By Steven Feldshuh
In May, I attended the Electronic Transaction Association's Transact 17 conference. I hadn't been to the show in several years and expected to find much of relevance to growing my sales organization during the show. I came away with mixed feelings.
It was obvious that companies such as Visa, Mastercard, Discover, Verifone, Vantiv, First Data, and a few others spent enormous amounts of money on their booths. The cost of transportation, housing, meals and staff hours must have been tremendous. I gained new information and found a new resource, and I met a few people who could potentially help me grow my business. However, it appeared to me that most people walking by wore vendor tags. I'm concerned about who the target audience for this event really is.
The cost of entry is four figures, not including hotel, meals and transportation, which is far above what a new or established sales agent can afford. The event isn't set up to encourage merchant level salespeople (MLSs) to learn, explore and get the big picture of what the industry offers. Maybe the organizers could offer individual sales reps the ability to attend for a more manageable amount. What creates excitement is people, which, during some key sessions, seemed missing.
I understand that the WSAA, SEAA, MWAA and NEAA conferences are geared to MLSs, since admission is generally free or a minimal cost. But doesn't Transact wish to attract these folks? If I were a vendor spending a fortune on a booth, I would want to meet and greet as many people as possible. Don't the Transact vendors want to show their wares to as many people as possible? Maybe the vendors don't realize the demand for their products comes from the guys and gals on the street. It is wonderful to see so many beautiful products on display, but outside of the super ISOs that attend this meeting, who else gets this exposure?
As an ISO business owner and a salesperson, I would like my team to get the exposure attendance at Transact offers. Yes, agents can get a taste at regional meetings, but seeing the full scope of the industry and the Big Picture of why they should make credit card processing a career can best be accomplished by experiencing Transact.
Future ETA event organizers might want to look at the agendas of the regional meetings, which are geared to train and educate while also offering fun. Some of the meetings I attended at Transact put me to sleep. Shorter breakout sessions work much better than long, drawn-out trainings. Speaking time should be limited to half an hour.
I would also consider adding excitement to the event. I understand this is a tradeshow, but a "greeting party" at the entrance sets an upbeat mood. Servers with refreshments on trays or tables could be arranged. A few cool giveaways could be handed out to start things off in a positive manner. Decorations are too much to ask for, but when you walk in and see something fun, that sets the stage in a positive way. Maybe decorate the entrance with a theme of some sort. A strong beginning would go a long way toward creating the energy level one needs to go through this event.
Also, consider having a DJ play music throughout the event. It doesn't have to be blasting, but music is a positive element. One section could have a jazz trio next to a larger bar, so the wait would be shorter. The committee should consider hiring a magician to walk around and engage people. Other ideas could be impersonators, such as Michael Jackson or Elvis; we are in Vegas, you know.
Throughout the event, there should be constant demos. Maybe each equipment or software vendor should be given the opportunity, on a rotating hourly basis, to show us their stuff on stage. This way, if you miss the demo in the morning, you can catch it a few hours later. Seeing rotating vendor presentations would certainly be much better than looking over someone's shoulder at a product. Technology shown on the big screen presents a fuller picture of a product.
Also, having the company's "best" presenter, someone who is a public speaker, show the products in front of a group would be better than hiring an outsider or a techie to explain what the product can do. When I've heard, for example, Tim McWeeney of Verifone explain his products, I've understood and been motivated. When I've heard a Verifone tech person do the same thing, I've gotten lost.
What about some real giveaways? If you want to keep people at the show, have hourly drawings that require people to be present to win gifts. Again, the idea is to keep attendees from leaving. There can be some serious giveaways for spending a full day at the show. Maybe some of the sponsorship money could be used for that.
About the food: I tried to sample from the three chaffing trays of beef, pork or chicken, but they weren't appetizing. There were other choices, but I wound up by the chaffing dishes. Simple sandwiches would work well. A barbecue stand with grilled hot dogs, turkey burgers/hamburgers always creates potential for a great meal. Remember, Americans eat more burgers than any other type of food.
I walked by numerous booths at the show, and some of the vendors seemed bored out of their minds. When I engaged some vendors, it appeared to take great effort for them to explain what their software or product did. Some vendors didn't bother to ask about my business; they had no clue I had an ISO. When I attend a conference to learn about products, vendors shouldn't chat among themselves; they should approach me to find out what I'm interested in. The worst thing I encountered was to be ignored by a vendor who was texting and checking email. Why bother to exhibit if your reps are going to behave this way? Body language says it all.
It might be helpful for vendors to receive a memo beforehand that explains the importance of engaging with everyone who comes by the booth. Offering them incentives before the show might also be helpful – and providing stronger coffee.
I know a lot of work goes into an event like Transact. I apologize if I am too critical. I want to wake people up, not beat them up. The ETA has the platform to engage and the members to attend. I'd like to see this event be one that people look forward to, one where they look forward to what's coming the following year. My suggestions aren't meant to hurt, but to change the complacency that seems to have turned this event into what I feel is an expensive, mediocre event.
Steven Feldshuh, President of Merchants' Choice Payment Solutions East, has 18 years' experience in sales and ISO development. Directly prior to joining MCPSE in 2012, he was President of Payment Partners. In his current position, Steven devotes the bulk of his time to assisting agents in building their portfolios. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 212-392-9202.
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