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Building a team of merchant-level salespeople requires that ISOs know what to look for and where to look, especially at a time when competitors are searching for qualified sales agents, panelists said last month during the Midwest Acquirers Association conference in St. Louis.

ISOs that find agents who fit well with the company's goals and culture can prosper from the agents' success in the market and benefit from decreased agent turnover, said Curt Hensley, president and CEO of Phoenix-based CSH Consulting Inc. "They'd not only be producing-they'd stay, and you wouldn't have to incur more training costs" from rehiring, he said.

An agent fits well with an ISO if both have the same expectations, added Hensley. For instance, agents who work best when ISOs provide sales leads may not prosper at an ISO that requires agents to find and pursue their own leads, he said.

Hensley served on a conference panel on hiring and training new recruits. Steve Moon, regional sales director for First Data Corp., and Matt Clyne, senior vice president of McLean, Va.-based Sage Payment Solutions, also participated in the discussion.

Poor Hiring Practices Can Hurt

While hiring a qualified sales representative can boost company revenue, hiring one who does not fit represents a loss of training and recruiting funds and may damage an ISO's image if the agent performs poorly in the market, said Clyne. By leaving the recruiting process "to chance without solid planning, [ISOs] will get unanticipated results that may be disappointing," he said.

The cost of turnover depends on an ISO's recruitment and training costs, said Hensley. Training alone can range from $1,000 to $2,000, he noted. 

"It costs the same amount to hire, train and fire a poor rep as it does to hire, train and keep a good rep," added Clyne.

An ISO's first step in the search for agents is to "define a strategy and recruit based on it," said Hensley. The recruitment strategy should include everything involved in seeking agents, from the type of compensation plan offered to how to recruit candidates, he said.

Providing a clear strategy is important because not all agents are right for every market, said Moon. "If the ISO has a mom-and-pop retailer focus, it takes a certain kind of" merchant-level salesperson, he said.

Similarly, not all agents are right for every ISO. "There is a major difference between personalities of independent contractors and salaried workers," said Hensley. Independent contractors typically do not receive company benefits and work independently, sometimes for more than one company. Salaried salespeople typically receive benefits and the company manages them more closely.

Searching For New Agents

ISOs can find potential new hires in numerous places-from industry referrals to online career Web sites to recruitment consultants-the panelists agreed. When using the Internet to find agents, however, ISOs need to check applicants' references and backgrounds, said Moon.

Instead of posting a job listing, ISOs should comb resumes posted on job sites and call salespeople who already are employed, suggested Charles Wu, product manager for Burr Ridge, Ill.-based IPPay and a conference attendee. IPPay no longer runs ads on career Web sites because "we get people who are looking for jobs," he said, adding that in his experience candidates searching for work are doing so because of a career problem. "We can pay $500 for one ad listing [on a career site] or pay the same amount for one month of unlimited resume combing," he said.

To recruit agents who are working for competitors, ISOs often need to compete on price. "ISOs have to be able to sell comp plans to merchant-level salespeople because there are lots of ISOs looking for agents," Clyne said. ISOs interested in hiring merchant-level salespeople should create a single, straightforward compensation plan to present to all candidates, he said.

Smaller organizations creating their first compensation plans should work with a consultant, Hensley advised. "Spending money upfront to define a plan is good for a young ISO," he said.

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