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Street SmartsSM:
All For One...and One For All?

Loyalty. We see it in every facet of our lives: in our spouses, our family members, our friends, even our pets. Do we see it in our industry? Is there loyalty among Merchant Level Salespeople (MLSs)? This is a question that keeps owners and recruiters of ISOs tossing and turning all night. I wanted to hear what you, the hardworking MLS, had to say for yourself, so I posted the following on The Green Sheet's MLS Forum:

"Let's talk MLS loyalty. Is there such a thing in our industry? Hardworking, successful MLSs ask a lot from their ISO partners, and many ISOs deliver. So why do MLSs still send their business to several different places? Why do you keep trying new programs if you are happy with your primary provider?"

As expected, the response was dramatic:

"I think that MLS loyalty does exist in our industry-although it is sometimes hard to find, and most MLSs do tend to have more than one source for their processing. In addition, I think that it would be fair to say that most MLSs do try several different programs when they first start before they finally 'settle in' with their preferred processor. Part of the reason for this is that one ISO's strength may complement another ISO's weakness. Naturally, there are some reps who constantly jump from program to program, just as there are merchants who jump from one rate down to the next slightly lower one...but I would be willing to bet that the majority of the best sales producers find an ISO program that they feel very comfortable and secure in and stick with for the majority of their deals."

-Chris West, CDGcommerce

"Ed, I think the majority of MLSs either are loyal or would be if they found the right ISO. Unfortunately, many of us have been burned at least once and now are skeptical of the promises made in the advertisements. If we do stay in the business long enough to find an ISO we feel comfortable giving our loyalty, we still need alternative sources from time to time. If you, as an ISO, or we, as MLSs, give our complete trust and loyalty to all, not expecting to be burned, we both will get burned, right? You learn from your bad experiences with MLSs and try to protect your company, and the same is true with the MLSs. It is unfortunate, but a lot of us have been burned more than once and now fear putting all our eggs in one basket."

-STILL SMOKIN, Neil Mink

"I am very loyal. I have been sending 90+% of my business to the same place since I have been in business, and I have been rewarded with paid training to their location. They paid for my partner and me to go to the ETA in Las Vegas and met with us there; they increased our percentage we get and they work with us to help us sign large merchant accounts. "There is [still] the 10% that they will not do, and we have to either not write that business or send it somewhere else. We have 3 other sources that we use. We will not turn down any legitimate business. Overall, being loyal to our primary partner has paid off Big Time!!! Hats off to them for being there for us, and we have been through some rough times with them-conversions, changing paper work over and over-but they stuck by us, and we stuck with them through it all. "

-cc guy

"We have worked with the same processing vendor since 1994. Our relationships work due to a mutual understanding of this industry, and a mutual loyalty we have built with our vendors. We look at 5 - 6 new ISO programs every year, and have yet to find one better."

-ecom

"Still green...3 years in [this] business, but in my own retail store most of my life. Love this business...get paid and have time to enjoy family. First experience was bad: too far down the food chain, lied too, no residuals and bad customer service. No wonder some don't make it. Not a quitter, I learned from it and found a bigger co., but not the biggest. All business goes there, but I will always have back up I can jump into. "

-bankcardrep1

"Most MLSs that have been around for sometime have had an experience with an ISO that is less than perfect. Many ISOs choose to focus more on bringing the new MLS to the table, rather than taking care of the ones they found yesterday. Today's merchant services climate is a 'What have you done for me lately?' business, and when the last deal was snagged in the approval process, or the last two phone messages to the sales support team have not been returned, the MLS moves on to the greener side of the fence. "Moreover, this is due to the real underlying issue; equipment sales drive MLSs. The average MLS has not become astute to the art of account profitability over the long haul, which in turn means they have little or nothing to loose by moving on or playing the mix of ISOs."

-Tim Christman, Nexus Payment Systems, Inc.

"I have been in the business for six years, and for the first five I jumped from one ISO to the other. What I found is a lot of garbage out there; however persistence does pay off. I finally found an ISO that is fair, honest and goes above and beyond for me and my customers. I can always call my rep to get a question answered or a deal done. She is always accessible as are the 'techies.' My residuals are paid on time and never missed. What was spelled out in the contract is what I receive. Are they perfect? No, but they get all my business because of the way they treat me and my customers. They've got me, and they will keep me and the business I give them because of this. Hope this helps."

-John Miller

"In my opinion, loyalty is achieved based on the processor's management team, the internal support people and the relationships that they build. All the other things that are expected such as residuals, applications, processing, etc. are a given. "When the people at the top that wooed you to write for them become inaccessible, that is usually when things start to go downhill."

-Siggy, Florida

Here's my take on MLS loyalty...

First, I think MLSs ask and expect more from their ISO partners than ever before...and rightly so. Many ISOs are stepping up and meeting the challenge. Even so, I find it interesting that many MLSs said they didn't want to put all their eggs in one basket.

Obviously, you shouldn't send any business to an ISO that you feel could potentially burn you. Don't send even one deal to a provider like that because there are enough good ISOs out there to successfully handle your business. There are also many "super ISOs" that will provide you with everything you need to succeed.

I do appreciate it when MLSs say they want to work with several providers because they got burned in the past. Their logic is: "If I work with three providers, they're not all going to stop paying me at the same time." However, our industry has matured, and the treatment of MLSs has improved dramatically. You will be treated fairly and with loyalty if you work with the right type of company.

Even with the availability of "super ISOs" or a company that has a long-term track record for managing and withstanding credit losses, paying commissions in a timely manner, providing great service and support to you and your merchants, some MLSs still object with: "Okay, but what happens if I'm not dealing with Ed Freedman anymore, for example? What happens if someone buys your company? I see this happen all the time."

My answer to them is simple: "Don't worry." You just need to have been dealing with Ed Freedman at the time you signed your agreement because that agreement is always going to protect your monthly residual income. There are so many ways to benefit from keeping all of your business with one provider and being loyal to that provider. I agree with many of your comments -that loyalty pays huge dividends for years.

Today, my company does 100% of all of our business with Global Payments for credit/debit card processing and check conversion/guarantee services; we work with CIT for leasing and TASQ Technology for equipment distribution. Are they perfect? No. But who is? At times they can be a challenge to work with, but we are loyal and that loyalty pays off.

When things go wrong, they work hard to address our problems. At this point, we are such a big partner that we are in an unprecedented position of strength. And we get more in return because of our loyalty.

From your feedback, I've gathered that your biggest issue of concern is the protection of your monthly residual compensation. Your solution has been to spread out your business to several providers. I have to say that I understand the concern, but I totally disagree with this solution. In my opinion, the more residuals you have with an organization, the better chance you have of not getting burned.

Regarding loyal MLSs: We work with every type of sales partner-from individuals doing five deals a month to businesses doing 50, 75 or 100 plus deals a month. The most successful MLSs have one primary provider to which they send 90+% of their credit card processing, leasing and equipment purchasing business.

Why? They get treated better: better deals, better service, better help with special needs, better support with risk management. When a company is comfortable with you and your accounts, it is less likely to place your accounts on reserve or shut them down when your merchants start processing beyond their approved parameters.

Go back to the beginning. Before you send another deal to your current provider or before you select a new provider, consider the following:

  • ISO Partner - Select one that has a solid, long-term track record of success.
  • Agreement - Negotiate a good contract that protects your residual income for the life of the merchants.
  • Win-Win - Negotiate a fair compensation program for all parties. Otherwise, these relationships will not last, and you will not reap benefits such as better service, better support and ultimately better residual income.
  • Scale - Becoming a loyal partner will make you valuable to the ISO/MSP. This will ensure that you receive great deals, great service and great support.
  • Foundation - Build your portfolio on a solid foundation. Be a good partner to your ISO partner and watch the relationship blossom.
Bottom line: Take my advice. Go out there and model your business after the really successful MLSs in our industry-the ones earning $200K - $400K per year. You think there's no one making that kind of money right now in the same business you're in? Trust me, there is. I'm sending out the payments on a monthly basis, and I see their 1099 forms. It's for real. And these people all have one thing in common-they are our most loyal MLS partners.

Now, on to my next column. The year is coming to an end, and New Year's resolutions are in order. I'd love to hear what resolutions you plan to make to improve your business in 2004. Please look for my post: "MLS New Year's Resolutions" on The Green Sheet's MLS Forum. I guarantee this column will be a must-read.

"When you're part of a team, you stand up for your teammates. Your loyalty is to them. You protect them through good and bad, because they'd do the same for you." -Yogi Berra

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 the website at 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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