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Jonathan S. Saluk

Soaring success stems from smart moves

Jonathan S. Saluk has been a Business Development Partner with New York-based American Credit Card Processing Corp. (ACCPC), a registered MSP of Merrick Bank, for just a sliver past two years; yet for him, cold calling is already a thing of the past. He expects to stay in the payments industry long-term ... until he's ready to devote balmy days to fishing and golf in a locale where people walk a bit slower than in the Big Apple.

In this interview with The Green Sheet, Saluk shares some secrets to his success, including his take on goal setting, savvy use of the Internet, networking to develop warm leads and when it makes sense to walk away from a sales call.

The Green Sheet: Why did you choose this profession?

Jonathan Saluk: I've been in sales for the past 11 years, mostly financial services. I'm a decent salesman but a lousy stock-picker. I was drawn to the payments industry because I like the idea of residual income with no give-backs. For example, if you sell life insurance and the customer gets declined, you have to give back commissions.

GS: What has kept you in the industry?

JS: I have stayed with it because I am rather successful at it and each day become slightly more so. I don't face the daily grind of making several hundred cold calls or walking in and out of a hundred merchant locations to find my next deal which is what, I think, wears most MLSs [merchant level salespeople] out of the business.

GS: How has the industry changed since you started?

JS: The two biggest changes have been two large [interchange] increases by Visa and MasterCard and the ensuing lawsuits ... and the free terminal craze.

GS: If you could change anything about this business, what would it be?

JS: Probably the perception by merchants that our industry is a bunch of leeches sucking off their hard work. I'd like them to realize that we actually provide a necessary service for their business success, especially now as our culture becomes more and more a cashless society.

GS: Looking back, would you have done anything differently in your career?

JS: I would have started in this business sooner.

GS: Do you set goals for yourself?

JS: All the books I read say that I should write down achievable long- and short-term goals. But I only write down short-term goals for what I want to get done today or this week. For me, it seems that when you get the little things done each day, the big things tend to fall into line as well.

GS: What's been your greatest success so far as an agent?

JS: Building the referral marketing machine that I have established and the many terrific relationships that lead not only to business, but also provide a wealth of experience to draw upon when searching for advice. Building that network was also my biggest challenge ... but now I can set my own schedule.

GS: What has been your most significant learning experience?

JS: Realizing that I do not have to close every deal and be everything to every merchant.

GS: What's the strangest thing a merchant has asked you/requested?

JS: Since I get a lot of requests via the Internet, I get all types of people running all types of businesses. The oddest requests are from the adult video/toy merchants. They usually double-talk around when you ask them what their product or service is.

I'm not sure if they are uncomfortable with the question or if they're just trying to get it past you so you won't find out what they do. I am sure many merchant service providers will not write that kind of business.

GS: Do you have a surefire way to resolve conflict?

JS: I believe that an open line of communication can resolve all conflicts. As long as you are talking, a happy medium can be reached. When you stop returning calls or the merchant stops taking your calls, you are dead in the water.

GS: What's unique about your sales style/method?

JS: I do zero cold calling or cold canvassing. I am either responding to incoming e-mails or phone calls for merchant account information, or I am following up on a referral who is expecting to hear from me.

Most of my business is done via Internet marketing, a monthly e-newsletter and word-of-mouth marketing. I find that most salespeople in this industry continue to pound the phones and the pavement. So when I attend a networking event, I am more often than not the only MLS in the room.

I am also very active in BNI (Business Network International), the largest word-of-mouth referral organization in the world. And I have my own Web site. Once a month I send out an e-newsletter to prospects and customers. And a few times a week I usually attend some type of informal social networking meeting, anything from chamber of commerce breakfasts, to lunch meetings and evening cocktail events.

GS: Merchants are savvier now about credit card processing. How does this affect MLSs?

JS: Most merchants are aware of what their discount rate is but do not factor in transaction fees. As an MLS, you must understand that how merchants are charged is much more important than what they are charged.

Slightly raising the discount rate and lowering per-transaction fees can have a tremendous impact on the net effective rate, so will setting up a merchant to properly accept PIN-based debit.

GS: How do you explain interchange rates to prospects?

JS: I make them aware that the rates are based on risk. The higher the risk, the higher the rate. PIN debit is the lowest risk; Internet, foreign cards, etc. are the highest risk.

GS: Why is it important to have a full arsenal of products to offer merchants?

JS: It's more important to know which application to use in which situation than to have a lot of products. A lot of golfers carry a 3-wood, but very few can hit with it.

GS: How do you ensure account retention? What do you do when it looks like you're on the verge of losing a sale?

JS: I set up merchants with the best possible rate for their business type so that when the next MLS comes by, he just confirms that I did right by them.

If I see a sales call is not going well, I walk away and defuse the situation. I can't have the person who referred this person to me be made to look bad by sending over a pushy salesman just looking for a commission. Plus, not getting him today doesn't mean I won't get him in the future.

GS: What does it take to succeed in this business?

JS: A long-term approach to developing relationships with strategic partners and merchants that can consistently refer business to you.

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

JS: I really don't have any preference ... Of course, we all want high-volume low-maintenance merchants.

GS: Do you think there will always be street sales?

JS: I assume you mean cold canvassing. Yes, for the short-term salespeople, because if you walk into enough stores, you will find a sale. But you will always be on the hamster wheel. And no one can keep the pace forever. To use this as a way to get your first merchants and cut your teeth is fine; but to stay with the business I believe you need to evolve.

GS: What do you think about "selling" free terminals?

JS: There is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone is paying for that terminal, either the MLS or the merchant. Salesmen are always looking for the silver bullet.

GS: What is your experience with agent training? What would a good training program consist of?

JS: I do not have a lot of experience with agent training; I have only worked for ACCPC. But I would imagine, and from what I read in The Green Sheet, most training consists of handing a new MLS a sales book with a few applications and patting them on the back with a "go get 'em tiger."

I guess defining a good training program would have to delineate whether you were training salesmen how to sell merchant services or you were taking novices and training them to sell and also how to sell merchant services. I will leave sales training to another forum.

MLS training should include an understanding of what interchange is, what downgrades are and why they occur, industry jargon or lingo, role playing, proper application completion, familiarization with common terminals and their use, learning how to download terminals and reading the last few issues of The Green Sheet to get a feel for the industry.

GS: How should an MLS go about choosing an ISO partner?

JS: The biggest reward in this business is the residual income, so you should look for an ISO with a proven history of paying ... even after you have left the business.

GS: How has The Green Sheet helped you?

JS: I find The Green Sheet very informative and imperative to stay abreast of the goings-on in the industry ... what the movers & shakers are doing.

GS: Any advice for newcomers?

JS: Don't be greedy. Let the goose lay the golden egg each month. Don't try to cut the goose open and take all the eggs at once.

GS: How do you balance the demands of your work and personal lives?

JS: I work hard on the days I have scheduled to work so that I can take time off and enjoy it, because I've earned it.

GS: What hobbies do you enjoy?

JS: In the summer, I ride a 1991 Harley-Davidson FXDB Sturgis motorcycle, fish, golf and follow the Yankees. In the winter, I ski. All year long I enjoy a nice glass of wine and a good cigar. I also read voraciously, alternating between a self-help or business-related book and an enjoyment book.

GS: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

JS: A Marine fighter pilot ... I did join the Marines but never flew jets.

GS: Do you have a motto that you live by?

JS: Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. It's a quote from Robert Stevenson, a motivational speaker, workshop leader and author of How to Soar Like an Eagle in a World Full of Turkeys.

Many top-notch agents have inspired others by sharing their perspectives in AgenTalk. Will you be next? If you'd like to participate, please send an e-mail to

Article published in issue number 060601

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