Any well-paid sales agent can tell you that bargaining for a compensation agreement seems a lot like playing the dating game: You need to find a good match and be willing to compromise.

“The ‘gimme, gimme, gimme,’ never works. It has to be a give and take,” says industry consultant Mary Winingham, CEO of Delvan, Wis.-based Mirror Consulting.

The ability to hustle and close deals does dictate an agent’s earning potential. But knowing what to say and do at the bargaining table sets the stage for agents to get the most money out of those deals.

ISOs aren’t looking to play the field, though. Compensation experts agree that ISOs want salespeople who seek a long-term commitment. What’s more, agents stand to benefit from that kind of relationship because they can make more money in the long run by pursuing residuals that take time to cultivate, instead of up-front, one-time bonuses.

When it comes to Negotiations 101, Winingham and other experts believe that the most successful contracts involve a two-way relationship. Salespeople should respect the ISO as a partner, and avoid making unrealistic demands. The most productive negotiations are open and honest. At the same time, the ISO should offer the resources and environment that allow the agent to thrive.

What doesn’t work is when agents make things up as they go along. It doesn’t bode well for an agent who promises to bring in 50 deals a month but closed only two deals the month before, Winingham says. She points out that there are plenty of salespeople out there, and ISOs don’t want all of them.

“They don’t need problem children,” she says.

If payments executive Todd Linden were to construct an ISO from the ground up today, it would consist of several well-established agents who are interested in building a base of residuals over the span of several years. What he wouldn’t want is a bunch of reps who are mainly interested in pocketing a few thousand dollars in up-front bonuses and equipment because chances are they just want to bounce from one ISO to the next.

Linden says most ISOs share his preference for salespeople who are in it for the long haul. “They’re not looking for the quick pop,” says Linden, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Merchants Choice Payment Solutions Inc., a Houston-based processor that has grown into super ISO in recent years.

Linden encourages his ISOs to go after experienced reps who have a residual history, and he has the ISOs check out the agents’ residual reports. Agents who promise stability are good for the ISO, too. “Anyone who is looking to build a real company, from an ISO perspective, wants to look for seven, eight or nine agents who want to build residuals and stay there,” he says.

Outside salespeople can earn twice as much in residuals if they pass on the up-front bonuses and equipment that some ISOs offer to lure them in, says Paul Rianda, an Irvine, Calif.-based payments industry lawyer who specializes in contract negotiations.

Instant incentives might allow salespeople to make a bunch of money right away, but agents end up sacrificing back-end residuals over the years because the ISO needs to pay back that money somehow. “After two years, the guy on the residual program is making a lot more than the guy on the bonus program,” Rianda says.

The salespeople with the best compensation are the ones who are able to convince the ISO of their ability to produce more and bring on larger merchants.

“That gets to corporate. We hear about that,” Linden says.

It’s not unusual for Linden’s office to get calls from its ISOs saying they want to do more for a particular salesperson because the agent is bringing in a substantial amount of business each month.

ISOs that employ good agents might be willing to take a hit on profit margins just to hire and keep good salespeople who make up for any losses in production, he says.

“And if you don’t take care of those kinds of reps, you’re going to lose them to a competitor,” Linden says. “There are fewer out there than you’d think who are that good.” n


An expanded version of this article is scheduled to appear in the April print edition of ISO&Agent and on

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