent has been lying to the merchant the entire time up to that point.
GS: Has The Green Sheet helped you in your professional career?
KL: Yes, because of the fact that I can keep up to date on the various industry changes.
There are resource tools that I can utilize, as needed, for my merchants. I can also compare what I am doing with other MLSs in the industry.
GS: Any advice for MLSs with regard to choosing an ISO?
KL: Yes, I think they need to do their homework before they make a decision; really check to make sure that the company they are going to work for is a full disclosure company; that the ISO has the tools to teach the necessary skill sets that will help make that individual successful.
GS: Do you have any advice for newcomers to the payments industry?
KL: Be persistent, consistent, keep it basic and remember to stay focused on your goals. Reach out to your resources and utilize those tools. Learn all that you can about the industry by asking questions and reading. Here at Heartland we have many resource tools for all newbies and many different product lines to enhance one's portfolio. It is important to do your homework.
GS: Did you ever have an "aha" moment when you knew you would be a success?
KL: When I first came into the industry, I prospected an account that others tried to write for their business for years. I was able to sign this merchant up in my first month in the industry and keep him as my merchant for many years to come. He was very loyal to his bank.
To this day, I still deal with this merchant as a referral source. I realized that if I could earn his business - knowing how loyal he was to his bank - then this could be the start of earning other business to come.
GS: Do you set personal goals for yourself? If so, what are they, and what steps are you taking to ensure that you will reach them?
KL: Absolutely. I believe that it is very important to have short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. Within that, I feel it is also important to set attainable goals as well as "dare-to-dream" goals. And in the times that I don't hit those goals, I remind myself of the goals that I did hit and remember how I achieved those.
GS: Do you have any difficulty balancing the demands of your workday?
KL: Life is a juggling act and a balancing act, but if anything has motivated me in my life, especially since 1991, it's been Dr. Seuss' Oh, the Places You'll Go! If I'm ever in a funk I will actually go home and read that book in the middle of the day. Sometimes, I've taken the book with me in the car just to get through the day.
GS: What keeps you inspired and motivated?
KL: The fact that I have the flexibility to make my own schedule, the potential for unlimited income, and that I've been given the resources and the tools to be successful.
It's up to me, then, to take those resources and tools, cultivate my own farm and decide how big I want it to be. And the fact that I have children and grandchildren to motivate me is also very important. If you don't have everything in place, nothing will run smoothly.
GS: Do you have a philosophy on life or a motto that you live by?
KL: If it is meant to be, then it is up to me. I like to use the analogy that in order for a bicycle wheel to roll smoothly, it's important for all the spokes to be in place. Without the proper number and right size spokes, the wheel is going to wobble. I like to think that I am one of the important spokes in the Heartland wheel that helps it to roll smoothly and travel far.
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