Where do ISOs look when they want to hire sales agents from outside the acquiring industry? Just about everywhere.

Recruiters agree some occupations serve as good training grounds for merchant services sales, including any business-to-business outside sales job where the customers are merchants.

Candidates who already sell to merchants can bring a Rolodex of contact information that gives them a head start on a new career, sources say.

Some recruiters also draw upon their own work experience when pursuing candidates. That can lead to searches in unlikely but rewarding places.

Proponents of hiring from outside the industry say recruits fresh from other jobs do not carry an industry veteran’s burden of bad habits. Being free of that baggage can compensate for the time and expense of training beginners, they say.

When placing people new to the industry with smaller ISOs, Curt Hensley, CEO of Impact Payments Recruiting, a Phoenix-based payments headhunter, looks for candidates with experience in much the same B2B sales roles that other recruiters favor.

Those fields include selling copiers, printers, office supplies and Yellow Pages advertising to merchants. ISOs that specialize in selling to doctors might consider people experienced in pharmaceuticals or medical supplies sales, Hensley suggests. Salespeople for food and beverage distributors have a head start on selling merchant services to restaurants, he says.

Simply having contact with a large number of merchants can outweigh sales experience. Certified public accountants, for example, work with lots of retailers and earn their trust, says Naomi Mastera, senior account manager for iPayment Inc., a Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based ISO.

Certified Public Accountants became a source of merchant referrals and then got wise to the possibility of collecting residuals for signing up merchants themselves, Mastera says. Soon, she began signing them as agents.

Another job title seldom associated with selling has become a source of candidates for iPayment, Mastera says. She has been taking on Web page designers as agents because they work with many merchants.

Mastera is finding especially promising candidates among peoppe who set up POS equipment in parking garages, she says.

She also has a friend who sells website advertising to spas. Now the friend is calling ad clients and asking to see their merchant card statements to see if she can save them money, Mastera says.

While looking beyond the usual outside-the-industry categories, Mastera still pays particular attention to one of the common outside sources of potential sales agents: copier sales people.

“If you’re a copier salesperson—and I did it for five years out of college—you get thrown out of buildings,” she says. “It’s a numbers game, and that type of salesperson understands this type of sales.”

That kind of hard-won experience means a lot to recruiters. Besides experience in other B2B sales jobs, however, candidates should display a set of characteristics any recruiter can cite.

Those qualifications include outgoing personalities, a strong ambition to make money, the ability to develop rapport quickly and a willingness to take care of the merchant after the sale, says Tannon McCaleb, an industry recruiter and a managing partner of Cardgigs, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based payments industry job board with an emphasis on acquiring.

“We look for the type motivated to get out of bed and go knock on the doors,” says McCaleb.

Those traits qualify a candidate for a salaried sales job but not an independent contractor’s role at Priority Payment Systems LLC, says Duayne, Haskett, vice president of ISO/agent business development at the Alpharetta, Ga.-based ISO.

Priority seeks independent agents who have the entrepreneurial spirit and have run their own businesses, says Haskett. “They understand what it means to work for themselves,” an important part of working as an independent contractor, he says.

The best candidates for independent status also have the financial backing to withstand the lean days at the beginning of a career in acquiring, Haskett continues.

But without experience, even candidates with the most sterling qualities may not warrant a shot at selling merchant services to the giant national retailers, says Impact Payments Recruiting’s Hensley. At that level, salespeople make presentations to C-level executives and have to explain how tpayments integrate with point-of-sale and accounting systems, he says.

The most successful transitions to selling national accounts usually are made by agents who have been in the acquiring industry at the middle levels, Hensley says.

Whatever the level, the nature of recruiting has changed during the Great Recession, sources agree.

The industry continued to add agents during the recession, luring them away from struggling industries, says Hensley.

Hiring agents for salaried positions posed no more problems than usual during the recession, says Haskett, but finding independent contractors proved more difficult. In difficult times, fewer agents can live sale to sale, he says.

“Maybe they have a mortgage that hasn’t been paid in three months or their electricity is about to be shut off; that individual  doesn’t want to hear he’s not getting a salary,” Haskett says. “The entrepreneurial spirit is much stronger in good times.”

Good times or bad, agents new to the industry require plenty of support. After his four-person recruiting staff spends time networking and cold calling to find and sign an agent, the company want to leave as little as possible to chance, he says.

“Once you get that diamond in the rough, you need to do all you can to ensure that’s going to be a successful investment of time and effort,” Haskett says.

That effort includes three days of classroom training, says Haskett. New independent agents repeat the sessions.

The transition can take six months as the agent “warms” to the industry, says Harvey Loewenstein, who works for Merchant Data Systems, a Miami Beach, Fla.-based ISO. “The operative word is patience,” he says.

 

Look for an expanded version of this article in the March issue of ISO&Agent magazine, scheduled to arrive shortly.

 

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