Sales agents for independent sales organizations increasingly are seeking additional industry training to improve their abilities to better compete for scarce business during the difficult economy, observers note.

“Competition drives a lot of what we do,” says Marc Beauchamp, CEO of Performance Training Systems, a Houston-based provider of educational tools and consulting. “When the economy turns down and things get competitive, you naturally have a shake-out in business.”

ISO interest in training has increased “more and more” during the last one to two years, says Beauchamp.

Indeed, the Electronic Transactions Association is beginning to see an increase in online training course attendance, says Rori Ferensic, director of education and professional development at the Washington, D.C.-based trade association. “We definitely are seeing an increase,” says Ferensic.

The increase in interest for online training is positive because the ISO industry overall moves more slowly in terms of online education, Ferensic notes. “Even though they are tech-savvy, I don’t think they see education” as something they can do online, she says.

However, many ISOs and agents are choosing online training courses because they can save funds by eliminating the need to travel to a class. And some ISOs see the value of ongoing training and want “to invest in improving themselves and their agents” to remain successful during the recession, says Beauchamp. Such ISOs are willing to spend funds, even in a difficult economy, on online or in-person agent training to reduce agent attrition and increase merchant clients, he says.

Training is “really worthwhile” because the agent can improve skills and can interact with merchants more effectively, says Adil Moussa, an analyst with Boston-based consulting firm Aite Group LLC. While many agents receive product training, fewer receive training regarding how the industry works overall, he says.

Subsequently, many agents are missing vital knowledge that they could use to entice merchants to sign up for services, says Moussa. Without training, “it’s very hard to know how to approach merchants. Most of the agents approach merchants the wrong way,” he says.

ISOs and agents that participate in ongoing training quarterly or monthly yield better results than do those that train once a year or less, notes Beauchamp.

“Reoccurring, ongoing training seems to yield the best” return on investment, he says.

ISOs that provide ongoing training for agents can reduce the number of support calls from merchants and increase sales because the reps are better equipped to answer merchant questions and sign accounts, Beauchamp says.

Despite the potential benefits ISOs and agents may receive from training, some hesitate to spend the time and funds necessary to receive training for fear agents will quit or move to a competing company, says Mark Dunn, founder of Field Guide Enterprises LLC, a Hartland, Wis.-based consulting firm. The failure rate among new sales agents also is very high, he says.


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