Merchant-level salespeople should keep two tips in mind when they close a deal: Ask for the business, and ask the merchant to pay.

That advice came last week from Dan Neistadt, president of Electronic Merchant Systems, a Cleveland-based ISO, during a panel discussion at the Midwest Acquirers Association conference in St. Louis.

"Don't be afraid to charge" for services, advised Neistadt. "Credit card processing is a commodity only because you make it a commodity business."

Neistadt was one of three panelists discussing why merchants buy from agents. The others were Kristen Gramigna, chief acquisition officer at Naperville, Ill.-based ISO Bluepay Inc., and Rod Katzfey, senior vice president at Brentwood, Tenn.-based Comdata Processing Systems.

Of the products and services a merchant buys, the most important is the relationship with the sales agent, Neistadt says. Retailers are "buying" the trust and integrity of the agent, he maintains.

Electronic Merchant Systems trains salespeople to start closing deals at the 10-minute mark, Neistadt says. During the initial minutes of the conversation, the salesperson has to persuade the merchant to listen. If the merchant is still listening after 10 minutes, the time has come to close the deal, he says.

"If you don't ask for the business, you're not going to get it," Neistadt says.

Comdata's Katzfey, whose first job in the ISO industry was as a commission-only salesperson, had advice of his own. After walking into a retailer's shop, for example, refrain from asking the nearest clerk about the owner's whereabouts. That first "clerk" may be the owner. If so, the agent has just asked an offhand question the owner may take as a personal insult.

In fact, Katzfey suggests avoiding "obvious" sales calls. "As you stop by merchants in a neighborhood, tell them you are looking for information about the area," Katzfey suggests.

Know Merchants' Motivations

Gramigna advises understanding why retailers buy payment card services. "Merchants buy to make more money, make their work easier and speed up their work," she says.

To meet those needs, salespeople should master some fundamental skills, Gramigna says. A salesperson should be able to read and understand a competitor's processing statement on site at the merchant's business, she says. The agent also should understand interchange rates and have the ability to decipher what the merchant currently pays.

And the agent should have something to offer that fits the merchant's needs, says Gramigna. If the merchant wants a loyalty program, but the agent's ISO offers none, the merchant is not as likely to sign a contract with the agent, she says.

Bluepay also trains agents to look for an additional benefit to sell a merchant, something beyond the merchant's initial order, such as suggesting a gift card program if the merchant has none or has one that is performing poorly.

Merchants want status, wealth and security, but agents still should avoid promising what they cannot deliver, Gramigna says.

In any case, she says, merchants often base buying decisions on emotion. "People buy from people like them," Gramigna says. "People they like."

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