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North American Bancard
Tuesday, December 31 2019

Though you might hear the term ISO (Independent Sales Organization) used a lot in the merchant services business, people don't always use it accurately. Let's take a look at what this term actually means according to credit card companies and banks.

What is an ISO? - Basically, a merchant services ISO program is an entity (a company or a person) who is not a MasterCard or Visa member bank—also known in general as Association members—yet they have a relationship with these banks. This can mean many things. For example, they may find new customers, offer customer service to the merchants, or sell terminals to them.

What is an MSP? - An MSP (Member Service Provider) is more or less similar to a credit card processing ISO program, though this isn't always exactly the case. An MSP is more of a “middle man” usually, a company that is often not an Association member, but who provides services to members.

What Do ISOs and MSPs Do For Their Banks? - First of all, remember that neither MSPs nor merchant services ISOs are actually banks. The MSP / ISO will contract a processing bank to do this, and each MSP / ISO must have this kind of relationship with a bank to be able to process credit cards.

Under normal circumstances, the acquiring bank will be an Association member with both Visa and Mastercard, and they usually register for both at the same time. ISOs in turn can have relationships with more than one bank. By the way, these processing banks can also engage in vertical integration and become their own ISOs. This isn't common, though, and normally they will just specialize in processing credit cards, since it takes a lot of resources to draw in leads all the time.

An ISO is required to disclose their processing bank on their brochures, website, and other material. Usually, these are somewhere inconspicuous, like the bottom of a page.

How Does an ISO / MSP Register with the Credit Card Companies? - It's not exactly easy. First, the merchant services ISO needs to find a processing bank that will serve as a sponsor. Next, the merchant services ISO has to demonstrate to the companies that they have the means to perform their duties. Afterwards, there's lots of paperwork to do. For example, a merchant services ISO program might have to provide:

  • Financial statements / tax returns
  • Incorporation documents
  • Their business plan
  • Their sales material
  • A list of their sales agents

On top of all of that, the owners of the companies will also have their credit checked.

What Kind of Fees Does an ISO / MSP Have to Pay For Registration? Once they are actually approved, the fees are $10,000 upfront. These fees are paid every year as well, as part of a review process.

What Are So-Called Sales Agents? - Many times it's helpful for merchant services ISOs to have an independent sales team, so they will hire sales agents to find interested merchants. According to MasterCard, a sales agent is someone who provides services to a member, but isn't an MSP. In other words, sales agents don't have to be Association members, since the merchant services ISO program is the one that takes care of the processing. Sales agents have to be registered, however, though the fee is quite negligible—something like $50 every year. Sales agents, though functioning somewhat independently, can't advertise as a service provider and have to use the name of their merchant services company.

What Option Works Best? - Is it enough to be a merchant services sales agent? Or should you consider becoming a merchant services ISO or MSP, even though it requires going through all that bureaucratic process? Like anything else, this really depends. How much processing volume do you have? Obviously, you get a better price per transaction as a merchant services ISO, so you'll need to make some calculations and decide for yourself whether the increased profit margin is worth the overhead costs.

Be cautious, though, when looking at proposals from processing banks. There might be some fine print in there that can come back to haunt you. Specifically, look for fees that might cut into your profit, such as minimum processing fees. Minimum processing fees are charged when transaction fees during a certain period don't reach a minimum threshold.

These minimum processing fees can sometimes be really exorbitant, so watch out for them. Sometimes they can run into tens of thousands of dollars per month, and if you can't come up with the transaction fees, you'll be paying the difference yourself.

If you don't have a large portfolio yet, this can really harm you. Let's say the minimum processing fee for you is $6,000 every month. Let's say that, like many ISO's, you make an average of between $0.07 to $0.09 for every transaction. You would basically need to make 66,600 to 85,700 transactions on a monthly basis just to reach the minimum, which is unfeasible if you are a brand new company.

Usually, your processing bank will give you a period of time to build up your clientèle, however. If you think you can manage to reach a volume that surpasses the minimum processing fees by this time, then go right ahead and become a merchant services ISO. However, make sure that you calculate everything very carefully.

By the way, since you're kind of expected to increase volume over time, the whole minimum processing fee can increase as well. That's right, a bank can progressively charge you more and more. For example, they may have given you a minimum fee of $4,000 in year 1, but every year that your contract renews, they might increase it by a lot—maybe even by the original amount, so that you're paying $4,000 more every subsequent year.

You can probably see why this would be a problem. Your fees are growing linearly, but your portfolio might not be. In fact, it is unlikely that your business would be able to support that amount of growth every year, unless your company is just so great that people are abandoning their merchant service agreements just to work with you. Either way, never sign an agreement that has fine print like this. Fees that increase like this are not very sustainable and you may get ripped off in the end.

Another (Not Great) Alternative - One thing you can do is to try to find a small bank that doesn't have any minimum fees at all. The problem here, though, is that their pricing might not be as good of a deal as larger processing banks, and their service might not be as reliable.

Besides, these smaller processors often have their own version of a minimum fee requirement—instead of transactions, they require you to bring in a certain number of new clients per month. If you don't comply, then you could stand to lose your residuals. In other words, you could have worked for years to build up a portfolio of dozens of merchants, and you could be bringing in a huge volume for your bank. You might have built up to tens of thousands of dollars per month for yourself, but your bank requires you to bring in five new merchants, and you only brought in four.

What happens? You lose all of your income, just like that. Does that sound fair to you? Your processor still has all of those accounts, but you are left in the dust. It's not really “passive income” if you have to keep adding a certain arbitrary amount of merchants per month, is it?

Conclusions - All of this can be confusing if you are new, but you can probably draw a few conclusions from it and get an idea of your game plan. To put it simply, if I had to start in this business over again knowing what I know now, I would just pick a large ISO and become a merchant services agent for them. This would help me learn about the industry and build up some income, and I wouldn't be risking falling victim to some fine print from my processing banks, or having to pay huge fees just to stay in business. I would work with several merchant services ISOs until I had decided which one was the best fit for me long-term.

After that, I would stop working with all of the other merchant services ISOs and concentrate on the best one exclusively until my volume had increased substantially. Once I thought I could pay all of the entry fees, I would consider becoming a merchant services ISO myself. I would speak with my merchant services ISO and see if they have a sponsorship program. Either way, I would shop around and be a hard negotiator, and not settle with a sponsor until I had a fair deal that I could actually work with.

Last, I'd hire an attorney to look over the paperwork. Yes, attorneys can be expensive, but in a business like this they are worth their weight in gold. You don't want to sign something without understanding all of the ramifications. Once that was settled and the deal seemed right, only then would I sign the agreement.

Wednesday, December 25 2019

If you have past sales experience, that's often a plus, but a lot of the time there can be aspects of your past that will give you a disadvantage. For example, if you used to sell mortgages, you didn't have to worry too much about creating a sense of urgency, since people were already a little desperate because their new house was on the line. It's not too different if you're selling the actual houses either; if someone has sought out a real estate agent, they're looking to buy. The same goes with selling cars, since many of the people who are coming to you really need a new one and can't go very long without transportation. Your job would be a lot harder if you had to go up to random people on the street—or worse, random people getting out of their cars in a parking garage—and ask them if they needed a new car. Sounds ridiculous? Well, this is basically what your life is like when you're selling merchant services. This is why the mindset is completely different in this field.

Obviously, there are positive and negative aspects to this. Once you have convinced a merchant that he'd do better to change to your plan, making the actual deal is usually smooth. Just don't mess up, and you'll have a good closing rate. Another great aspect of this business is that once you convince a merchant that they need to change their processor, they will probably buy those services from you and not another random merchant services agent. This is all great, but unfortunately creating the sense of urgency that will get them to make a change is one of your biggest challenges.

Let's take a look at these guidelines that will help you create more urgency in your prospects:

1) More prospects = more sales. You are going to have to accept that you will have to deal with a much higher volume of prospects than in other fields to close a decent amount of deals. If you used to sell mortgages, for instance, your conversion rate is probably high—maybe as high as 1/3 of your prospects. A big reason as to why this is comes down to the fact that your clients already have decided what they want to buy and are coming to you for help.

If you find a quality lead, the conversion rate is actually about the same when you're in merchant services, but the problem is that you will have to go through many people to find quality leads. You might walk into two dozen stores, but only find yourself able to talk to 20% of the owners, and only 10% of the stores you walked into had genuinely good prospects. A good prospect is someone who realizes that they could use your services and is eager to explore the options. This is why you shouldn't get discouraged if you find that you're having to visit tons of businesses just to make some progress. This is how the game is played.

2) Take it a step at a time. When you first make your pitch, you want them to reach a point of understanding that they need to make a change; don't rush them into make the full decision just yet. Your job at first is just to convince them that they would be better off with another service. Yes, you might be able to convince them of this and close the deal in the same session after you've had some practice, but these are still distinct steps. Just make sure that you don't make the assumption that the merchant wants a different processor—at the moment, they're probably not even thinking about it. You will have to convince them. The problem of course is that most merchants don't even think of this as a problem. They already put together their processing solution and they don't need to worry about it anymore, as far as they are concerned. They would rather put their attention elsewhere.

How can you overcome that default resistance and make them open to the possibility of switching? Well, you should show them that you're not trying to throw a wrench in their plans or rip them off. Let them know that you are only showing them how much they could save if they reconsider, and that they can use your service if they want to. Try to focus on convincing them that they need to switch more than that they need to go with you specifically. Tell the client straight up that you are not interested in signing them up that day. They should be under the impression that you are interested in getting to know their needs better, and that you are merely opening them up to the cost-saving possibilities of finding a better credit card processing agent program.

3) Have some kind of bonus or offer. People like being just in time for “special” deals, and this can create a huge sense of urgency if it is available only for a limited time. Since you will have to get them out of that “analysis paralysis” mode and into a decision, it will help them to focus on closing the deal if you have some kind of time limit like that. As soon as you convince them that they need to make a change, you can start discussing your various juicy offers. Let's look at a few different routes that you could take:

Give them a Free Cash Gift – They may be a business owner, but chances are that they're pouring all of their personal resources into the business. It may not seem like much, but offering them something like a gift card or cash back when they make their account will certainly entice them. Make sure to start out letting them know that they won't have to pay any fees upfront if you work with a free terminal program or something similar, and then throw the free money on top of that to sweeten the deal. It doesn't have to be a huge amount of money—just 100 dollars will suffice—and you can easily take this out of your upfront signing bonus. Make it a point to mention this deal in your advertising. Basically, the merchant has nothing to lose here, and will actually make money upfront from the deal.

Give them a free terminal – Believe it or not, there are still merchant services ISOs out there that do not offer free terminals with their deals. This can be for a number of reasons, but generally-speaking you want to steer clear of these companies when you're choosing a partner. Make sure that there is an option to offer a free terminal to the merchant, since this removes a major upfront cost. Much of the resistance that you will encounter has to do with these upfront costs and whether or not the merchant has the liquid cash to cover them. Bring a terminal in personally if you can to show them an example of what they can have for free. Tell them you're offering it temporarily. Guarantee Them Monthly Savings – You need to first consult with them and look at how much they pay in fees to pull this one off. Tell them that you can save them a certain amount of basis points per month of the competitors. Find out how much processing they do, and multiply it by however many basis points you are claiming to save them. Just make sure that you don't work with very large merchants here, or else it could cost you too much money.

Once you have established how much they are going to save with you per month, make sure to zoom out and show them the big picture. Tell them how much they are going to save over the course of a year or two years. Discuss these big, long-term numbers instead of the tiny savings of 10 or 20 dollars that you might be able to pull off every month. These bigger numbers are certainly more motivating, and will get them to consider your offer much more readily, especially if some of the other offers above are included.

Hopefully, these tips have enlightened you at least a little bit as to how you can create urgency in your prospects. Do you still have questions? Let us know! Contact us anytime and we will be happy to help you.

Sunday, December 15 2019

No matter what business you're in, you're not going to get very far without going out there and finding prospective customers. Whether you do this in person or via the Internet, you're going to have to find a strategy to funnel new customers into your business. There are lots of different ways to do this, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that you don't have to come up with everything on your own. There are already proven marketing strategies that exist, and you can simply use those models and apply them to your own business. Especially if you are new to this field, don't waste your time trying a million things that might not work, when you can employ time-tested techniques.

The key is to keep things simple. No matter what specific tactics you go with, your strategy should involve finding your niche or market, finding out what they need, delivering that need, and then spreading the word about your services. At its core, that is basically it, but let's take a more detailed look at these various aspects:

Finding Your Market - Ask yourself a few questions. For example, who would use your services? In your mind, who is the ideal customer and who do you envision yourself working with? What kind of merchants have the sorts of problems that you know for a fact that you can solve? If you're already selling, what kinds of businesses seem to buy from you the most?

From these questions, you can begin to narrow down where the money is. Let's say for instance that you are selling POS services that come with a free terminal and a low monthly fee. You might find that small startups and coffee shops gravitate to your product more than larger warehouse stores. If you focus on the people who are truly interested in your product because you actually solve their problems efficiently, then you won't have to do much persuading. The best ROI when it comes to marketing happens when people already want to be sold to, so it's important to identify who that is and not waste your time trying to seduce people who would be less interested.

Finding Out What They Need - Of course, as trends in technology and in the market change, your clients' needs will be changing, too, so you should make sure that your concept of their needs is constantly evolving. However, you will want to have a general idea of what your clients are looking for at any given moment.

Think to yourself: Why would they want to buy from me? If you can't answer that question, then you have not catered your products to their needs enough and you may not know how to truly solve their problems. The cure for this is to listen. What products do your current clients give you good feedback about? What do they complain about? If you've lost clients before, why did you lose them? If a client chose you over a competitor, why was that?

Delivering What They Need - Once you know what they want, you have to have the ability to deliver it of course. This is why you shouldn't marry yourself to a single merchant service company. First and foremost, you need to deliver what your market wants, and the company that you choose as a partner needs to cater to that need. This is why you should keep your options open and always be on the lookout for new and better solutions to your customers' problems.

Spreading the Word - In other words, you must market your services, or else few people will know that you even exist. When people recommend you to their colleagues, this is of course the best kind of marketing, but before you've built up a reputation, you're going to have to tell people about yourself. There are several ways you can do this. For example, you can attempt to pay for leads that you meet in person, you can go the telemarketing route, you can pay for leads online, or you can even run pay per click (PPC) campaigns to draw new customers in. They all have their virtues, and you should choose a tactic that plays on your strengths.

Now that you know about your audience and can deliver on their needs, as well as spread the word about your services, how do you turn your prospects into customers and continue growing your business? That is the age-old sales question, indeed. Follow these general steps, and you can begin to see growth:

Step 1) Find Prospects the Right Way - This happens before you even begin persuading the prospect of anything. The first step to converting people is to find the right people so you're not wasting your time! Don't cast a net so wide that you find yourself talking to people who are completely uninterested in what you have, or even people who are only partial matches who need lots of convincing. Especially when your business is young, you don't have time to waste. Put effort into prospects that have shown a previous interest in buying your kind of merchant services. You can do this by buying highly targeted leads or by getting referrals from other customers and businesses. You can also try hanging out where business owners do, for example at local entrepreneur or business meet-ups.

Another great way to do this is to keep an eye out for new businesses as they open. If you sell POS systems for liquor stores for instance, look up who has purchased a license lately. You can even start by servicing people that you know personally who are in your professional network.

Step 2) Give Them What They Need - Solve people's problems, and they will sing your praises. Testimonials from other business owners can be very powerful when drawing in more business. Make sure that your existing customers have nothing but good things to say about you, and the rest will often take care of itself.

Step 3) Make Friends - Referrals are some of the best sources of sales. Partner up with others who are in business-to-business fields, but who are not direct competitors and have them refer their customers to you. For example, you can work with CPA's, printing companies, or even web designers. Basically, if you know someone who would be working with new businesses constantly, offer to trade leads with them if the customer genuinely needs the service (and they often will). Using these techniques, you will find that getting prospects and converting them into paying customers is a lot easier. Above all, always remember to deliver good service and you will always have an eager customer base.

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    © Shaw Merchant Group, LLC. Our goal is to gather accurate, updated information and assist you in your research. We recommended that you check with your service provider or financial institution directly and get independent financial advice before making any commitments or business decisions. 

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    All merchant related services and products are referred to North American Bancard for first right of refusal. All information generated on this site is shared with NAB. North American Bancard is a registered ISO of Wells Fargo Bank N.A., Walnut Creek CA, of BMO Harris N.A., Chicage, IL and The Bancorp, Philadelphia, PA.