Cover Story
Making the Best

of the ETA Annual Meeting and Expo
by Gregory C. Cohen

   As the 2004 Electronic Transaction Association (ETA) Annual Meeting in Las Vegas is right around the corner, I decided to dedicate my column to helping you get the most out of this event. First and most importantly ... Get There! This event is the one time each year when all the players in the industry are in one place, which will give you access to the decision makers no matter what level of the payment industry you are currently involved.
   For the merchant-level salesperson, there are numerous ISOs and value-added suppliers to meet; for the ISO, there are leasing companies, hardware vendors and processors; for processors, there are partnership opportunities and for everyone, there is the ability to learn about the newest technologies, listen to industry gurus (past and present) and to network (meet, converse and even socialize) with the movers and shakers of our industry. All the regional shows are great, but if you are going to make the payment industry your business, the ETA Annual meeting is the one event you need to attend.
   Before hopping the plane to Las Vegas make sure you plan your schedule in advance. That way you can make the most of your time. Las Vegas is a fun place, so set your goals before you show up. Determine what you want to get out of the event. Is it to find a new hardware supplier or a great new ISO partner? Write down the goals for you and your company. Before you arrive, start setting up appointments with the vendors, suppliers and partners with whom you need to meet. Over 90 exhibitors are listed on the ETA's web site ( It is never too early to start planning. Call and set up your meetings now, as it is never too early to get on the phone and make your appointments. As you are setting up meetings make sure to set a meeting place away from the trade show floor. The exhibit hall sounds like an easy place to meet, but with all of the traffic and distractions, it is actually a terrible place to have a real meeting. Create your goals and set up your vendor, supplier and partner meetings well in advance and away from the trade show floor.
   There is a lot more to gain at this event than gaining a new supplier or partner, there is a great opportunity to learn as well. The first two days of the event (Monday and Tuesday) offer you some of the best teachers and education available in the industry. The ETA now has half-day classes that provide the payment basics, specific sales and marketing methodologies, acquiring operations and new technologies sessions. I recommend taking at least one of these classes while in Las Vegas. In addition, throughout the Expo, there will be individual break-out sessions lead by industry experts that can enhance your knowledge of certain functional areas. There are four separate tracks for these educational breakouts (operations, sales and marketing, technology and emerging markets) and based on your needs, I highly recommend you allow time to attend. It is in these breakouts where you can learn specific techniques, new methodologies and learn about new technologies that will propel your business to the next level.
   As you are building your calendar for the event, make sure to block-off time for the keynote speakers and organizational events. This year's event will not only have Al Roker, the famous weather guy, to kick things off (he should be a fun catalyst for the event); but will culminate with Charles Fote, the CEO of First Data. Charlie's company is the dominant player in our industry and in many ways lays the blue- print for the future of the payment business. And I am sure, with some prodding, he will talk about emerging technologies, the Concord merger and debit processing, the future of interchange, First Data Net and his vision for the payments industry. In addition, I would definitely not miss the National Organization of Payment Professional (NAOPP)'s events and seminars. This organization is gaining tremendous momentum and is the voice of the merchant-level salesperson. Anyone who is or who works with the feet- on-the-street (which I think is everyone), needs to learn about this new professional organization and the benefits and voice it offers.
   You have now blocked off your schedule to allow for education, motivation, prophesy and meetings with new suppliers. Your calendar is pretty full, but there is still plenty of time to network and, believe me, networking is one of the most important aspects of this business. Your competitor today can be your partner tomorrow and opportunities to enhance your position are everywhere. Networking generally starts at the golf event on Tuesday and carries over to the new member reception closely followed by the opening reception that evening. Cocktails are optional, but be prepared. This crowd is filled with folks who like to party and have fun. My suggestion is take it easy the first night or two so you can meet and mingle with as many people as possible. On Wednesday evening, the ETA has their big event, which is followed by more vendor parties. Some of these vendor parties are more elaborate than large weddings so have fun while you work. Play, drink, gamble, dance and hang out with as many different people as you can. The more people you meet, the more your payment-processing network will grow. Part of your job at this event is to be an active part in the payment community.
   This year's ETA is poised to be one of the best ever, so, plan your time wisely. If you plan ahead, set your goals and carry out the plan you will have a blast and accomplish a lot in a very short time. And, also plan to say, "Hello," to me when you are there. I would love to meet you and increase my network. See you in Vegas.