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GS Advisory Board:
The Support is There!

One of the most common gripes from ISOs/MLSs is the "lack of training and support" available in the industry. I've addressed the plethora of seminars and materials available from associations and independent sources in a previous article ("No MLS Left Behind," The Green Sheet, Dec. 8, 2003, issue 03:12:01).

In November 2003, I went to our Advisory Board for input, asking our industry experts how they support the independent sales channel. The questions were:

  1. What training opportunities do you offer to your independent sales team?
  2. Does the training you offer your direct sales employees differ from what you offer ISOs/MLSs?
  3. What sales support materials do you make available to ISOs/MLSs?
    • Business cards
    • Lay-by cards
    • Product spec sheets
    • Brochures
    • Agreements
    • List any other materials you provide
  4. Do you charge ISOs/MLSs for training or sales materials?
  5. How often do you proactively contact ISOs/MLSs (on average)?
  6. Do you offer leads or telemarketing support to ISOs/MLSs?
  7. Do you publish an in-house newsletter for your ISO/MLS reps?
  8. Do you support, or would you consider supporting, your ISOs/MLSs through subsidies for conference attendance to the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA), regional acquirers' association meetings and /or the National Association of Payment Professionals (NAOPP)?

A number of the Advisory Board members took time to answer this inquiry in detail. Thank you for participating in this research. I think the complaint of a lack of support is a matter of being unable to "see the forest for the trees."

Training Opportunities Offered

The product, service and sales training available to independents and direct employees runs the gamut from teleconferences, in-house seminars, interactive Web sites, CDs and videos. While a few organizations focus on partnering only with experienced sales representatives, "education" is a hot buzzword right now.

Tony Abruzzio, GO Software, said, "We offer reseller training six to eight times per year at various geographic locations, often to correspond with reseller-heavy events like ETA, SEAA, etc. The training is a one-day course that covers how to identify a software lead, how to sell it (or how to turn it over to us so that we can sell it for the reseller, if he/she is not comfortable), etc. We also cover the tools that we have available to make it easy to sell software as a solution.

"If a reseller requests [it], we will conduct training on the Web, or we will go on-site to a sales meeting or company event. We plan to include regular online training sessions in our 2004 schedule to accommodate our resellers whose hectic schedules prevent them from participating in our face-to-face sessions."

Bob Carr, Heartland Payment Systems, said, "We provide a New Hire Orientation and substantial training to all of our relationship managers and sales managers. We pay for each person to come to the Heartland Service Center and provide two days of orientation on Heartland's culture and business philosophies, training and sales tools, a tour of our operations center and training on interchange, pricing and rates plus training on various equipment models.

"We also have a three day Annual Meeting with training sessions on products, services, awards and contests and companywide interaction with over 700 people attending in our most recent meeting this past October. In addition we have the Heartland Leadership Academy including Boot Camp and advanced training on products and business techniques for sales staff and all managers."

Steve Christianson, TranspayUSA, said the company focuses on hiring experienced sales professionals; the organization does not offer 'sales' training. "...We do a minimum of eight hours industry background and education, along with detail on application writing, price quoting and an overview of the other products we sell or service. Depending upon the situation, this can be done in our offices, at the IC remote office or by teleconference."

Russ J. Goebel, Retriever Payment Systems, has an extensive program on ongoing education. He summed it up as, "...Training is a process not an event.

"We utilize a multi-prong training strategy. When a sales office chooses to partner with Retriever we bring all sales offices to our corporate offices in Houston where we thoroughly cover our internal sales and operating procedures.

"During this initial training we offer a seminar on building a sales office where we cover hiring, training and motivating commissioned sales reps. Discussions also include the evolution and understanding of the credit card industry and the sales process. We also cover and present insight on how successful existing sales offices run their business."

"In addition, we travel around the country throughout the year and hold what we call Retriever Road Shows. At these training seminars we have Divisional Managers of our various product lines conduct product and sales training. We cover the in's and out's of selling electronic check conversion, gift/loyalty card and leasing. We also hold seminars during these road shows on how to sell and secure Agent Banks that in return make our sales offices extremely successful."

Jared Isaacman, United Bank Card, Inc. (UBC), said UBC is very focused on training. He stated, "[UBC] has always been very proactive when it comes to training our ISO and agent partners. A lot of the effort we put into education can be seen regularly posted on The Green Sheet forums and in articles in The Green Sheet publication.

"Some of the most effective training and relationship building is done face-to-face at industry events or at United Bank Card-hosted events like this year's Sales Conference and Holiday Party. We regularly schedule conference calls and on-site training for our core product and service offerings.

"The relationship United Bank Card has built with our preferred terminal and service vendors is also beneficial to the training programs we provide. There is also an extensive amount of training documentation offered through our Interactive ISO System (IIS)."

Doug McNary, First Data Merchant Services (FDMS)/Cardservice International, explained, "Cardservice offers an intensive three-day new agent training. The training covers the mechanics and details of selling and managing merchant accounts."

Ken Osako, Electronic Exchange Systems (EXS), whose program is another example of an education-centric model. Osako said, "EXS incorporates a comprehensive ISO training strategy as part of our educational services. EXS offers quarterly regional training sessions, with one major training in the middle of the year. This is where we bring all of our ISOs in for live, hands-on training. We also provide monthly Web-conferencing and phone-conferencing training.

"EXS has developed an extensive Intranet that houses all of the presentations, agreements, guides, tutorials and sales materials. We've also begun using dedicated trainers as part of our training strategy. This is where we utilize trainers from our value-added partners. They either organize web-conferences on our behalf, or we have them come out to our offices to provide hands-on training for our agents."

Lisa Shipley, Hypercom Corp., shared this equipment vendor's insight into training: "We offer one-on-one training as well as large group sessions. We also have trouble shooting online [through] our Web site."

J. David Siembieda, CrossCheck, Inc., shared the training philosophy that the company has built over its 20-year history of growth. "We train all of our new offices over the phone and, in many cases, will send a trainer out to a sales office for a face-to-face training with a group of reps. We also do a lot of ongoing trainings that benefit offices with new reps or want information on new technology or services. Our sales support staff works closely with our trainers and can provide answers to many questions."

Dan D. Wolfe, Barons Financial Group, Inc., said, "We are big believers of education. We offer an in-house education program, as well as video or CD education. Our Web site also has a full resource library. We try to make it as easy as possible for our team to find the answers they need to compete. And, of course, each partner has a concierge to give one-on-one immediate help."

Multiple Sales Channels

Very few of the companies represented on our Advisory Board use both independent and direct-employee sales professionals. Those that do find the teams sell in very different environments and target different accounts; however, both need training and support.

Doug McNary, FDMS/Cardservice International, said, "...Our goal is to ensure that every independent sales agent and direct sales employee understands their individual role in providing value to merchants, upholding the company's values and Cardservice's commitment to best practices."

J. David Siembieda, CrossCheck, Inc., said, "The main overall training is the same-same concepts, same details. The main difference is that our direct sales reps are not selling credit cards so the direct trainings do not deal with the great add-on sale that check guarantee provides. Our direct sales employees have the opportunity to participate in our CrossCheck University. This in-house program offers advanced training on some of our specialized premiums."

Support Materials

Most people we surveyed responded that their companies typically provide the basic collateral materials at no charge to the sales reps. What we found most interesting was the diversity of the additional materials. Sales support now regularly includes: PowerPoint demos, interactive Web sites, demo CDs, video- and tele-conferencing, telemarketing scripts and dedicated one-on-one support personnel or "concierge" services.

The overwhelming majority of the respondents said their companies provide all of these support materials and services to ISOs/MLSs at no charge. A few charged for printing collateral materials at cost. The consensus was that supporting the MLS was a necessary cost of doing business, an investment in growth.

Staying in Touch

Your relationship with each and every ISO/MLS representing your products and services is like a romance. The last thing you want to hear is, "You never call me." If the sales agreements have stopped coming in, it's probably too late. He or she has most likely moved on to the next relationship.

Many of the companies represented in this conversation produce periodical newsletters to keep in touch with the sales team. Several advisory board members mentioned contests and incentives as a way to maintain regular contact, beyond the sales proposals and agreements.

Jared Isaacman, United Bank Card, Inc., said, "Communication is essential to the success of an ISO/processor relationship. We make that type of communication possible with our ISOs and agents through sophisticated online systems and industry veteran support staff."

Doug McNary, FDMS/Cardservice International, said, "We provide a monthly newsletter that educates, informs and motivates the agent sales force, while reinforcing the company's values and commitment to best practices.

"As the main point of contact, our regional sales managers and Sales Support department receive all incoming calls from agent offices and are able to assist with any questions or concerns."

Ken Osako, EXS, believes in proactive phone calls and e-mail messages. He said, "We have a dedicated ISO support team that is in contact with our offices on a daily basis. Our marketing department e-mails our ISOs regularly to announce new products, training sessions, Interchange increases and new advancements within the processing industry."

Russ J. Goebel, Retriever Payment Systems, was most emphatic. He said, "We have implemented a proactive contact initiative with our sales offices. We have assigned officers of Retriever to contact our groups PROACTIVELY every day to be sure we have the pulse of our sales offices.

"We want to know what's going on in the industry so we can enhance the Retriever experience."

Meetings and Events

For some companies, namely United Bank Card and Heartland, annual sales gatherings and parties are becoming legendary. Many of the companies surveyed mentioned regional road shows, gatherings and training events.

Most agreed that supporting ISOs/MLSs to attend ETA, Northeast Acquirers' Association (NEAA), Midwest Acquirers' Association (MWAA), Southeast Acquirers' Association (SEAA) and NAOPP meetings was to their advantage.

However, a few did not see an advantage in enabling their reps to meet the competition. If you want to attend an industry event, I suggest that you contact the support personnel at your major vendor, processor or ISO.

Bob Carr, Heartland Payment Systems, replied, "We will [consider supporting ISOs/MLSs through subsidies for conference attendance] if and when the agenda for these meetings is tailored to deliver meaningful information to our sales professionals, which is actionable with today's merchant population."

Steve Christianson, TranspayUSA, said, "We have not offered most of the ICs an opportunity to attend ETA, as ETA is also a prime recruiting ground for ISO management. We will pay for and support any reps that want to become members of NAOPP if they are willing to become certified when that program is in place."

Jared Isaacman, United Bank Card, Inc. said, "Right now United Bank Card is very active in the National Association of Payment Professionals and the regional acquirer shows. We encourage attendance and support of these organizations."

Ken Osako, EXS, said, "Absolutely! Garry O'Neil, our CEO, is on the advisory board of the ETA and is the co-chair of the membership committee. They are actively reviewing modifying the membership policies to enable fair access for all ISOs.

"In addition, Peter Scharnell, our VP Marketing, is on the ETA education committee and Jim White, our EVP Contract Management, is on the ETA Emerging Markets committee.

"We are all voicing our opinions as to how we can ensure that the smaller offices and the independent agents gain access to these organizations and their resources. EXS is also an active vendor/participant at the regional acquirers' association meetings."

J. David Siembieda, CrossCheck, Inc. said, "In the past, we have made it possible for reps to attend ETA meetings and have even flown them [to Calif.] for meetings.

"We are also finding that the regional acquirers' meetings and other industry seminars are great opportunities to get together with our ISOs, and we are now inviting reps to join us at those. We'll be doing more of that in 2004 and reps can find out more about these programs by contacting us."

In closing, I want to share a comment from Keri Golden, Integrated Payments. Golden is an MLS, a regular reader of The Green Sheet and a participant online in The Green Sheet's MLS Forum:

"Great article on 'No MLS Left Behind.' It is true...if you want to know something the information is everywhere. What is disconcerting is the lack of attendance and motivation for learning, researching.

"I have noticed on The Green Sheet [MLS] Forum people just want the answers laid out for them...amazing... a lot of the fun of it is the process of learning because it creates a bigger picture-a basis for understanding."

If you want to succeed in this industry, the support, information and opportunity are available. To borrow a line from Nike, "Just Do It!"

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