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Street SmartsSM:
Bridging the Gender Gap With Pride and Determination

By Amy B. Garvey
National Association of Payment Professionals

Editor's note: As of April 11, 2005, the National Association of Payment Professionals' (NAOPP) Board of Directors now serves as the host of "Street Smarts." Individual members of NAOPP's Board rotate authorship of the column.

One rainy night in November, my friend and fellow merchant level salesperson (MLS) Susan and I were talking on the phone. As Susan prepared pork chops for dinner, we discussed the challenges of work. That is until she said, "Hang on a second; I think my daughter just got sick."

I heard the phone drop on the kitchen counter, a crying child in the background, and an exasperated mother trying to cope. Five minutes later, with Susan's dinner plans obviously abandoned, she returned to the phone.

She apologized for the interruption and told me she wanted to continue our conversation, but had to run instead.

When most people are eating dinner, many of us who work from home are still working.

We have to discuss business, organize committees, record and distribute notes, and lift the spirits of other MLSs to keep one another motivated for another day in the field.

That's in addition to faxing contracts, preparing lease agreements to drop off at FedEx, and responding to e-mail.

I graciously acknowledge the ties that pull Susan in so many different directions because I also have a house to keep up, a two-year-old daughter to raise, and a small sales organization to run. Oh, the plight of being a woman and an MLS!

Men primarily comprise the payments industry. While it might not be very politically correct to point that out, I also know that this statement does not come as a shock to those of us who attend industry events and spend countless hours speaking with processors and vendors every day.

Where does this leave the women who are fighting for a foothold in the male-dominated network of financial services providers?

To my surprise, I have found it remarkably easy to "break through" the proverbial glass ceiling. I have found that with determination and a little light-hearted humor and patience, I am making my way in a fascinating and profitable career.

I find that I develop relationships with clients based on trust and true understanding. I often don't sell on price, or for that matter, on service, though I pride myself on the service that I provide.

This all might sound like an emotional perspective; quite frankly, it is. Countless others have told me never to let emotion get in the way of a solid business decision. Fair enough. But many of the same people have also told me that customers buy from people they like.

Which is correct? Both, perhaps. As a woman, I truly believe that my knowledge, insight and intuition make me not only a force to be reckoned with in the payments industry, but also a provider of a kinder, gentler face for customers seeking understanding from MLSs.

NAOPP posed the following question to MLSs on GS Online's MLS Forum:

"What are some specific issues facing women in the payment processing industry today?"

We received the following interesting responses:

"I wouldn't say 'issues,' but as a man, I think that many women have advantages that men don't. If the business is run by a man, a good looking woman can at least get [her] foot in the door and will be given a chance. Though it's 2005, many men still have trouble telling a woman 'No.'

"However, male reps are less likely to be given this opportunity, [whether] good looking or not. Also, if the business is run by a woman, many times she's more likely to give another woman a chance to help her along, from what I've seen.

"Women are less intimidating by nature. So [a woman] can be a snake, but people typically either don't pick up on it, or they just don't want to believe that this 'hot gal' or 'motherly figure' is here to rip them off. Maybe [women] have some disadvantages in sports, but not too many in sales." - jtmerch

"When my man started having a hard time closing deals, he decided to take me along as a 'trainee,' thinking that if a 'hot chick' was with him, he'd close more deals. So I went with him to almost every appointment for a month doing the 'trainee' routine.

"I sat, listened closely, smiled, and even answered a few questions, but I was no help at all. He sold exactly the same number of deals as when it was just him.

"So maybe there is an advantage [of] being a woman in this industry, but I haven't seen it so far." - TinyGiraffe

"As a woman, when it comes to selling, I don't believe I have any more obstacles to overcome than a man. I think 'jtmerch' may be a little right, though: Sometimes I do have an easier time selling.

"For example, my husband also sells merchant accounts, and whenever he has a hard time closing, he hands the phone over to me or introduces me to close it.

"Depending on who I am selling to, I either become a girl's new best friend or turn on the charm to appeal to the male senses. Snake like? Maybe. But it usually closes the deal.

"The only obstacle I think I do face is when I go to conventions. I usually am one of the few women surrounded by hundreds of men. I always feel like I am at a 'Boy Scouts of America' convention!

"It can be awkward at times, but being in this industry for seven years, nothing seems to rattle me any more ..." - merchantech

"I have to agree with 'merchantech.' From a sales/recruiting standpoint, I do believe women have it easier. I also agree, as it relates to conventions.

"You're often mistaken as a 'booth babe' at the tradeshows, when actually, you know as much, if not more, than a lot of the men there. It has its perks, but there is a down side." - JamieG

So perhaps it's not quite as intense being a woman MLS as I perceived it that rainy November night. At least not every day. Women do have some advantages in sales, and men have some too!

Perhaps the women in this ever-growing community of MLSs need to do a better job seeking out one another and wading through these waters together. But I think we're doing fairly well already.

Thanks to a slow but much needed shift in the industry community, more and more providers view one another as associates, rather than competition.

While we do believe our products and services are the best, this type of competition is a good thing: multiple salespeople presenting multiple options to merchants.

We'll win some and we'll loose some, whether we are men or women, but merchants will benefit most from receiving an education on the products and services available. In the end, we'll all make more and better sales because of it. Until the next issue ...

Amy B. Garvey of BPS Sales & Service for Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C. is Secretary of NAOPP. E-mail her

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