ISO Strategies
A Call For Salesperson Certification

Part 1
by Harold Montgomery

   Standardized certification of sales professionals would improve the industry and protect all of us.
   Our industry got a black eye last spring when the Federal Trade Commission shut down CMS, a large Plano, Texas ISO. It has been alleged that CMS used unethical business practices to sell processing services to merchants.
   The FTC shut the owners out of the operation and handed it over to a Trustee to straighten things out. By allreports, the Trustee has done a wonderful job. Unfortunately for the industry, no one is reporting on the good news � even though they covered the bad news very thoroughly! This is typical behavior for the general press, which prefers to highlight the audacious behavior of a few rather than the exemplary behavior of many. (Note: Transaction World is different! Look for the expos� on what went wrong at CMS and what the Trustee has done to fix it on page 7 of this issue, and for solid tips on best practices for ISOs in this and future issues.)
   CMS got hit by the FTC because they had scale � a size big enough to make a point to the industry as a whole. The FTC is unlikely to research every claim about every incident of poor salesmanship, especially when turnover in our industry remains high. Their tactic is to crack down on the big guy and hope the small guys will fall in line. But one-by-one incidents of poor salesmanship gradually built an image of ISO's as all being liars and cheats. The news about CMS just proved the point to a lot of people including our own current and potential customer base, vendors, card associations, banks, etc. I am sure there was more than one instance of "I told you so" thinking -- in and out of our industry. And let's face it, we handed it to the naysayers ourselves. No one is responsible for the ISO reputation except the ISO. Our individual actions created the reputation of our industry. ISO's may all be competitors when it comes to price, but we are all cooperators when it comes to honesty and integrity. We have to make the changes necessary to show that the CMS case is the exception, not the rule.

What's Going on Out There?

   Do you really know what your salespeople are saying to your current or potential customers in the field? How sure are you that what they are telling the merchant in a sales presentation is really what your organization is set up to deliver? These questions may be obvious, but the right answers ensure that your organization will have a smooth working day, happy employees and customers and will keep you out of trouble.
   Our industry has a big handicap built into it. ISO's are sending salespeople into the field everyday without the ability to know with certainty what they are saying to potential clients. I am personally familiar with an ISO leader who came face to face with the enforcement division of a major agency of the US Government within hours of a new sales recruit falsely claiming to be associated with that agency. Obviously, this sales greenhorn thought it would increase his effectiveness in the field if he told the merchant that the federal agency in question was requiring a POS payment terminal upgrade. YIKES! (We might all wish for a government-mandated terminal upgrade, but so far, it's just that � a wish! To claim anything else is a lie.) This is the kind of careless error that can bring down an entire ISO organization, ruining years of hard work - your hard work - and your wealth.
   The merchant involved called the federal agency in question to validate the suspicious claim. The agency's enforcement division took immediate action. It goes without saying that the salesperson was terminated instantly and the ISO cooperated fully with the agency to show that there was no systemic problem in their sales approach.
   In many cases, the executives or owners of a business can be made personally liable for certain acts of employees. If the company I cited above had tolerated or even blessed the behavior of the employee in question, the entire business could have been shut down and the owners prosecuted for impersonating government employees. No one would ever purposefully instruct employees to impersonate government officials, but did you know that failure to correct such behavior when you know about it can be taken as condoning it by the government? Think about that one next time you see misbehavior among salespeople.
   What's the best way to cope with a rogue salesperson? Distance yourself and your organization from him immediately. No amount of sales success can justify destroying your organization.
   One way to weed out this behavior before it starts is through your training program. Do you have a sales ethics section in your training regime? Is there a sales role-play section where students can learn how to handle tough situations without resorting to unethical behavior which could land you in trouble? Is there a legal do's and don'ts section? Does the person who created your training program have spotless ethical record and a great sales track record? Is the person who created your training program the same person who does all the teaching?
   Our industry needs a standardized training program for the universal elements of the sales process � industry and product knowledge, pricing knowledge, basic sales techniques, legal issues, and especially ethics. Such a training program, complete with nationally recognized certifications at various levels of expertise, would distance ISO owners from rogue behavior by showing enforcement authorities that each of us is committed to an ethical approach to the business.
   In addition, each salesperson would have believable credential differentiating himself from fly-by-night actors. Wouldn't a merchant rather deal with a knowledgeable, certified salesperson than some fast talking dude? In addition, the best legal and business minds in the country can be brought to bear on this project, benefiting all ISO's equally. How many of us have access to the right lawyer or the right training specialist? Finding these people is time consuming and using them is costly. The costs of an industry-wide training program can be amortized over each user, which would surely be in the tens of thousands. This would mean that each user (ISO) would pay far less for the program than would any one individual who might develop it. Recruits should be charged a nominal testing and registration fee, and should have not only an initial training requirement, but an ongoing professional education requirement as well. Lawyers, Doctors, real estate agents and many other industries have similar approaches to certification. We are late to this game, but there are plenty of models out there for us to emulate successfully.
   It's going to take a lot of effort to get industry standard testing and certification for ISO's. There are many issues to consider, content, costs, delivery methods, etc. But there is real value out there for all of us if we insist on having the best for ourselves and our customers. In understanding the CMS case, it's clear what the FTC is saying: "Regulate yourselves before we regulate you." I for one, prefer to regulate myself.
   Next time: How salesperson certification can happen in the ISO business.