By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) accelerate payments innovation and help initiatives scale, moving last century's merchants from paper to electronic authorizations and this century's merchants from magnetic stripe to Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) technology. ISOs have done a commendable job of channeling MLS power, but as an industry, we can do more.
It is now more critical than ever to leverage the MLS knowledge base, as technology startups strive to disintermediate acquirers by directly marketing to merchants.
MLSs drive profitability and market share every day with each hard-won and hard-kept customer account. Their merchant relationships are the building blocks of portfolios worth millions and billions of dollars. ISOs and acquirers can sell these portfolios for high multiples or leverage their future residual streams through an array of creative financing options. But how are those in the acquiring chain leveraging the less tangible assets of their merchant portfolios? These assets represent the humanity behind the brand: the quantifiable, organic knowledge and know-how of MLSs who work directly with merchants every day. They can contribute their expertise in several ways, for example, as pilot testers, guest panelists, information aggregators, mentors, educators and community leaders.
MLSs are our industry's true differentiator and best hope for the future. No group is more connected to merchants. They understand merchant requirements, motivations and challenges, which is why many leading ISOs directly involve them in new product introductions, pilot tests and rollouts.
In Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers, Geoffrey A. Moore identified five groups with distinct attitudes about technology adoption: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.
"Early adopters, like innovators, buy into product concepts very early in their life cycle," Moore wrote. "Because early adopters do not rely on well-established references in making these buying decisions, preferring instead to rely on their own intuition and vision, they are key to opening any high-tech market." MLSs can identify early adopters who would enjoy testing new product performance in live settings and providing feedback.
Harbortouch, an ISO known for its integrated POS systems, hosted a panel of top producing MLSs at its October 2015 sales conference. Panelists shared views on industry resources, best practices and personal habits. The audience, made up mostly of sales agents, learned about customer relationship management tools the higher producing sales offices use.
Harbortouch agents engaged with the panelists in discussing the merits of cold calling, inbound and outbound telemarketing, lead generation on the web, and personal habits, the company stated. "And they may have learned a bit about work ethic," added Brian Jones, Harbortouch Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing. "The highly successful offices are up early and work late; certain sales reps don't come off the road until they get a sale."
MLSs' close connections to merchants make their collective knowledge a critical resource for ISOs. ISOs can tap into this data to understand their merchants and create targeted solutions that scale. Marc Beauchamp, President of Payment Processing Technologies LLC, an Indiana-based registered ISO known as PayProTec, recommends routinely surveying an agent base to analyze any number of issues.
"Affordable tools like Constant Contact and Survey Monkey are easy to use and designed to obtain instant feedback," Beauchamp said. "Another great way to garner feedback from MLSs is to form an advisory committee, made up of experienced agent offices of varying sizes that would like to provide feedback to their ISO."
Beauchamp suggested arranging quarterly advisory committee conference calls and an annual meeting at a national sales event. These sales conferences provide an excellent platform for agents to share strategies, challenges and triumphs.
The MLS Forum, hosted on The Green Sheet's website, has been a popular gathering place for agents for many years. Created as a networking space for the industry's feet on the street, the members-only site features constructive, educational discussion threads about trending topics in payments and related industries.
The MLS forum is also the home base for the Street SmartsSM, a column dedicated to MLS issues that appears in every issue of The Green Sheet. Street SmartsSM authors pen the column for a year, posing questions in the forum, publishing MLS comments and sharing highlights from each Q&A, along with their own views. Each columnist has brought a unique set of experiences to the column, keeping the discussion fresh and informative.
Jones emphasized the need for ongoing education and said many agents considered the MLS panel discussion to be a highlight of the 2015 Harbortouch sales conference. Many agreed there is no substitute for getting together with like-minded people who face similar opportunities and challenges.
"POS system sales are about educating the merchant, showing the merchant how they will save time and money by implementing a POS," Jones said. "A few of the panelists commented on why it's important for agents to come to the Harbortouch training center, even if they have been here before; refresher courses are always encouraged."
MLSs are also among the payments industry's many volunteers. They contribute to national and regional committees, trade associations and nonprofit organizations for the greater good of our communities, industry and world. The industry's mentoring programs and most important events are better as a result of their efforts.
I recently heard from an MLS who wanted to blog about merchant services. The blog post was far outside his comfort zone, but he was motivated. I helped him with a first draft. His post, published a few days later, made a clear case for relationship management in the digital age.
"Merchants still need help navigating an array of options pertaining to technology, security, equipment, and whether or not to have an online store," he wrote. "Merchants benefit by having a trusted source to guide them through the labyrinthine possibilities, a knowledgeable person who is on their side." Trusted, knowledgeable MLSs can help ISOs and acquirers connect and engage with their installed base. They can guide them through customer acquisition and retention. They can help them identify, recruit and train new talent. Their winning attitude and tireless efforts are the power behind your company's brand and one of its finest differentiators.
Dale S. Laszig, Staff Writer at The Green Sheet and Managing Director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content provider. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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