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Street SmartsSM:
The Best Investment: You!

By Ed Freedman

Of all the veterans in our business, I believe no one is more knowledgeable and generous than Joe Kaplan, President of Innovative Merchant Solutions (IMS), an Intuit company. A five minute conversation with him always proves rewarding for me.

In fact, the last time we spoke, he expressed enthusiasm about the steps Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) was taking to focus more on merchant level salespeople (MLSs). So of course I convinced Joe to write a guest column for "Street Smarts" in order to tell us about ETA's efforts.

Joe began his bankcard career in 1990 as a sales representative at Cardservice International (CSI). In 1992, he became Manager of the National Sales and Marketing Division of CSI. By 1994, Joe had increased the company's total credit and debit card new accounts volume by over 600%.

Believing first that service organizations are built by providing the best customer service in the industry, he started his own organization, Superior Bankcard Service (SBS) in November 1994.

His philosophy paid off because in less than one year SBS became the 12th largest non-bank acquirer in the United States.

Joe left SBS one year after the merger with publicly traded Nova Corporation, in September 1999 and opened the doors of IMS, a full service bankcard acquirer, with the same excellent business principles that made SBS a success.

His attention to detail and the emphasis on quality customer service are the hallmarks that continue to bring Joe the success he has experienced in the past.

In 2003 IMS merged with financial software leader, Intuit, Inc. Under Joe's guidance, both companies have worked together to emerge as a force to be reckoned with in the bankcard industry.

Offering payment systems that are integrated with well known accounting software has revolutionized how customers perceive payment processing.

The service that IMS provides is now more of a business management solution rather than just a payment processing solution.

I am proud to present Joe Kaplan's guest column.

Dear Ed:

I read "Street Smarts" all the time, and I'm a big supporter of the knowledge and service that you bring to the "feet on the street" through your column. You consistently seek to educate, empower and help MLSs to be more effective at their jobs.

Like you, I have dedicated my career to the development of ISOs and MLSs in the merchant acquiring industry. I've led or built several companies for this express purpose and remain a staunch advocate for ISOs and MLSs.

I'm also a long time supporter and advocate of ETA and currently serve as the Treasurer on its Board of Directors. I'm proud of ETA's long-term contributions to the payments industry and in particular, its commitment to the success of ISOs.

The ETA was formed by and for ISOs and remains dedicated to that mission today. In fact, my purpose for writing to "Street Smarts" is to make your readers aware of some of the things that ETA is undertaking in order to serve their needs.

As we've discussed for years, the sales organization is the engine that drives our industry. Without effective merchant-level sales, the supply chain would be broken and the system would not work for ISOs, processors or banks.

So, while individual MLSs are not members of ETA (the membership is comprised of companies, not individuals, in the industry), they are integral to the success of both ETA member companies as well as the electronic payments industry.

Later you will see how we've worked hard to recognize those individuals who play an instrumental role in the industry by giving them a voice and the ability to participate in the association.

Knowledge Is Power

One of the most important ETA efforts is ETA University, also known as ETAU. In the simplest terms, ETAU is a comprehensive education program designed to address every segment of the payments system.

ETAU has five "colleges" or areas of study that address the core elements of the merchant acquiring business: sales and marketing, technology, operations and general studies, which provide an introductory view of all of these areas, and executive studies which focuses on business strategy and management skills.

Currently, courses are offered classroom style in a four-hour format and held in conjunction with ETA meetings. However, we're also working on development of a Web-based distance-learning platform for these classes so that we can increase access and ease of use.

Development of a professional certification program associated with each area of expertise is also under consideration.

ETAU is intended to set industry standards and increase productivity for those who work within it. An educated sales force can deliver value to customers by putting in the extra time to educate merchants on payment processing procedures and by providing merchants with customized programs that address their bankcard processing needs.

Quality customer service begins with a front-line sales team that can more effectively service the customer by teaching clients about processing procedures such as chargeback prevention.

MLSs can no longer survive by selling payment solutions alone. They need to offer a wider array of products and services to the savvy consumers and address the challenges of the modern entrepreneur. Offering value-based vs. price-based services is becoming more important in the market today.

The more adept a salesperson is at conveying the value of a service, rather than selling on price alone, the more successful and versatile that sales person will be.

Being able to better serve your customers because you understand the business and services you provide is priceless. It's what secures long-term relationships, justifies your offer, increases referrals and mitigates competition.

Taking It to the Streets

As mentioned, ETAU classes are currently offered in conjunction with ETA conferences. However only a few months ago, we launched a whole new series of small meetings called ETA Expo Networks that are specifically designed to bring this education to the MLS and ISO market.

More importantly, these meetings are economically priced and conducted in locations that are suited to MLS' schedules.

Expo Networks offer an informative two-day conference experience to attendees. During day one each person will receive instruction in each of the courses that ETAU offers; the second day is a mixture of general education sessions and an exhibit hall featuring leading product and service providers.

The educational sessions take news, trends and developments and address them through the perspective of the sales agent. Tradeshow vendors bring business leads and ideas on new markets and products that are of interest to the merchant base.

Expo Network meetings were created after years of input from all sectors of the industry. The drive and motivation was to create high quality, accessible educational venues that were geared toward the MLS.

Because the ETA annual meetings are held only once a year and last for a week, they can become cost prohibitive for many smaller organizations and don't meet these requirements.

By contrast, the Expo Networks are short, drive-in events held in various cities throughout the country (i.e. San Diego, Dallas, Orlando, Fla., and Chicago) and can be completed in just one day's time.

Best of all, the cost to attend is only $75 for ETA members and $100 for non-members. This is what we like to call taking education and networking to the "feet on the street."

Expo Network meetings have also been created because ETA is a non-profit organization that exists to serve the merchant acquiring industry. Therefore, the delivery of education and the facilitation of trade among members of the industry are its core purposes.

Increasing access to these vital activities by ETA members and by those who work with these companies, the MLS, is the function of the Expo Network meetings.

An Offer You Can't Refuse

As previously mentioned, historically, MLSs were not eligible to be members of ETA because ETA is a trade association comprised solely of other companies that do business in the merchant acquiring industry.

Yet, these very individuals are the ones who benefit most from the services that the association has to offer. Because we firmly believe that input from this sector is vital to the continued growth and success of the industry, ETA has created a new program to give MLSs a voice.

The new Affiliate Service Provider (ASP) program offers individual 1099-sales agents and sole-proprietor ISOs the ability to affiliate with ETA in order to receive benefits from the association.

For a low annual fee of only $165, ASP members receive a one-year subscription to the ETA's monthly publication, access to the "Members Only" section of ETA's Web site and member-level discounts on registration fees to all ETA meetings including the Expo Networks.

In the spring of 2004, ASP participants also received a special one-day registration discount of $185 to ETA's Annual Meeting and Expo.

This special membership has been created specifically to offer maximum benefit with a small investment. These fantastic benefits have been created for the "feet on the street," and I encourage everyone to take advantage of this great opportunity to be affiliated with a prestigious organization that helps drive trends in the industry. Simply put, it's an offer that's difficult to refuse.

Recipe for Success

I began by talking about my history, commitment and passion for our business and for the efficacy and success of the ISO and MLS. And that passion has not dimmed.

We work in an industry that continues to expand exponentially and that still allows and rewards entrepreneurial hard work with enormous returns. Self-made success is an attainable dream. All of the things I described in this article are specifically designed to enable that success.

To your readers, I urge this: I hope that, like me, you will explore, experiment and benefit from the rich repository of resources that ETA has to offer. I can attest to the positive impact of these benefits on my career.

I also invite you to contact me directly with questions, thoughts and comments on anything presented. You can also visit ETA's Web site at for information on all of the association's programs and services.

Good luck and much success!

Joe Kaplan, President
Innovative Merchant Solutions, an Intuit company

Joe's words are right on the money! Like him, I have also benefited from my association with ETA and strongly recommend MLS participation. I think in order to be a successful MLS, you should obtain as much relevant education as possible.

Like Joe, my advice to you, whether you are a new or experienced bankcard rep, is to sign up for at least one of the ETAU programs. It will give you a base of information to really get a handle on how our industry works.

Participating at ETAU will also help those of you who are reluctant to sell new services. Without a strong base of knowledge, doing business in 2005 might become confusing. You'll find it very difficult to be viewed as an expert in the payment processing arena.

After you acquire a solid base of information, the next step on your educational path will be to obtain more specific information from your ISO.

This is normally done at regional or national conferences sponsored by your ISO partner and designed to educate you on lead generation, successful marketing plans and strategies to sell and market specific products and services that work well with your ISO partner.

It's really a two-step educational process and the best offering right now is found in ETA initiatives. I strongly recommend you take full advantage of this opportunity. Don't be held back because you think you know everything or, even worse, you're too lazy.

Joe did not become a leader in this industry with those attitudes. You won't become the next Joe Kaplan unless you start by taking his good advice to heart.

My next column will check in, once again, on the mind of the MLS. Look for my next post on GS Online's MLS Forum. As always, your opinions are important to me and to this column.

Please send any feedback on this topic and any other issue to . Be sure to include your name and company if you want to be recognized. Your voice needs to be heard!

"The ancient Greek definition of happiness was the full use of your powers along lines of excellence."
- John F. Kennedy

See you next time where the rubber meets the road.

Ed Freedman is founder and President/Chief Executive Officer of Total Merchant Services, one of the fastest-growing credit card merchant account acquirers in the nation. Freedman 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 To learn more about partnering with Total Merchant Services, visit or contact Freedman directly at

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