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Street SmartsSM:
Meetings of the MLS Mind

By Ed Freedman

The phenomenon continues. My previous column highlighted the Midwest Acquirers Association (MWAA) conference, and this column will continue to look at the extraordinary movement taking place all over the country: the regional acquirer associations' meetings. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: This is a resource well worth your time and effort.

I just returned from the third annual Southeast Acquirers Association (SEAA) meeting, which was held October 8 - 9, 2003 in Orlando, Fla. The first official meeting of the National Association of Payment Professionals (NAOPP), held Oct. 10 in Orlando, followed the SEAA's conference. What an extraordinary experience to witness the birth of a resource forum for Merchant Level Salespeople.

The organizers of SEAA and NAOPP should be very proud of what they accomplished at these gatherings.

"The 2003 Annual Southeast Acquirers meeting was a huge success," Judy Foster of Thales e-Transactions, Inc. said. "Over 300 participants shared information and education. The SEAA looks forward to an even more successful meeting next October 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia."

Highlights from the SEAA conference included panel discussions on timely topics such as fraud at the point of sale, check conversion lockbox opportunities and quick service restaurant opportunities.

One presenter was motivational speaker Philip Hurst, Ph.D., who spoke on self-improvement and how to stay properly motivated each and every day. Each attendee received a copy of his latest book, "The Hit Man," about staff motivation and management styles.

A panel on electronic check conversion was informative and sometimes electrified with lively discussion from representatives from CrossCheck, Retriever and Certegy.

The vendor hall served as a great networking forum where attendees could spend hours with leading vendors and gather information on the latest services and new technologies.

I was honored to be part of the SEAA as a guest speaker. After my presentation, I was walking through the conference hall, when someone passing me said in a familiar tone, "Hey, Ed." I stopped to return the greeting, thinking I must know this person. I said, "Hi, do I know you?" He responded, "No, but I read your column and feel like I know you."

He also said he thought I was making a valuable contribution to MLSs and the industry as a whole, and he encouraged me to keep writing and keep speaking. His comments were heartwarming and much appreciated. Thank you.

In order to hear from others who also attended these two significant events, I posted the following on The Green Sheet online's MLS Forum after the conferences: "The recent SEAA annual meeting and NAOPP conference in Orlando were hits...or were they? For all those MLSs who attended either event, I'd love to get your feedback. What were the highs? What were the lows? What did you enjoy most about the events? What didn't you like about them? Would you attend future events? Please be sure to include your name and affiliation if you want to be acknowledged in 'Street SmartsSM.' As always, thanks for your support."

Here's what came back... "I'm an MLS and attended both the SEAA and NAOPP meetings in Orlando. Both events were hits in my opinion. Having the chance to talk, listen and learn from leaders in this industry such as yourself was the highlight of the meeting for me. It would be worth the trip to just spend the time in the hallways and lounge talking over a drink with all you guys.

"I liked the question and answer portion of the meetings more than anything else. Talking with the vendors at the booths was a fantastic opportunity to get acquainted with different companies or with people we already work with but hadn't had the chance to meet.

"I will do everything possible to attend future events such as this and recommend to everyone who's never been to do the same next time. It's the best investment you can make in your future and so much fun meeting everyone."

- Neil

"The SEAA was a good show, the trade show floor was much better than last year's. I got to meet with vendors and talk with them. I learned some new things about checks and made some good contacts. The presenters in the other room were not very well attended.

"It seemed more people were outside. Ed, your talk was good; American Express made a good presentation. The check panel was o.k. The motivational speaker was very good. "I wish that some of the presentations on checks or whatever the subjects were more sales oriented, but I guess no one wants to give out secrets??? How to sell some of these products would be a better topic or how to network.

"Overall it was the third time I have been to this event, and I will keep attending them and the ETA. I missed the NAOPP meeting, and I hope that it works. The concept is good."

- cc guy, South Florida

"I attended both [meetings] last week in Orlando, and they were both outstanding. In my opinion, the SEAA has a lot of great speakers, including yourself, and great interaction with vendors and the initial NAOPP meeting was very well organized and informative. Keep up the great work to all involved."

- jcreegan, Boca Raton, Florida

If there was anything negative to report about the SEAA conference, it was that there were not many MLSs in attendance at the breakout sessions and educational meetings. The vendor hall was packed, but why weren't the general sessions?

Overall, though, the SEAA meeting was a fabulous, informative well-organized event with good sponsorship. All the vendors with whom you need to work and establish relationships were present to help educate MLSs. The problem was that not enough of you showed up to take advantage of this opportunity.

Are you out there? Are you hearing me? I have said it before, and I'll say it again: You can lead MLSs to water, but you can't make them drink.

One of the primary purposes of this column is to inform MLSs. But since some of you are not listening, let me say it one more time: Attend these types of events! I commend those of you who do attend, but I will continue to remind you until all MLSs hear my words and act on them.

As I have stated in the past regarding the MWAA meeting (and it certainly holds true for the SEAA and NAOPP meetings), it is admirable that industry leaders are going out of their way to make events like these possible.

They have responded to a common wish among MLSs, which is a need for locally hosted trade shows, conferences and training events with great vendors and great speakers.

The vendors are seriously looking for opportunities to meet with the people who drive the business, namely the Merchant Level Salesperson. It is evident that vendors are willing to provide the resources to make these events really worthwhile. But if you do not show up, these types of opportunities will disappear.

To stay ahead of the curve and achieve success, MLSs need to stay informed about new products and services available in the marketplace, at least on a semi-annual or annual basis. The only way to achieve this is to attend these conferences. If you don't heed this advice, your business will slip while your competitor's business will grow.

The next SEAA event is scheduled for the end of October 2004 in Atlanta. All of the details will be posted on their Web site: www.southeastacquirers.com.

As far as the NAOPP meeting, the highlight for me was that this organization has gotten off the ground. If you are a MLS and are not cheering, read on.

NAOPP's mission statement is clear: "This organization shall exist for all those selling in the payment processing industry by providing education, benefits, liaison/representation and certification."

As stated on the NAOPP Web site, in the payment processing industry, the delivery of products and services to merchants depends on MLSs. For those who know what it's like to sell and service payment products, NAOPP is your new voice.

While existing associations are geared to product vendors and manufacturers, MLSs have formed NAOPP for their own benefit.

Anyone involved directly in selling and servicing merchant accounts realizes that within the sales organization, there is often a "disconnect" between the sales force at the street level and the decision makers at the top. NAOPP intends to help bridge the gap between the two groups.

The organization believes, as do I, that a better-educated MLS will provide merchants with better service, reduce ISO training costs and submit higher-quality business to leasing companies and processors.

Have you joined NAOPP yet? If not, why? Membership costs only $25. Go to www.NAOPP.com right now, and sign up. Remember, there is strength in numbers. Let's see how many of us can unite and make a positive impact on this industry.

As always, I'd love to hear from you. Please send your feedback on this topic (and any others) to streetsmarts@totalmerchantservices.com. My next column will discuss running advertisements in The Green Sheet-what works and what doesn't.

Please continue to look for my posts on The Green Sheet MLS Forum. I welcome all of your responses and will include them in future columns.

"A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

- United Negro College Fund, Inc.

I'll see you next time where the rubber meets the road.

Ed Freedman is founder and President/CEO of Total Merchant Services, one of the fastest-growing credit card merchant account acquirers in the nation. Ed is the driving force behind all business development activity as well as the execution of Total Merchant Services' marketing plan, including recruiting and training independent sales offices and establishing strategic alliance partnerships with leading vendors, so that Total Merchant Services can provide its customers with the highest quality and most reliable services available.

To learn more about Total Merchant Services, visit www.totalmerchantservices.com. To learn more about partnering with Total Merchant Services, visit www.upfrontandresiduals.com or contact Ed directly at ed@totalmerchantservices.com

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