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Street SmartsSM:
What to Expect When Attending a Conference

By Kathy Harper

Editor's Note: 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.

Are you considering attending an industry conference or meeting? What a wonderful idea! These provide great opportunities to network, discover new products and services, attend training sessions, meet your ISO in person, and talk with other merchant level salespeople (MLSs).

When deciding which event to attend, you can choose from several options in the regional acquirers' association conferences, or one of the larger industry-wide meetings. The size, scope and location of the events might play a role in your decision.

Every winter, the Northeast Acquirers' Association holds a meeting in Mt. Snow, Vt. Skiing anyone? The Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) holds a big blowout in Las Vegas every spring for its Annual Meeting and Expo. Thousands of people attend.

The MLS Forum Responds

To gather MLS opinions on industry events, NAOPP posted the following questions on GS Online's MLS Forum:

For those of you who have attended conferences, what are some of the pros and cons? For those who have not, what has kept you from attending? Do you have any questions or concerns about attending?

MLS Forum members posted the following responses:

"I prefer the regional shows rather than ETA. The regional shows give you a chance to meet and learn from other people in our business without having to 'sell the farm' to attend. I'd highly recommend to any MLS that hasn't attended a convention to at least try the regionals. [I'm] really looking forward to the [Southeast Acquirers' Association] SEAA in New Orleans this year!

"I really like going from booth to booth talking to the vendors, but the real learning experience goes on in the bar. This may be ... difficult in New Orleans as there are just too many bars! Guess I'd better start picking their brains before there's nothing to pick. LOL." - Neil

"I have attended the SEAA three times and the ETA four times. The SEAA was very helpful in the beginning, and I got to meet many people in the industry and ... some vendors face to face. The ETA is very helpful, too, and more vendors attend those shows.

"As an agent or ISO, it gives you a chance to meet the people you are dealing with on the phone. It also gives you an opportunity to see more of what is out there in the industry and listen to other people ... talk about products and services, and go to the booths and ask technical questions, etc. I don't like the seminars at these conventions; they are never long enough to get answers." - ccguy

"I enjoy the golf the most. After that I find that most of the deals that I put together are at dinner or breakfast, where you are not interrupted as much." - snorell

"I attended the regional ETA [Expo Network] in Orlando in January. Overall, I was a little disappointed ... I felt most of the material covered in the sessions was too basic. There were some exceptions, however; ... the chargeback/risk discussion was excellent. And I picked up some good pointers during the other sessions as well." - Douglasl

"I think the people who come to the [MLS] Forum want to hear in a break-out session how to sell ... not how a big ISO has done it, but how has the salesperson been successful? [They want to hear] from salespeople who have grown their business from a one- or two-person show into a larger sales office. Or, a discussion with salespeople on how to sell a product: what has worked and what has not and how the merchants like the products and services." - ccguy

"There is no con to attend one of these meetings. Networking and education [are] never a bad thing." - johnmckee

"When I first got into the industry, the ETA shows were without a doubt a great learning tool. At this point, however, the only [ETA shows] to attend [are] the Strategic Leadership [and Networking Forum] and the Vegas show. There are [also] many non-bankcard conferences that have a lot of synergy with what we all do; you just have to look around to find them." - SwipeNGo

Judging by these posts, industry events provide a means to interact with people, which makes a difference in our careers. In addition, meeting the people with whom you conduct business also affects your success. You will make valuable contacts with vendors and colleagues, and it never hurts to shake hands with the person who sends the residual check every month.

Among the responses posted, one MLS Forum member mentioned the amount of contacts made and business conducted in the casual atmosphere of the bar. At one recent event, I stepped out on the balcony and was amazed at the conversation I was suddenly privy to.

Industry leaders surrounded me there. They discussed the state of our business and the direction in which it was headed. By remaining a fly on the wall, in 30 minutes I gained a better grasp of the industry than I had in the six months that I'd been working in it.

This type of information doesn't appear in any company newsletter.

Business Card Protocol

As an MLS, attending an industry meeting is a lot like being at a singles club. Vendors and processors alike will woo you. At my first conference, I felt like a mouse in a room full of cats. I, along with the other mice, walked timidly through a maze of outstretched hands. These cats wanted to exchange business cards.

I nervously glanced around the room to see if my ISO was looking. He was. By exchanging cards with others, I felt like I had "stepped out" on my better half; this made me feel bad.

Where I come from, you're supposed to "leave with the one who brung ya." But my ISO didn't invite me to the conference; I came on my own. I wondered ... was I "two-timing" him? If your ISO finds out that you plan to attend a conference, I bet he will have someone there to greet you and show you around. After all, you are an agent who makes him money; he has also invested time and money in your training. The bottom line: ISOs know a lot of recruiting takes place at the conferences, and they will (and rightfully so) try to protect their investments.

Prepare for this, understand it and accept it. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't meet people and accept cards; nothing is wrong with this. It's foolish not to use the time to network and gather information. You never know when or how a new contact will benefit you down the road.

Before heading off to the conference, pack plenty of business cards. While walking around the event, one hand will most likely hold a bag full of conference goodies, and the other will hold a note pad and pen or a drink, so make room in a jacket, pocket or purse to reach in and without fanfare, pull out a clean, unbent card.

Create a place to put all the cards received. I recommend keeping two spots for this. One for all the cards of people to contact following the meeting, and the other for cards of people you wish you hadn't shaken hands with.

Watch What You Drink

The event will provide food and beverages. Your ISO will probably insist that you dine with him. If he doesn't, don't worry; dinner invitations for MLSs abound at these events. During dinner, sit up straight, mind your manners and be a gracious guest. Thank the host after the meal and follow up with a thank you note after the conference.

Some ISOs are fun and some are more serious. If their processors are around, count on even the fun ones being deadly serious. Regardless, there will be opportunities to consume alcoholic beverages, so be cautious.

The next morning's meetings will require an early rise, and only you know how you will feel after a night of drinking. You won't want to miss anything. If it's a company conference, don't offend the host by skipping a training session.

This will be frowned upon. So will cracking open the mini bar if they have paid for your room.

No one likes an obnoxious drunk, so unless you've stepped off the hotel property and away from conference attendees, please don't be one. Often, you will have the choice to stay at the conference hotel or at a less expensive hotel nearby. I opted for the Holiday Inn at $50 a night for my first conference.

An advantage to staying off site: not worrying about anyone seeing you on the way to the ice machine in pajamas or boxers.

Stay the Course

Vendors and sponsors of these events work very hard to provide MLSs with training, motivational speakers, Q&A sessions with industry experts, and up-to-date information on changes in the industry.

Toward the end of the day, most will hold drawings to give away all types of prizes to attendees. Don't leave early and miss out on this. At my first conference I walked away for only a moment and missed my name being called.

The prize? A brand new POS terminal. The next conference I stuck around and paid for my room with the prize money when my name was called again.

Secrets Revealed

Whether or not you choose to stay at the conference hotel, I recommend visiting the lounge to see who's there. At the SEAA, an agent sat down with a group of us late one night to regale us with his tales of success. He was serious, but we couldn't help laughing. He was a little tipsy and very funny. He asked us for directions to "a big appointment" he had scheduled the following day. It was a multi-million dollar account.

After we had weighed the pros and cons of rising early and beating him to the appointment, we finally gave him the directions. Before he left, however, he revealed one of his best-kept secrets of success. We happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Do you want to know what it was? You'll just have to attend an upcoming industry event and discover wonderful secrets of your own.

Kathy Harper of Griffin, Ga. is an MLS and Vice President of NAOPP. E-mail her at advpaytec@aol.com or call her at 770-843-3399.

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