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Training Your Competition

By Garry O'Neil

A common complaint that I hear from our ISOs is that they hire and train salespeople but as soon as these salespeople learn the business, they are off on their own, stealing accounts and undercutting their pricing.

In business you don't have a choice: you either train your people for the future with the tools they need today, or you under train them-not only taking away the competitive advantage of knowledge but risking losing them to a group that trains without fear. So what should you do?

The ISO office should:

  1. Have the complete and utter understanding that you are possibly training your future competition, but try to think about it positively: the better your sales team is trained, the more your company will profit.

    It is a rule of business that the better you are at training a sales or management team, the more likely you will be facing them in the field. But at least this realization makes you aware of the possible consequences and eliminates surprises and frustration.

  2. Following are some ways to keep your sales/management individuals with you and part of the continued production flow:


    Learn to appreciate the individual talents of your team members. Point out their strengths and help diminish their weaknesses. Use their ideas and let them take the credit for them.

    Make sure that everyone knows who's helping, providing ideas, and showing leadership; without embarrassing them, put them and their ideas in front of the group.


    Give your trainees responsibility; let them run with projects, and when they implement their ideas, make them responsible for the outcome. On the flip side, make sure they are accountable for their actions and projects.

    Make reports and status meetings part of the routine of the office so you can help guide the growth and monitor the success path. Be quick to comment and assist and very slow to criticize.

    Train Constantly

    It makes your team dependent on you. Knowledge is money and the more that they know, and the more they know you are going help them grow, then the more important you are to them and the less attractive the outside world appears.

    Set up training schedules and routines and stick to them; consistency keeps your team comfortable and secure.


    Have meetings on a regular and consistent basis. Let your team know that on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons you are meeting. Let them know that you will be there, and you expect their attendance.

    Let them know that this is the time for group interaction, goal setting and production incentives.

    One of our managers calls every one of his sales people every night to touch base, but he does it consistently. Even though there might be grumbling, there is still the respect of the group that they take the calls and discuss the day's ups and downs. Whatever your meeting schedule is, stick to it.


    Pay according to the rules you set up, pay on time and pay correctly. Make sure that proper documentation accompanies the pay and listen to your staff if there appears to be an error. Salespeople will only stay with you if they trust you.


    When possible, devise incentives to help motivate your team. Tangible items hold value much longer then cash, which gets spent and forgotten. Reward the successful, but also reward the improvers. It is your job to move poor to good, good to better, and better to excellence.

    For long term incentives, when money is appropriate, tie it to production and success; also, if you are going to reward the occasional 'spiff,' do it at irregular intervals so that spiffs are not perceived as part of the regular income and taken for granted. Obviously, incentives are tricky but necessary. Use them to motivate and help retain your sales/management team.

  3. To paraphrase: Keep your friends close and your marketing team closer. If you do lose team members and they become the competition, make them friendly competitors-help them. Someday, they may use some of your services or even return to the fold.

    Do not alienate them if possible; they are still trained in your methods and programs and will depend on you for advice. At least you will know what they are doing and planning thus, helping you to plan your strategies. Keep them close and you will know their strengths and where to make your best moves to avoid conflict.

  4. Lastly, don't resent natural growth-embrace it. At some point you had to make decisions that affected your path and the people who assisted you along the way.
So expect that the natural selection process will take place, even though you may lose team members that you have spent time and money on because they need to grow (as talent will).

As they become independent, they have a chance for success. They also know that your understanding helped them improve (although you might be disappointed and even hurt).

The sales representative or management team member should:

  1. Understand that you will grow and that growth will lead you to decision pressure points. Independence does not always mean success, so explore your options and think about the consequences.

  2. Whatever you decide, be upfront and above board. Even though it may be difficult, confront your ISO and talk to them. Do not skulk out in the middle of the night; it will bring condemnation and suspicion.

  3. Keep your options open and explore them as long as possible. Don't make hasty decisions based on a bad day or week, but instead look at the whole picture.

    If you still have to become your ISO's competition, then at least you know you have properly explored all of the avenues available to you.

  4. Before you become your ISO's competition, talk to the ISO:
    • Find out if there is a way for you to grow and continue working together. Discuss what you can take if you do leave, what share of income you can have if you stay on as part of the team, or whether or not the ISO can help kick start your new office. At least open a dialogue. You might be surprised.

    • Let your ISO know that you have no intention of taking accounts, lists of merchants, personal data or employees and reps. If you have to leave the ISO that trained you, do it with grace.

What happens, happens. The best way of facing possible disagreeable circumstances is to plan for them, consider them, isolate all of the possibilities and stop worrying about the inevitable.

Garry O'Neil is President/CEO for Electronic Exchange Systems (EXS), a national provider of merchant processing solutions. Founded in 1991, EXS offers ISO partner programs, innovative pricing, a complete product line, monthly phone/Web training, quarterly seminars, and most of all, credibility. For more information, please visit or e-mail Garry at

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