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Street SmartsSM:
Checking In on the Mind of the MLS

By Ed Freedman

Checking In on the Mind of the MLS

A few months ago in "Street Smarts," I showcased the first in a new series of columns titled "The Mind of the MLS" (The Green Sheet, May 24, 2004, issue 04:05:02). Designed to examine and monitor the thoughts and concerns that weigh heavily on you, hardworking merchant level salespeople (MLSs), that introductory column revealed that the stage of business you are in usually dictates what's on your mind.

The last column revealed that those of you just starting out often focus on leads and basic survival tactics. Those of you with more experience in this industry are more concerned with sustaining income and ensuring financial security over the long term.

But no matter what's on your mind, the common thread is a desire to support one another through the sharing of information.

To bring you this second installment of "The Mind of the MLS," I recently checked in with you, the "feet on the street," to see the latest issues on your minds. On Oct. 25, 2004 I visited GS Online's MLS Forum to view the discussions taking place that day.

Some of the topics discussed included software programs, check processing services and Internet gateway providers. Following are some of the comments from the MLS Forum:

Topic 1: Software Programs

"I've outsourced a couple of functions to my mom and brother. Here is what I need: My mom will be doing the new application processing from her home, and I need a way to have a status report online. I already get too much e-mail and would prefer an online way to give her the information she needs and to be able to see her progress on any give application at any time without e-mail communication.

"Same for my brother who will be doing customer retention phone calls. Preferably something that can be integrated with ACT! 6.0, if possible. Any ideas? I also need an in-house commission and residual reporting system. What are some options? Of course, like many of you, I can't afford an IT department nor do I have money to throw at development. An affordable 'off the shelf' and 'ACT! integration compatible' solution is what I really need. Your help would be greatly appreciated." - tazman

"Well, I am looking for the same thing, so if anybody out there could help with any information on how to solve this problem, it would be greatly appreciated." - larry@merchantusa.net

"Funny how things go, because I was looking for the same thing last week. Looks like this is the way to go because now everyone can have access to the same database via the Web and work with it together.

"Visit this Web site: www.salesnexus.com/salesnexus/management_reports.asp. Hope this helps." - rbelcher

"Taz, you might also take a look at SalesForce.com: www.salesforce.com/products/sales-force-automation.jsp ." - Mike Fisher

"Thanks. I've looked at SalesForce.com before; however, I think salesnexus is more what I am looking for. Thanks for your help. Saved me a bunch of hours of research." - tazman

Topic 2: Check Processing Services

"This is from the what it's worth department. EChex has signed a contract with Paymentech to acquire merchants for CC processing. I use them for my check processing, and I have to admit that I am a little concerned. I may have to make a switch to a different check processor." - JFK

"They are not the first. GETI is a part of Verus, which is a credit card processor. As long as they keep one business separate from another, it shouldn't matter." - AlphaCard

Topic 3: Internet Gateway Providers

"What gateway do you recommend? What are the costs involved?" - makebuckswithme

"Gateways are kind of tricky. They all have their strong and weak points. It all depends on what your merchant is planning on using it for. Some of the questions you need to know are:

  • Is this a Web store with a shopping cart?
  • Are they going to use the virtual terminal?
  • Will they be integrating this with another application? (These include accounting/customer tracking systems.)
  • What operating system are they using?
  • If it's a Web site, are they hosting it or having someone else host it?
  • How many transactions is the merchant going to be doing per month? (Some gateways are cheap to set up, but expensive on the per transaction.)
  • Do they want ACH and debit capabilities or just credit cards? (Some gateways can do swiped transactions.)
  • What kind of account is it? (Retail, MO/TO, lodging, e-commerce?) Some gateways are good, but only certified for e-commerce.
  • Will they need a wireless system for the gateway?
  • What processor (First Data, Global, NOVA, etc.) do you use for your merchants?

"If you can get these answered, I can point you to a couple you might like." - MCG2 "E-Processing is the BEST. They don't compete with us! They don't sell merchant accounts! Steve Sotis is the BEST!" - ccguy

"Plug 'n Pay has always been a good system and responsive to inquiries. Their pricing allows you to make money, and they have a nice online reseller area. A good contact there is Will Dunkak. I have heard that Skipjack has an easy and inexpensive program, but have not used them. I think Authorize.net is a solid program, but they are expensive and have been hit lately with a lot of [denial of service] DOS attacks." - Madison

"Authorize.net is my #1 seller. Works with just about any off-the-shelf e-commerce application available today. User friendly. Pays residuals on time every month. I've been with them since 1999. No complaints. Plug 'n Pay is #2. Plug 'n Pay is well suited for those needing membership management or digital product delivery and control." - tazman

"One of my merchants e-mailed me this link earlier today: http://freeauthnet.com/rates.html." - renrod Following are my thoughts on the topics discussed above. Regarding the issue of software programs, I recommend that you check with your ISO providers.

Their IT departments can provide good advice or simply the information you need, including status on your pending deals, approval reports, account lists with contact information and residual reporting for sub-reps.

At Total Merchant Services, we've helped many of our sales partners with special requests such as these, and we've never charged a dime for advice or assistance. There's nothing like free help from your business partner.

On the subject of check services, there are many check service providers, gift card and loyalty companies and prepaid application providers that will eventually figure out that they need to start offering credit and debit card processing.

There's simply not enough money in being a stand-alone provider, and it's hard to ignore all of the money to be made in our business. Personally, I had the same concerns. That's why I partnered with Global Payments Inc. to handle all of our check processing business since we already work with this company for our credit and debit card processing. I had no interest in giving my competitors my customers' information and possibly have them handle my customer support issues. Remember, you need to do what your comfort level dictates.

Finally, regarding Internet gateways, I agree with the recommendations stated in the MLS' comments above. Authorize.net is ideal for "plain vanilla" situations. Plug 'n Pay is great to use for special requests such as recurring billing and other specialized programs that some merchants need. And VeriSign is wonderful for large processing merchants.

Always review a shopping cart program and whether it can automatically be tied to the gateway provider. Additionally, you need to examine other services the merchant might need such as recurring billing, fraud screening and high volume transaction processing. Once you assimilate all of this information from the merchant, do the research and go back to them with a specific recommendation. You'll give the right answer and have happy merchants for many years to come.

Isn't it interesting that on any given day, so many of you are confronted with such similar issues? Many of you fight the same battles and think the same thoughts. When it comes to the mind of the MLS, it's not only about "I want to get paid" or "I want to get leads" or "Who pays the best?" but it's also about getting through the daily workload.

From "taking the pulse" of the feet on the street, I determined that the best part about the mind of the MLS is your universal desire to help one another. We all have similar hopes and concerns, but the common thread I see in reading the MLS Forum posts and meeting with and speaking to you all over the country is your desire to help each other improve and succeed.

My hat goes off to those of you making a difference. It's terrific how all of you help each other. If you are not already participating on the MLS Forum, do it today. It's a free service, a great resource, and by logging in once a day, you'll find a wonderful opportunity to get an inside view on what's happening throughout the industry on a daily basis. And you'll find that you are not alone.

My next column will address a very hot topic that all hardworking MLSs should focus on. Keep an eye out for my next post on the MLS Forum.

As always, thanks for your continued support of "Street Smarts." Your voice gives value not only to this column but also to our industry.

"Become addicted to constant and never-ending self improvement." - Anthony J. D'Angelo

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

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.
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