The Green Sheet Online Edition
November 14, 2011 • Issue 11:11:01
Agent training - more than taking a test
In my third Street Smarts article, "Let's reform our industry's education and training," (The Green Sheet, May 9, 2011, issue 11:05:01) I discussed the education of ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs). I am revisiting the topic due to a discussion that arose on the GS Online MLS Forum regarding the Oct. 1, 2011, application deadline for the first round of testing for the Electronic Transactions Association's Certified Payment Professional (CPP) program.
In a post JDECKARD asked the following questions:
- "If a training program were to be created that would take an individual with zero industry knowledge and produce an agent that could hit the bricks and converse intelligently with a merchant, what do you think it should teach?
- If you were going to hire that agent after he completed the program, what would you want him to know?
- What do you wish you had been taught before you had to 'learn it the hard way'?
- What are the questions that you get asked a hundred times by new agents that you wish someone would have taught them?"
MBRUNO, who works in business development at Payment Logistics, said he is very involved in the training of new agents. He is the author of a training guide designed to streamline the education of agents at the ISO. He prefaced the following list with the assumption that a new agent has the necessary innate selling ability.
Following is MBRUNO's list - in order of priority:
- "1. Understanding our industry is all about follow-up, and there's more to it than just pricing or
rates. Sell on savings, lose on savings. Always include a value add. You don't work for Visa or MasterCard, etc.
- General understanding of pricing so they can provide realistic expectations to merchants and spot troublesome IC categories (i.e. EIRF [electronic interchange reimbursement fee]). This is not necessarily enough knowledge to be able to create their own proposals, but enough so they can talk intelligently about a competitor's statement and the like.
- Knowledge of popular terminals, POS systems and payment gateways. For terminals, they should know enough to build their own files and perform a basic download for at least three or four popular terminals (even if they need a cheat sheet). The ISO may take care of this for them, but it's good to know how to do this in a pinch.
For POS systems, they should know how the top systems in the area/their market integrate with the networks and what may/may not be needed. For payment gateways, know the popular ones and which ones your company supports.
If there's an in-house gateway, know the pricing, the benefits and in what situations would the gateway be applicable. Knowledge = Creditability. Creditability = Trust. Trust = Applications.
- Knowledge of company products and policies. New agents (and seasoned agents who start submitting deals to a new ISO) should review corporate websites, documents and schedule training on products with their support staff as soon as possible. You can't sell what you don't know.
Likewise, making sure you know the company's 'way' will eliminate delays in boarding and reduce frustrations on both sides."
Don't spill your candy
After an ISO executive sought to clarify whether the agent seeking the training was sending business to the ISO, JDECKARD replied, "I'm not asking anybody to 'spill their candy.' I was thinking more in general terms, the questions that get asked on the Forum every time a new agent manages to find his way here."
Everyone seems to want to complain about the lack of knowledge and training new agents have, yet nobody really wants to provide it for fear that they may be training their competition.
So, if you were new to the industry and didn't have years of experience or connections, hadn't yet found The Green Sheet, and didn't want to get turned into a 'flying monkey' (a The Wizard of Oz reference meaning agents and ISOs that mislead merchants), what information would you want to have?
"We take training very seriously at Merchant Warehouse," SMAILS said. "There are two weekly trainings required for new agents: one is procedural (paperwork, underwriting, pricing, etc.) and the second is sales training (I personally do that training every week).
"As we all know, there is no magic formula to sales in this industry, but I try to give our agents some tips and advice on good ways to spend their time and hopefully sign on good merchants and a valuable portfolio.
"We also send out a monthly training calendar to our agents. This month we are having eight separate training sessions on everything from statement analysis and pricing strategies to selling POS, Durbin and more.
"As most of you know, we also have Merchant Warehouse University (www.mw-university.com) where we provide training to anyone in the industry. There are currently 14 archived webinars and three scheduled for next month.
"This might be perceived as 'training the competition,' but we think it's important to get information out to the industry. I'm not trying to make this post into a MW commercial, just answering the question. To answer with a 'broad stroke,' I don't think agents can get too much training on any topic pertinent to our industry."
MXS added, "I have been training sales agents for 11 years now. After taking a few years off, I am just now starting to hire and train sales reps again. I guess the first question would be, 'Are you hiring sales reps or agents?' There is a big difference! I have looked at hiring and training agents and, after only a short time, I will never try that again.
"We only hire sales reps and train them on the different fees that are charged to merchants and how to sell our services to the merchant.
"As far as teaching them how to read statements, we are not even going down that road with them. We will have the rep fax the statement to us, and we will email or fax them back how much we can save them and different things about our services.
"But you have to remember, we are not training MLS/agents; we are training sales reps. They get paid from each merchant that is signed and, if they sell equipment, we pay them for that.
"We know going into this that most sales reps will not last more than 45 to 60 days unless they really work hard. And the truth is, out of 500 sales reps, we might find two who will be able to make the move over to being an MLS/agent. It is a numbers game."
Relying on guidance
While this thread was gathering input from Forum members, I began another thread to find experts for a new training book I have in development. I also asked MLSs and small ISOs about topics that they would like to see in a training guide.
THECREDITCARDMAN gave us a good list. "If I were writing the book, I would structure it like the timeline of my experience in the industry," he wrote. Following are the chapters he proposed:
1. What intrigues me
2. Picking a partner
4a. in person
5. The presentation, a & b
4b. on the phone
6. Overcoming objections
7. Understanding interchange
8. The close
9. Basic BC math
10. Add-on products
11. Does post-sale service matter?
12. Understanding your residuals
13. Hiring agents, 1099 or W2?
14. Managing an office
15. Terminal types, a tech guide
17. What is PCI?
18. Registering, does it make sense for you?
19. Training agents
20. Exit strategy
"I did not mention ethics," THECREDITCARDMAN added. "Sometimes giving examples of unethical behavior teaches otherwise ethical people to adopt a 'me too' mentality in search of a shortcut and a 'grass is greener' philosophy."
Can you test for ethics?
The topic of ethics is critical. It does not just entail explicitly distinguishing good behavior from bad. Ethics is about teaching agents, both new and established, the right way to do things.
For some reason, people in the industry want to see a connection between the CPP program and education or training modules being developed by several companies, including my own. I believe there is much more to an educational book or program than simply helping agents to pass a test or obtain a certification.
The CPP is designed to test the knowledge of people with at least three years of experience in the payments industry and certify those who pass the test. Whether people with three years' experience will pass such an exam depends on training by their processors. And training varies greatly between processors - some require book work, some computer-based training and some give their agents as little information as possible.
In the next couple of years, several books and industry training programs will come on the market. It is up to the ISOs and the MLSs to decide whether they simply want to pass an exam for certification or if they want to get more comprehensive tools, training and tips from industry experts to be successful in this industry.
The CPP can help the industry, but complete training materials will be needed to help agents master the industry for their own success - three years before they are eligible to even take the certification exam.
What you do today determines your tomorrow.
Bill Pirtle is the President of C3ET Credit Card Consortia for Education & Training Inc., a joint venture with Theodore Svoronos of Merchant University. Created to establish a comprehensive training program for ISOs and merchant level salespeople, C3ET is working with industry experts to produce a training guide to be published in early 2012. Bill's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He welcomes all connections on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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