By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.
Do you ever think about what led you to become a merchant level salesperson (MLS)? It's not an easy job. Long-term success takes knowledge, stamina and a healthy dose of confidence. So what are the primary attractions? Following is a composite of leading motivations shared in GS Online's MLS Forum and LinkedIn's Merchant Level Sales group:
While MLSs tend to work long hours, freedom to plan their work based on their own priorities is a major perk. Sales calls can be scheduled based on prospects' availability, family and community obligations, and personal choice.
GMartin stated that he and a co-worker "had put the plans in place to start our own ISO, but after having the freedom of being an agent, neither of us wanted to pursue those plans. We both stayed as agents and never looked back."
Lizzy Cochrane wrote, "I just celebrated my fourth year in business. I love what I do, and my company continues to expand. I'm glad I didn't give up, and I love being my own boss."
Another appeal of the MLS lifestyle is the ability to balance job and family obligations. SDSorenson worked long hours in restaurant management before becoming an MLS six years ago. "I hope I'm in this biz for the rest of my life," he wrote. "I will be forever grateful for the life balance this industry has allowed me.
"I'm stuck on about 500 accounts, but I manage those and pick up referrals here and there. I pay more in taxes than I made as a GM at Chili's."
It's been more than a decade since 3 in 1 left his manufacturing job. "I knew I had to make a career decision because I did not want to miss my daughter growing up and the joy that it brings," he wrote. "I began with MSC [Merchant Service Center] in 2002, and still love this industry more today than ever before.
"It has allotted me and my family the flexibility that we desired in those early years and has provided financially for us like no other previous job had provided before."
Industry veterans who helped convert merchants from paper to electronic transaction processing or sold the first wireless credit card machines were the first to see the vast potential of the payments industry. Clearent was working at a bank when he discovered merchant services.
"I knew nothing about payment processing at all, but I recognized an exciting field. I felt then that it was a lot like being at the beginning of the personal computer industry. It remains exciting today ... 20 years later."
The always-on, always-connected world has created an array of cross-border opportunities for payment professionals. Management consultant DebBaxley entered the payments industry through a project with American Express Co. that led to projects around the globe.
"I got to spend six months in England and lots of great trips to Hong Kong, Australia, Fort Lauderdale and, of course, Phoenix. Twenty-five projects later, and I was steeped in the credit card industry, so I made a name for myself by leading an international network of IBMers associated with credit card clients. From there I became known for my credit card domain expertise and was called upon for projects in Brazil, Greece, Australia, Canada, South Korea and finally China."
Sales jobs are not created equal, wrote Forbes columnist Jacquelyn Smith in The Best- and Worst-Paying Sales Jobs: "Selling securities or commodities in investment and trading firms, for instance, pays five times what being a cashier pays, on average. And those are both sales jobs."
Smith went on to quote Tim Wackel, founder and President of a training and consulting firm: "The low-paying sales jobs are very transactional, low value, and low risk, while the best-paying positions require a higher knowledge base, they're riskier, and the salespeople are generally more consultative," Wackel stated. "Also, the people in the low-paying sales jobs are usually selling a product, whereas the high earning salespeople are selling a solution."
MBruno got his start as a financial analyst (FA) at Morgan Stanley, specializing in employee compensation for other FAs. A self-described guy who "likes to fix things," he moved up the corporate ladder, tweaking compensation plans and the company dashboard until finally deciding to leave corporate life.
"Before I left [Morgan Stanley], I was overseeing three of the four Divisions ... and working very closely with the FAs in terms of providing road maps to reach $x compensation, effective methods on pricing, etc.
"Oddly enough, doing things very similar to my role now. Anyway, I drove out to San Diego on a whim ... [and] a few months later ... started working as an internal sales guy. Five years later, I'm heading up the External Sales Channel Division with Payment Logistics."
The social nature of this business can give MLSs an edge. Ladera Business Solutions credits his outgoing lifestyle for his start in the industry. He described waiting for some friends at a hotel bar before attending a local football game.
"I got there early, sat at the crowded bar next to a nice lady. We sparked up a conversation. I asked her what she was doing in our town. She said she was interviewing for a sales position. ... Long story short, after an hour of talking, she offered me the position.
"I left for the game shortly after calling my wife and telling her I had taken a new job. That was over 20 years ago (way over). Still here and still loving it!"
AZMikey30 was a student working part time at a bank when he came down with Crohn's disease and spent nearly two months in the hospital. When he was released, he had missed "a good amount of school" and had significant debt from medical bills, tuition, etc.
"So I reached out to my friends in the merchant services division, taking a job as a sales rep, mining the branch channels and calling on merchants," he wrote.
"Within a couple years, I was a regional sales manager and have been in the business ever since. I did go back and finish my degree several years and two kids later."
Seasoned professionals joining our business have applied what they've learned in prior jobs to building their businesses. VZAGuy11 was in the restaurant business, selling merchant services on the side.
"I was able to financially support myself and my daughter, while at the same time building a slow, but steady residual stream," he wrote. "Eventually I realized if I was to focus 100 percent of my time on merchant services, [I would] make even more money.
"Ten years later, I still get paid from that first portfolio; today I have many. Tough chain of events to find my career, but am grateful for the lessons I learned along the way."
Twotring had a varied background as a radio disk jockey, information technology (IT) specialist and POS field technician, where he "learned how POS systems worked, and how to sell them.
"Then I went off on my own. Here I am seven years later, several companies later, back in the payments industry, and I don't think I could be happier." NCrum was managing several food service publications when he decided to take the payments plunge - against his wife's advice.
"I put together a plan of what the residuals would look like if we sold five per month at $60 average residual," he wrote. "We had enough money behind us to 'fund' this business and the rest is history." Plus his wife is happy.
Donald Harrington was in insurance before joining an ISO and starting a new wholesale equipment and supply division for that company.
GenesisMerchant was an IT commercial development specialist before becoming an agent and going on to start his own ISO. He wrote, "Sales is the most underappreciated career, but I'm OK with that because it's not for everyone."
Merchant level sales may not be for everyone, but it has become a rewarding career for many. Some journeys to MLSdom were logical progressions such as going from banking to merchant services or from inside sales to outside sales.
Others were more of a twist of fate, like meeting a recruiter in a bar. The best part of each of these stories is not how we found our way into this business, but why we have chosen to stay.
Dale Laszig is a writer and payments industry executive specializing in business development and sales performance improvement. She manages channel sales at Castles Technology and sales effectiveness programs through IMPAX Corp. and C3ET Credit Card Consortia for Education & Training Inc. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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