By Steve Norell
US Merchant Services Inc.
Merchant level salesperson. MLS. How many people even know what those letters mean? How many know that if you are not an ISO or merchant service provider, you are an MLS? Probably fewer than you would think.
So lets start from the beginning. When did the term MLS first start, and who came up with the name? Well, I can answer those questions since I was there the day it was originated. It was Feb. 23, 2003, and the location was the Sheraton in Tampa.
The first meeting of what would later be called the National Association of Payment Professionals was on this date, and we all agreed that calling agents ISOs was wrong, since they were not ISOs. So we decided to come up with something new. I said merchant level street person. Paul H. Green, who founded The Green Sheet Inc. was also there. He suggested merchant level salesperson – and voilà! That is how it came to be.
So now I'll jump ahead and focus on the real purpose of this article. Over the years, all of us, as either ISOs or MLSs, have attempted to recruit or hire MLSs to represent our companies for the purpose of submitting merchant accounts for processing. The old way For those of us old enough to remember, there used to be one way and one way only: the ISO recruits agents by phone or recruitment ads, has them sign some papers, wishes them the best of luck, and the next thing you know, they are sending in deals. Maybe.
It was done this way because it was easy and cheap. The ISOs had very little, if any, money in the game and would assume most of the agents would not amount to all that much. If they sent a deal or two a month, then great. So as long as you had hundreds, if not thousands of agents, you had it made. I should also add that the commission schedule was nothing like it is today. If you got a 25 percent return you were lucky.
OK, fast forward to today. The industry is rampant with MLSs. Most have no clue as to what they are doing. They are all following a script with a closer in another state ready to jump on the line to make the deal. This is the result of a number of companies that heavily recruit online, train new agents for six hours online and then send their MLSs on calls from leads that were obtained through telemarketing. It should be noted that the majority of the leads are poor, at best, for these types of ISOs.
Today, technology is king, and deploying a tabletop terminal has no future. Revenue from the sale or lease of a piece of hardware is almost gone. It's all recurring revenue now, whether it is residuals from the cards, monthly cloud fees or gateway fees. Has the time come that the independent MLS is a thing of the past, and the MLS needs to become something different?
Through the years, I have tried every known method when it comes to recruiting and paying MLSs. I have had paid employees; I have had 100 percent commission independent contractors, not employees; I have had MLSs that were independent contractors, but were paid a base; and on and on and on.
Guess which one always worked the best? You got it: the MLSs that were independent contractors. Period. End of story. As much as I have tried to avoid this method – as I never cared for it – clearly, from a supervisory position, it was the most cost effective and least time consuming.
However, with the industry getting harder to navigate and more challenging to penetrate for new people, should we, as ISOs, start to think about only hiring W2 employees?
If we do adopt this model, we all know what comes with it: babysitting and constant training, reports, goals and so on – all the things that we never had to do before. No one wants to spend money on a product or person that does not provide a good return on investment ‒ and right away. So here is what I want to know from other ISOs and MLSs out there with all size offices.
How do you hire agents? What type of training do you provide them? How do you compensate them? What is your success rate?
Please reach out to me at the email address or phone number provided in my bio below. Or you can contact me through GS Online's MLS Forum. My handle in the forum is Steve Norell.
Steve Norell is Director of Sales at US Merchant Services Inc. Based in Port St. Lucie, Fla., he oversees the USMS sales force and maintains the company's bank and processor relationships. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or by phone at 772-220-7515.
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