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Chris Perrine

An entrepreneur with a personal touch

Chris Perrine, a merchant level salesperson (MLS) with Total Merchant Services, is based in Citrus Heights, Calif. He has sales experience in several different industries, and has learned in all of them that education and superb customer service are the only ways to success. In the following interview, Perrine offers his insight on an MLS certification program, the free terminal programs' effect on the industry, and how to compete with banks and the Costco's of the world.

The Green Sheet: What brought you into the merchant services business?

Chris Perrine: I've been in the industry for almost three years. I've always had entrepreneurial aspirations, but after receiving a business degree I just wasn't sure which industry I wanted to be an entrepreneur in. My brother-in-law Daniel Hughes, who had been in the [merchant services] industry for several years, called and offered me the opportunity to manage his office. I met with him, and it seemed like the perfect match. [Managing the office] let me see the business from all aspects and not just the bottom of the totem pole. I was able to see it from marketing and deployment [perspectives]. I had to learn customer service really quick. It gave me a better overall view of the industry.

GS: What did you do before?

CP: Before college, I worked for several years as an installation and service technician in the car stereo and mobile communications industries. Soon after receiving two Associate of Science degrees in business from Monterey Peninsula College, I worked as a Financial Consultant in the personal finance and insurance industries. ... I think that is why I love [the merchant services] industry so much. It allows me to have the best of all worlds: high-tech gadgets, financial consulting and outside sales.

GS: What type of training did you receive?

CP: I was fortunate enough to have a good field trainer who gave me the basic tools to close a simple sale, but I did it the hard way: all cold calling with no leads or warm market. I quickly realized in order to close a more sophisticated client, I would need to learn about the industry and how it works. That's when I turned to The Green Sheet along with Marc Beauchamp's book "How to Survive and Thrive in the Merchant Services Industry."

GS: What makes a good training program?

CP: It would definitely be similar to what I had in the insurance business. We would have at least one night set aside on industry training: specific product knowledge, industry updates on regulations and laws. On a different night would be sales training: cold calls, working off a script, different seminars ... to get you motivated and get a plan in place so that you can achieve your goals.

GS: Would organized licensing and training programs for MLSs be beneficial?

CP: I definitely think so. I don't think that they should be regulated by the state or government. I think that the industry can regulate itself. Visa/MasterCard set up regulations all the time. I think that it would be great for MLSs to set up something ... to get continuing education and make sure that they know all the rules and that they're not just left [in the dark].

I'm not saying that there are a ton of ISOs that don't know what they are doing, but at the same time, there are companies that will give you a rate sheet and tell you to canvas the block and sign up as many merchants as you can. That's something that gives the industry a bad reputation.

GS: What has changed significantly in the industry since you started?

CP: The free terminal placement program. It is definitely not going away, and I am surprised it didn't happen earlier. When I first started I couldn't believe the mark up on machines.

I was in the cell phone industry when the same thing happened, and nobody believed it would last ... well, it did. I talk to my merchants in the cell phone industry today, and they tell me that their mark up on phones, that aren't free, is next to nothing. Luckily, the new merchant cash advance programs will fill that lost revenue stream for salespeople just entering the industry.

I don't think I could have survived my first year in the industry if I had to live off of residuals alone. I was lucky and entered the industry a couple years before these programs started, so I was able to establish myself. I really couldn't see MLSs coming in full time and making it unless they have a good savings to fall back [on]. Most people that start out in insurance and real estate start out part time. I think that will happen here.

GS: Do you offer a cash advance program to merchants?

CP: I have my first one in the works right now, and it's been a fairly easy process. The merchant doesn't really have to worry about a set payment, which is great for them. ... I think that it will really help the industry, but I also think that the merchant is going to have to really trust who they are talking to.

GS: How do you choose a processor?

CP: Customer service and communication. I work way too hard to get a merchant to sign to allow someone else to lose the account. I try to be as hands on as possible with my merchants, but I am only one man. In the event that a merchant can't get a hold of me, I must be confident that my merchant will be in good hands.

At the same time, who likes it when you suddenly get a phone call from an angry merchant who could have easily been taken care of with a follow up phone call? As an MLS you should always be kept informed of issues with merchants, so you're not caught off guard and can follow up to make sure the issue was resolved.

It's amazing what a five-minute follow-up call can do. It's that little extra effort that makes the merchant feel special and sets you apart from the competition.

GS: Does this personal touch give MLSs an advantage over competition from banks and Costco, for example?

CP: I deal with Costco and the banks all the time. I actually like when the merchant is with their bank; those rates are pretty high compared to Costco rates. Most banks refer out to ISOs. But merchants who are with banks get no personal touch. It's the same with Costco. There is just an 800-number for merchants. There is no personal touch. Costco's rates are very competitive; I try to keep my rates pretty competitive.

GS: Does working with a large sales office deter a lot of independent-minded reps?

CP: I don't think that prevents them, because at the same time you still have your own marketing strategies, and you are still set up separate; you're just an independent sales office.

The advantages are there of being an entrepreneur and it's a little bit better because you don't have the risks. I like the fact that I can work with Total Merchant Services without the risk. At the same time I'm building lifetime residuals and a portfolio. It's the same thing with real estate and insurance agents. They usually don't go and start their own insurance or real estate company.

GS: What has kept you in the industry?

CP: The money, freedom and potential. The money is good as long as you're willing to work. The key is retention and referrals. In order to achieve these you must be educated, ethical and customer-service oriented.

I very much enjoy the freedom of making my own schedule. It allows me to be more involved in the community and spend quality time with my family. I help coach my son's basketball, soccer and track teams, and I work with the each organization's fundraising needs. I also help my church and my son's Cub Scout pack. Giving back to the community is important to me, and it can be a great way to network. As a one-man show, I put in a lot of hours, but I know I'm working to build something bigger. The potential to grow and succeed in this industry is impressive and attainable.

GS: What types of merchants do you prefer to work with?

CP: Working with retail merchants allows me the opportunity to discuss the debit and check card rates. A lot of times I don't lower rates; I just educate them on how to save money by processing transactions differently.

GS: Do you use any special techniques to close a sale?

CP: Tom Hopkins' N.E.A.D.S* analysis:

  • Who do they process with Now?
  • What do they Enjoy or like most about their current processor?
  • What would they Alter or change about their current processor?
  • I usually give them two or three alternatives and ask them which one would work best (Decide).
  • Sign, sign, sign!

For more information about Tom Hopkins go to

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

CP: World class customer service and always do what is right.

GS: Describe a typical day in your life.

CP: I usually will work on any pending customer service issues and administrative tasks in the early morning. Mid-morning to late afternoon I'm setting appointments and selling. In the evening I work on marketing and business development.

GS: Where do you see this industry in five, 10 and 20 years?

CP: Technology, technology, technology. I [also] believe there will always be a need for MLSs, but I see it evolving into a more service-oriented sales force with consulting and customer service at the forefront instead of rates and products.

GS: What kind of resource has The Green Sheet been for you?

CP: It is a wonderful resource that keeps me informed and educated. Whether it's the most current issue or one from last year, I can pick it up and always learn something new.

I consider it my direct link to the rest of the industry and reading it keeps my finger on the pulse.

GS: How important are the local and national tradeshows to MLSs?

CP: Very important. Not only are you able to network with colleagues from various facets of the industry, but you're able to learn about new technology, products and services. When I attend an event, I come back energized with a renewed determination to sell.

GS: What are your career goals?

CP: To build a professional sales office committed to education, efficiency, ethics and experience.

GS: Would you have done anything differently?

CP: Begun my career in the industry sooner.

GS: Any advice for someone just starting out?

CP: Educate yourself.

GS: Final thoughts?

CP: There is a lot of opportunity in this world, and if you set goals, hold yourself accountable, and always remember what is most important in this life, you'll have already succeeded.

Article published in issue number 060201

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