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Street SmartsSM:
The Lighter Side of Selling

By Ed Freedman

We've all heard the adage, "Laughter is the best medicine." No matter what your business, taking time out to smile is sometimes the smartest solution to a problem. Even in the highly competitive and extremely stressful bankcard business, you can find humor.

I've wondered how many merchant level salespeople (MLSs) are fortunate enough to have a good chuckle during their busy days, whether working out in the field or in front of a computer screen.

I know we all take our work seriously, but I wanted to provide the opportunity for everyone to sit back and laugh at some funny stories.

We all have them, so I recently posted the following on The Green Sheet's MLS Forum on GS Online: "As we go through the daily challenges of the bankcard business, plenty of things happen to us, some serious, some not so serious. I'd like to hear about the stuff that makes you laugh.

"We all need a little levity, and what better way than to share amusing sales stories with fellow hardworking MLSs? My next column will highlight your anecdotes as well of some of my more humorous experiences. Let's all take time out to laugh!"

As I suspected, great humor exists in our industry. Here's just a sampling:

"We have a merchant that is a funeral home, and one of our reps was trying to contact the merchant. Well our rep called and called but always got the answering machine. So when the merchant finally picked up the phone, the rep stated, 'It's finally nice to talk to a live person.' Sarcasm is a great ice breaker. [The] merchant thought it was pretty funny." - sales@spectrumadvantage.com

"Compliments of Charlie Ryan when we were working at BA Merchant Services: A preacher calls in and says that he needs a merchant account for a Web site. Charlie asks him, 'What is the product going to be?'

"The preacher tells him that he is going to sell 'thoughts.' Charlie tried to let him down easy, but the preacher came back with, 'But these are really good thoughts!'" - desdinova

"We had a merchant call our office a few days ago wanting to set up an account. Turns out he owns a limo service company. He had installed hidden cameras in the backs of all his limos, and he wanted to sell DVDs of what the hidden cameras caught going on. In his words, 'There [is] some crazy stuff that happens back there.' We declined." - utah997

"I was standing at a Graybar counter waiting for the guy to go get me 12 phone cables for all the terminals I have been selling lately, when I accidentally read the classifieds. The ad under sales said verbatim, 'Our average sales rep makes $7,000 per week.'

"I literally laughed out loud. I did not know who it was, but I told the counter guy I was in the wrong business while I dialed the number. 'Hi, this is E ... with Vericomm, I'll call you right back. For a nine-minute recording, dial XXX.' He did not call right back. I am sure you know the rest of the story." - bankcardrep1

"We received a call from our processor, and they informed us that someone had set up a fraudulent account and they needed more information on it. Apparently this guy had hit numerous processors and had stolen quite a bit of money.

"When we looked into it, it turned out that this merchant had been referring friends to us and collecting a $50 referral fee on each one. So this guy was not the brightest criminal in the book.

"Our processor coordinated things with the Secret Service and the Miami police [department]. They asked us to send another terminal when the merchant referred another account to us. So the next day, when we got an application in from the merchant, we immediately contacted the Secret Service and our processor.

"They asked us to ship the package directly to him, and just give them the tracking number so they could intercept it at the Fed Ex station. We asked the girl who did our shipping at the time to send it out.

"The next day the Miami PD and the Secret Service set up their sting. They sent out an agent dressed as a Fed Ex driver with the package and then got a few officers to surround the house. The problem was that the girl who shipped the package put the wrong address on it and transposed the first two digits. So instead of it going to say, '12 Apple Street,' it went to '21 Apple Street,' which turned out was across the street.

"Now could you imagine the merchant looking out across the street and watching this go down? Apparently when the agent knocked on the door, he was directed back across the street.

"The police and agents then tried to move the sting back across the street with the fraudulent merchant watching. The merchant immediately ran out the back door and called our office.

"It was a five-minute call with him all out of breath swearing and threatening us if we set him up. Pretty stupid on our part, huh? Wait until you hear what the merchant did: He went down to Fed Ex to pick up the package the next day! A Secret Service agent was there to greet him." - ccwarehouse

"We set up a merchant several years ago (high risk) for a merchant account so deceased individuals could contact their loved ones. The merchant is STILL PROCESSING and swears to this day that if I were to use his services my deceased relatives could contact me via phone if they so desired! Needless to say, I have yet to take him up on the offer." - cvcarrero

"[I] had a merchant that called into tech support because his terminal wouldn't work. The rep said, 'Oh, the notes say your terminal and account are frozen; you need to call your ISO's risk department.'

"He then called us, and said he didn't know how his terminal could be frozen, it was at least 70 degrees in his store!" - bankcardgirl

So what's the punch line to all these stories? It's simple; some are funny and others you can actually garner value from. I have gained insight and learned invaluable lessons through my own funny experiences. One of my favorite bankcard stories occurred many years ago. For the first time in my career, I was faced with a processing partner that didn't want to pay me my residual income. The threatened residual was more than $120,000 per month.

I panicked. I was quite young, and that was a lot of money. I hired the best attorney in Atlanta where this processor was located.

A bit scared and accompanied by my brother, I met with the attorney on the morning of the arbitration meeting. It was an experience. His office was in a 100-year-old building, complete with a portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

This quiet, quintessential old Southern lawyer was the complete opposite of the two young East Coast boys sitting across from him, trying desperately to explain how this big corporation threatened their entire livelihood.

Not saying much, he reviewed the case briefly. We didn't know what to think. We headed to the processor's attorneys' office and within 10 minutes they presented us with an offer, a final offer. It was insulting.

We left to confer with our attorney who quietly listened to us as we voiced our outrage and anger at the offensive offer. He took a moment and then gave us his advice. I can still hear the words rolling off his tongue in a slow, Southern drawl, "The problem with rolling in the mud with pigs is that pigs like rolling in the mud," he said.

My brother and I looked at each other, stunned. What was he saying? He explained that this company likes to fight. Yes the offer was bad, but we should take it. It's sometimes better to walk away clean. He was right. Just because you're right doesn't mean it's the best way to go.

Rolling in the mud could take years and cost a whole lot of money. Better to cut your losses, move on and become more productive. So from that day on, whenever we're faced with a similar situation, we always recall the words of that astute Southern lawyer, and we smile.

I learned another valuable lesson years ago while looking for a new processor. I was being wooed by a company that promised world class customer service, which my merchants would love.

Before making a decision, I flew out to the company's offices in California. I was very impressed as I walked into a gorgeous reception area. I toured the facility and continued to be impressed with the spectacular offices and executive suites. Every area of the building was amazing.

I then asked to visit the customer service center, expecting it to be just as impressive. My tour guide walked to the back of the offices and opened a door into a smaller office. Inside was one young woman pulling voice mails off of an answering service.

I had to laugh. I said, "Thank you. I've seen enough. The only thing I would like is the number of your interior designer."

I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that this beautifully decorated California company is no longer in business. I remember thinking how funny it was that the company had spent all that money on its decor and apparently none on the resources that really counted.

The punch line: Check things out before buying into the promise. Go see it for yourself.

I hope you enjoyed reading these anecdotes. Not only do I hope that they bring a smile to your face, but I hope that if you're ever in a similar situation, you pause to think before taking action. And whatever you choose to do, why not do it with a little bit of humor!

One of my next columns will highlight the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA). I was recently elected to ETA's Board of Directors, and I plan to report back on how my first ETA board meeting went, what ETA is working on and how it affects MLSs.

It promises to be a very interesting column. As always, keep sending me your comments on any issue to streetsmarts@totalmerchantservices.com . Your opinions are always welcome.

"The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter."
- Mark Twain

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 e-mail Freedman at ed@totalmerchantservices.com.

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