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AgenTalkSM:
Francisco Acosta

The Importance of Standing Out

Francisco Acosta of New York City is a career salesman with more than 20 years' experience. His expertise has proven to be invaluable in his recent work as a merchant level salesperson (MLS). In the following interview, Acosta discusses the importance of training and distinguishing oneself from the competition, suggests some ways around cold calling, and offers plenty of advice for MLSs new to the industry.

The Green Sheet: What brought you into this business?

Francisco Acosta: I answered an ad 5 1/2 years ago. I was intrigued by the concept of residual income. I've been in sales since 1984 and have worked in various environments from door to door, retail, manufacturing and telemarketing. I've sold products as well as services, both to consumers and businesses. My background prepared me to have consultative interactions with merchants. It was a big advantage in helping me differentiate myself from the reps who sell mainly on rate.

GS: Why is it important to be a business consultant?

FA: Sales as a whole, the entire profession, if it's not moving in that direction, it really needs to. The old fashioned "throwing dirt on the floor and demoing your vacuum cleaner" isn't really cutting it these days.

Rather than that, you [serve] as a consultant; you ask questions, you gather information. You make sure [you know] what the needs are for that prospect and then make sure that whatever it is that you are selling, whether it is a product or service, actually meets those needs. Then, it's a win-win situation for both the agent and the customer.

GS: What type of training did you receive?

FA: I was given corporate-level training from a huge ISO that worked through a huge bank affiliation. It was my responsibility to develop relationships with the bank managers in order to ensure a steady flow of leads. That initial training still helps me today.

I think most people in our industry would agree that a bank lead is golden. [However] even though the ISO had the bank affiliations, it didn't mean that the leads were a given. As a merchant services rep, you have to understand the framework of a bank and what [the bank's] priorities are. You're not adding anything to their bottom line.

If your perspective is "I've got these banks, and they are going to give me leads," well that's a mistake. You still have to go in there and educate the bankers.

Try to add some value, show them what the possible pitfalls are to an account being structured incorrectly by the competition, and make them understand the relevance of what we do for their client.

GS: What should quality training entail?

FA: Training is a relative idea. Does everyone get trained? Yeah. You can't just hand a guy a book and say, "Go sell merchant services"; it doesn't work that way.

Not all training is created equally. So if you have someone that takes you out in the car and says, "Let me tell you about the business; here's what you have to do" and shows you how to read a statement, does that mean that you are fully trained and capable as a merchant services rep? My contention is no; it doesn't necessarily mean that. Here's an example. One of the first deals that I ever wrote was a dry cleaner where the rep before me set him up as a retail account because he assumed that's what it was. But in fact, the dry cleaner did most of his business, about 70%, as MO/TO through corporate accounts.

Just walking in, it's easy to make the assumption that "It's a retail store, so I'll set it up as a retail account." But if you dig deeper and know questions to ask and have the kind of training that will enable you to ask those questions, then you will set up the account correctly, save that merchant money and retain the account.

GS: What has been the biggest change in the industry since you started?

FA: There seems to have been a trend toward defensive selling. I keep reading comments in [GS Online's MLS Forum] about how you can't make money selling equipment. I couldn't disagree more.

People spend more money on cable television than it costs to lease a terminal, and cable doesn't bring in money to a merchant's business. I have never had a merchant disagree with that idea or argue with my pricing. As a result, I still make substantial revenue from equipment sales.

I'm in the NYC area. A typical merchant is paying thousands per month on rent plus insurance, payroll, plus, plus, plus. Their monthly nut is humungous. Sometimes they spend $100,000 - $200,000 per month just to keep the doors open. So, will $40 per month to lease a piece of equipment severely impact this guy's life? I don't think so.

There's a dominating philosophy that you have to give it all away, but reading [GS Online's] Forums, you'll start to see that the tide is turning, and some people are saying, "No, why are we giving it all away? We can charge certain things."

GS: Are merchants overloaded with sales pitches? What does this mean for agents?

FA: [Merchants] are wary, and they're weary from the constant bombardment. That's why it's important to distinguish yourself.

At the end of the day we're all selling the same service, but we're not selling that service the same way. Quite literally, you could sit on the phone and call people and quote rates all day if that's what you want to do.

I don't think that's an effective approach, though, because you sound like everyone else that's doing that, and if you wind up getting a sale under those circumstances, chances are your retention is not going to be there. You sell on rate, you'll lose them on rate.

GS: How do you approach potential clients whom you have never met?

FA: I've made a decision not to cold call. Frankly, I can't stand doing it, and I believe it's not the most efficient use of my time. I work on referrals that I generate through networking with the types of professionals who work with my target market. Bankers, accountants and attorneys are my favorite people in the whole world.

GS: What special methods help you to close a sale?

FA: My special techniques are to prepare thoroughly and keep my industry knowledge current. I assume that I will have to be creative with every merchant in order to customize a solution. Very often I get a customer because the original rep didn't spend enough time to understand exactly how the merchant conducts business and didn't structure the account correctly.

GS: How do you choose with whom to work?

FA: Naturally, I look for good reputations coupled with a fair compensation plan. Ed Freedman has done a fantastic job of explaining that process in his old "Street Smarts" columns [in The Green Sheet]. I strongly encourage reps to read them [at www.greensheet.com/mlsportal ]. My processor choices and the reasons for them have changed according to my needs. I had to figure out who my target market was and then make sure that my processor could support that. If my target is regional mom-and-pop retailers, my processing criterion is different from when my target market is high-risk business. I define my market and then define my processor.

GS: What has kept you in the industry?

FA: This industry has always been a perfect balance between what I like to do, am proficient in doing and income potential. Also, I'm constitutionally incapable of working for anyone.

GS: What are the basic tenets of your business philosophy?

FA: Always be honest. Be impeccable with your word. Constant improvement.

GS: Describe a typical day in your life.

FA: When I finally have one I'll get back to you. I spend most of my time marketing. Mostly that means developing new networking channels and strategic partnerships. When I'm not doing those things I'm hopefully writing deals.

GS: Where do you see this industry in the future?

FA: We live in a credit card-centric society. I anticipate the government stepping in to a certain extent in order to wrangle in the card Associations, but I don't think that will ultimately have a deleterious effect on the industry. Mergers will probably have a big effect, but I think there will always be enough companies to keep competition and options alive.

GS: What are your thoughts on the current interchange litigation and the possible results?

FA: It's at the forefront of merchants' minds because of the immediate impact. You've got a situation where two years in a row they've taken a hit.

At a certain point [it's] just being abusive. You can understand the perspective of the card Associations; they're competing with each other, trying to gain market share and in some cases might be a little panicky because of legislation over the past couple of years. Their market share is threatened, and they've made some decisions that can only be perceived on the part of the merchant as egregious and greedy. Now [merchants] are rebelling.

There is a litany of lawsuits here and abroad [in which] merchants are saying enough is enough. I tend to think that greed will prevail because there is a lot of money to be both made and lost.

GS: How has The Green Sheet helped you?

FA: The Green Sheet has played a major role in my career. I've used it as a resource for getting information on ISOs. The posts on [GS Online's] MLS Forum have helped me tremendously.

The ISOs that I work with now are a direct result of information that I learned in The Green Sheet. You live and learn, you enter the business, you figure out who the players are and all that other stuff. ... I, for example, came from a corporate background ... and my first question was "What do I do now?" Someone said to me, "The first thing you have to do is get on The Green Sheet and start learning about this industry and what your options are," so that's what I did.

Even when people are arguing on the [MLS] Forum, which can be pretty funny, those discussions are very valuable because in the heat of battle people are really on their game and trying to make a point and bringing out amazing facts about the industry and about people within the industry.

GS: What are your career goals?

FA: Merchant services gives you the unique ability to structure your life the way you want to and make decisions that are not available to the average working person. I plan to continue to expand my capabilities and my target markets and find ancillary services that will benefit my merchants and increase my profit margin.

GS: Are you satisfied with your progress so far?

FA: I'm a slow learner so things have been bumpy at times, but I'm happy with my progress. I'm never satisfied, though.

GS: Any advice for newcomers?

FA: Put your head down and work extremely hard for 10 years. Then, pick your head up and go on an obscenely expensive vacation. You'll be able to afford that and much more.

GS: Any closing comments?

FA: This industry has been wonderful to me. The opportunities and lifestyle that it affords are hard to come by through traditional means. My way of giving back is to create opportunity for other people and help new reps, whether it benefits me or not.

In the end I believe that what goes around truly does come around, and I'll be taken care of. Thanks, Green Sheet, for your continuing support.

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