The secret’s out: ISOs and agents have a bright future if they offer merchants consultative services, back-office optimization and fraud-screening products.

That advice ranks No. 1 on the Top 10 list of the Secrets of Payments Consultants presented Wednesday at the Northeast Acquirers Association 2014 Winter Seminar and Outing in Mount Snow, Vt.

At the bottom of the list, as outlined by Scott C. Tivey, president of CNP Solutions, a Westin, Conn.-based consulting firm, comes a nugget of supposed wisdom that may have struck some conference attendees as a bit awkward at first.

“Don’t do trade shows,” read the slide projected on a screen in front of the trade show audience.

But Tivey hastens to qualify that pronouncement by explaining that the NEAA show offers enough educational and networking opportunities that defy that general rule.

Some other conferences don’t represent a good return on investment because of booth expenses, travel costs and revenue lost when salespeople are out of the office or off of the streets, he maintains.

Moving to Secret No. 9, Tivey cautions that many payments consultants lack the technical knowledge to advise clients on hardware and software decisions. That can create a need to engage additional resources, he says.

The next secret concerns how consultants work. They have a number of ways of making money, ranging from referral fees to consulting fees.

Good consultants, Tivey continues, don’t move a merchant to a new “processing home” solely because of lower rates. It’s difficult to shift to another corporate culture, and changes in connectivity can become tricky, too, Tivey says.

Where do you often hear about new technology first? From consultants, he says. It’s their job to keep up with what’s new and to understand how new tech could benefit their clients.

Reporting’s a weak spot for most merchants; thus it represents an opportunity for ISOs to step in and solve problems, Tivey notes.

Besides onboarding merchants, consultants help merchant clients by mining data, finding business verticals with recurring payments, and plotting marketing and promotional strategy, he says.

Merchants often prevail upon consultants to find them a merchant account and processor, Tivey says.

“A big part of what we’re asked to do is when merchants say, ‘find me a home.’ ” But the search isn’t just about price. Merchants, who are increasingly tech savvy, are concerned about connectivity and other tech issues.

Merchants also crave partners who offer more than just transaction services. “They want to feel loved,” Tivey says.

Meanwhile, consultants act as “sounding boards” by maintaining contact with merchants, service providers, ISOs and banks, he says.

And so Tivey concludes his list with heavy emphasis on the No. 1 secret—that the future looks promising for ISOs that add enough value-added services to make themselves indispensable to merchants.

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