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Street SmartsSM: The Mind of the MLS

By Ed Freedman

My goal for a new series of columns is to expose what is really going on in the minds of people part of a unique and intriguing group-merchant level salespeople.

Join me as we explore what MLSs think about and what weighs heavily on their minds. We'll discuss day-to-day challenges and relevant thoughts. By delving into the inner workings of the MLS mind, "Street Smarts" hopes to put a strong finger on the pulse of MLSs and track the issues they deal with in today's challenging marketplace.

That being said, I posted the following on the MLS Forum:

My next series of "Street Smarts" columns will focus on the "Mind of the MLS." So, tell me, what's really on your mind? What concerns you? What topics would you like to see discussed? What issues need to be talked about?

As expected, the response was overwhelming and revealed a lot about the mind of the MLS. Here's just a sampling:

"We believe the most important issues facing ISOs and sales reps today are declining margins and merchant attrition. The days of large, up-front lease commissions are over, and our business models need to revolve around long-term portfolio building.

"This is getting more and more difficult as merchants perceive our products as commodities. To build your portfolio, you must provide a better product and service than your competitor, yet at an equal or better price. It is very difficult to provide the best service at the lowest price." -ecom "In some ways, I think the concerns of the MLS depend on where they are in their [business] developmental stage. New MLSs are probably concerned with leads and survival.

"Once a person progresses to where he/she can create new business, the concern shifts to 'Will my ISO or acquirer pay me? Is there a better deal out there? If I leave, will I get cut off? Will my ISO sell and leave me in the gutter?' (Has anyone noticed that since NAOPP started, there haven't been any blatant reports of MLSs being cut off? Coincidence?)

"Just like the stock market, I think the MLS (investor) has to weigh the risk (above concerns) with return (commission percentages, buy rates). I think once you get over the last set of concerns, you end up where I feel I am as an MLS...I think, 'How long will this incredible career be available?' I hope my concern is baseless." -Desdinova

"Here is my Top 10 list of what could be decision factors, concerns and/or needs for the MLS:

  1. Competitive buy rates and commissions
  2. Protecting residual portfolio for life
  3. Agent support
  4. How the customers are treated by the ISO
  5. Experience and leadership from the ISO
  6. Flexible and more product offerings such as value-added products to be competitive
  7. Quality training, how to sell
  8. Leads
  9. Marketing and advertising
  10. Survival

"Today, ISOs are providing, at a basic level, equipment, services, underwriting, deployment, merchant support-and that is it. I believe the Top 10 list above is the next level of support that may be lacking, and it's what the individual sales agents on the streets need most. "Some start their careers in the bankcard industry not knowing where to start and what to do next...The industry has changed over the past five years; it is more competitive now." -rhendrix76

"I don't want to lose my residuals. As long as I don't do something that puts the ISO bank at risk, like something stupid or illegal, I should not have to worry about the residuals. I don't want to compete with the ISO I rep for. I don't want my ISO to have a call center in another country. I don't want to have to make money on equipment...This is a great business. I hope there is always room for small players." -bankcardrep1

"If we slowly amass a nice sized portfolio, will we be rewarded financially, and why do we have to bring it all in month after month? Why don't we have our own ISO and get 50% of our MLS money? How much of the 50% kept by the ISO is profit? Are we ever going to get cut off? What residual payment can we rely on for retirement, or do we also have to make a 401K contribution?

"Will our family inherit our hard work, or will it die with us? If ISOs have one owner, what will happen after they die? Will our merchants get taken care of properly so they stay? We bring the money to the ISOs; we could send it anywhere we please. So, we should be treated with a similar rule that the customer is always right and not feel bad when we have to pass on a merchant complaint or to ask for a better share" -maketelinc Interesting responses. I agree with Desdinova. I think the working of the mind of the MLS depends on which stage of business you are in. MLSs just getting started are largely concerned with how to generate leads and their own basic survival.

You can see from these posts that as MLSs progress, their concerns shift toward making sure they get paid, holding on to their residuals, and signing up with the best compensation program all to ensure long-term financial security.

Do we just think about the big picture, or do we also "sweat the small stuff"? What about the day-to-day minutiae that flood our thoughts? What's on the mind of the MLS on any given day?

To find answers to these questions, I went back to The GS Online's MLS Forum on May 5, 2004 to open a window into the mind of the MLS. Here's what I found that particular day:

"Can I set the password from MMDD to what I want it to be? Like any four digit code?" -nurit

"Does anyone know someone who can sell 50 new Nurit 2085 for cheap?" -jmartin

"How much do you want for them?" -jenglish "I need to buy them!" -jmartin "What is your 'desired' buy price...How cheap is cheap?" -empire

"I'm looking for about $219... is this unreasonable for the amount I'm buying?" -jmartin

"Yes. 10,000 unit pricing from Lipman direct is nowhere near that price. $219 is realistic for factory refurbished, but not new." -ubc "Hello, My merchant wants password protection when he does refunds and reports. Is there a way to do that at the terminal end? Thanks." -Joe

"If memory serves me right, you press 'Menu/ESC'...then '2' for merchant parameters...then '2' for security level, and you can set levels for different operations. I don't think you can set a password if that is what they want, but they can use the default-the date backwards." -rick.johnson "I am trying to reprogram a customer-owned 3750, and the normal 1 AA password does not work. The processor gave me a second one to try, and nothing. Any 3750 guru's know how to blow out the memory?" -guru

"Try 1-6-6-8-3-1 without the Alphas." -empire

"Nope... it flashes the VMAC screen, then goes back to the loaded applications' main menu. Thanks for the suggestion, though." -guru

"Try 53664337 or 5364337." -brett

"Thank you all for your responses. Here is the answer (at least in this instance) press '1.' I love this forum!" -guru It's obvious that we all have work to do every day and can't always concern ourselves with big-picture issues. What may not be as obvious is that at the end of the day, you're not alone with your thoughts.

Instead of feeling like you're the only one plagued with worries over how to get a reasonably priced terminal or how to reprogram equipment, visit the MLS Forum to find support and solutions to your immediate problems. There you can see how many others think the same way you do.

Isn't it interesting that on any given day, MLSs are confronted with similar issues? To say you are a group of like-minded individuals is an understatement. MLSs are all fighting the same battles and thinking the same thoughts. When it comes to the mind of the MLS, it would appear it's not just about "I want to get paid" or "I want to get leads" or "who pays the best"-it's also about getting through the daily workload.

But the best part about the mind of the MLS that I determined from taking the pulse of the feet on the street is the MLSs' desire to help one another. We all have similar hopes and concerns but the common thread that I see in reading the MLS Forum posts, and meeting with and speaking to MLSs all over the country, is the desire to help others improve and succeed.

If this continues, I see a bright future for all those involved in this phenomenal industry. As Zig Ziglar, one of my favorite authors, said, "You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want."

On a separate note, I'd like to remind all of you hardworking MLSs that Paul Green and The Green Sheet have agreed to buy the first year's membership to the National Association of Payment Professionals (NAOPP) for every reader who sends in a success story to me at StreetSmarts_Feedback@greensheet.com.

Tell me and other MLSs how something you gleaned from a "Street Smarts" article lead you to a success, and just by sending in the story, you get a free one-year paid membership to NAOPP!

Paul also offered a one-time paid conference fee to the regional conference of choice to the MLS who is selected each month as having the best success story.

And what would a contest be without a grand prize? For the best story received in 2004, the winner will be awarded a fully paid trip to the 2005 ETA Annual Meeting and Expo, including hotel, airfare and registration fees. This is your opportunity to give something back. I look forward to reading your success stories.

As of press time, I have yet to decide the topic for the next column. Let's call it the "surprise column" for now. You will need to visit the MLS Forum to see what's on the mind of Mr. Street Smarts.

As always, I'd love to hear your opinion on this column or any other topic. Please send your feedback to streetsmarts@totalmerchantservices.com.

"The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly."
- Buddha

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 Web site 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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