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Merchant Account Consultants – A Wolf in the Hutch or a Merchant’s Best Friend?

In every field, there are experts willing to sell their skills to anyone who could benefit from them, and the payments industry is no exception. With the growing public attention on the bank card industry, merchant account advisors are popping up on the Internet and perhaps even at your local networking events. The question is whether this new wave of payment consultants are simply vendors giving themselves a new title, or whether they are legitimate professionals helping to combat merchant abuse due to a lack of unbiased information and support.


The problems facing the credit card industry can be summed up simply: too much money, too little information and too little oversight. There is a lot of money to be made selling merchant accounts, especially when merchants know little and have nowhere to get unbiased advice. This is not a new problem, but it has received a lot of attention in recent years. Most recently, media coverage of the Cardholder Bill of Rights and the Consumer Rebate and Fee Transparency Amendment has further increased public awareness. But all this seemingly benign attention could have an ironic consequence.


The bank card and electronic payments industry is undoubtedly one of the most competitive financial sectors, and competition drives marketing and sales force excellence. Merchant services companies are no slouch when it comes to identifying a new angle that will sell more merchant accounts. If their agents can close more accounts by calling themselves merchant account consultants instead of salespeople, it’s not a hard decision to make.


So let’s assume for a second that most of the companies that call themselves merchant account advisors are actually salespeople. Is that a bad thing? After all, this author stresses the importance of finding a savvy merchant service provider. The problem is that being an advisor does not guarantee accuracy. To be a reputable advisor, a professional needs something or someone to back up their credentials.


What about independent payment advisors? They do exist. I visit several of their informative websites almost daily. Why can’t the average merchant use these professionals to help them find the best merchant account? Well, they can if they want to pay the service fee. Not surprisingly, for many merchants and small business owners, another fee is simply not an option %u2013 pun intended.


So what are your options if you’re looking for a merchant account but don’t have the time or inclination to become an electronic banking card expert? You can pay a bona fide advisor, but it’s expensive and a bit excessive for the average merchant. You can find a competent merchant service provider willing to walk you through the sales process, but it’s hard to know if what they’re telling you is right. So it seems we’re back to square one %u2013 but not quite.


Here are some tips to help you distinguish between real merchant account consultants and truly competent salespeople and those who simply give themselves a new title to sell more clients.


If you want to hire a real merchant account consultant, here are some tips to ensure you get a competent professional who will look out for your best interests.


Check references and look at marketing materials. Payment consultants can be easily found through any search engine and their websites usually have all the information you need to know that they are trustworthy. For lesser-known providers, check their credentials, ask if they are members of professional organizations and even if the advisor has written any publications about their industry.


Ask if the advisor is affiliated with a merchant service provider and, if so, how they are compensated for their referrals. If you find an advisor who is affiliated with only one or a few merchant service providers, or if he or she is paid significantly more by one provider than by others, chances are he or she is biased.


Beware of pressure. A consultant’s job is not to sell you anything. They are hired to assess your needs and use their knowledge and experience to recommend the best treatment solution for your needs. If a consultant pushes you toward a particular provider or treatment method without providing a detailed rationale for their position, you should be suspicious and question their motives.


Next, I’ll give you some tips that will help you distinguish between truly competent and consultative salespeople and those who are more interested in the size of their portfolio.


Pay attention to hard-hitting sales tactics. One of the main differences between traditional sales techniques and the consultative approach is the degree of pressure applied by the salesperson. A salesperson with a consultative approach to selling will educate you during the sale; he or she will not push a particular solution on you.


You must trust the salesperson’s knowledge of the industry. You don’t have to be an expert to know if a salesperson is just winging it or if they really know what they’re talking about. Salesperson turnover is high in the payments industry, and many salespeople hit the road with little more than an introductory course in the basics of credit card processing. These salespeople tend to keep topics superficial and explain things very quickly. If you feel like a salesperson doesn’t really know what they’re saying, you should look elsewhere.


Ask for their experience and references. The payments industry is changing almost daily in many ways. New technologies and processing methods are frequently introduced, legislation changes, which can affect your costs. Your vendor becomes your advisor if you decide to use their processing services, and they should know the industry well enough to keep you informed. Look for a vendor who has experience in the industry.


For confidentiality reasons, references in the processing industry can be hard to find. However, if you ask persistently enough, a vendor should be able to provide at least one or two references that you can use to check their credentials.


Beware of evasive statements and a dismissive tone. I’ve listened to many sales pitches that sounded great but weren’t entirely accurate, to say the least. A good example of this behavior involves the monthly minimum for a merchant account. Monthly minimums have always been a tough sell because sellers use them to cover their costs and merchants feel like they are not paying anything. Many sellers get around this by saying something like, “The minimum doesn’t apply to you because you plan to process more than $2,000 per month.” Many dealers don’t care and continue the sales process.


If you notice a salesperson rushing into what seems to be an important point, or if he or she is too dismissive, ask for a thorough explanation. If his or her explanation doesn’t reassure you, you should look for another salesperson.


Payment processing is an increasingly complex and important aspect of business. You need all the help you can get, and sometimes a merchant account advisor is the answer. If an actual advisor is not an option, look for a sales representative who is willing to take the time to work with you, learn about your business and train you. Online comparison services like CardFellow.com are another great middle ground option. Sites like this one can help you find the most knowledgeable agent through reviews and multiple quotes.



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