Mark Dunn
January 26, 2023
min read

As some of you know my principal work as an independent consultant is with owners of entrepreneurial payments and fintech companies.  Though the work we do is varied in nature, I can focus on five central questions that have come up most often during the last ten years.  These are

  1. How do I grow my sales?
  2. How do I differentiate my company?
  3. How can I compete with the big players in an atmosphere of big change?
  4. Where can I get more working capital to grow?
  5. When should I consider selling my portfolio?

Each one of these questions must be considered within the unique circumstances of the company’s development, sales history, management, markets, products and services offered, processing relationships, and many other factors.  At the risk of giving simplistic answers, I’ll share some thoughts about each of these questions.  

In part 1 I address the first two questions:

How do I grow my sales?

To grow sales, you have to do a few basic things:

  1. increase the number of salespeople, preparing each of them to be productive
  2. recruit effectively
  3. hire and manage for results
  4. increase the sales productivity and effectiveness of your existing salespeople
  5. improve sales training
  6. improve sales management
  7. focus salespeople on making every part of their day maximally productive
  8. increase the attractiveness of the products and services you offer, whether by increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the products or services, lowering the price or both
  9. partner with processors and vendors who have high-value products and services that will give you a competitive advantage
  10. negotiate the best pricing available for these products and services

Hot Tip:  In my experience with ISOs, the best merchant services salespeople are developed, not hired.  Develop salespeople from within the company.  Some of the best salespeople I know started out in the technical side or client support side of the business.  If you recruit a tech school student to work part-time doing deployment or installs, work to develop that person’s marketing and sales abilities so they might eventually be comfortable moving into a sales role.

As most of my work has been with independent sales organizations selling merchant services, I address my next two questions to ISOs.

How do I differentiate my company?

Most ISO’s focus on things every other ISO is doing.  ISOs are great at copying other ISOs.  For the last fifteen years this has been “me too” industry.  Latest POS systems – got em.  E-commerce – we do that.  Virtual terminal – yeah.  Ho hum.  

What makes your ISO better?  And don’t say pricing because no matter what your price, someone will be willing to beat it to get the deal away from you.

In the great book Traction by Gino Wickman, the author talks about defining your “three uniques.”  These three things are the unique and different things that you do and no one else does.

I’m looking for things like:  We’re one of only a handful of ISO’s in the country focused on the “_____” market.  Fill in the blank with your market niche.  What is your real strength?  Where do you shine?  Have you made this strength the focus of your marketing message?

Hot tip:  Focus on a market niche where you can hold the “four aces”

Ace of clubs:  You know the market niche better than almost anyone.  You have experience with it and have done your homework.

Ace of spades:  You have a unique processing solution that was custom designed for your niche market and will integrate with their accounting or management systems.

Ace of hearts:  Your niche market is not commoditized.  Price is not the primary consideration.  You can realize a healthy profit margin.

Ace of diamonds:  Either you or a marketing partner have direct access to decision makers at many hundreds of prospective accounts.  No one of your competitors knows how to call on and close their owners.

How can I compete with the big ISO’s in an atmosphere of big change?

Don’t compete with the big ISO head-to-head where they are strong.  You have to do something important that the big guy is not doing.  Here are some examples:

  1. Twenty-four hour, 7-day a week immediate live tech support with a “we fix it now” guarantee.  I know of one ISO who personally put three terminals on a private plane to replace three terminals damaged in an overnight fire.  The merchant lost no downtime.
  2. Yearly face-to-face “solution, service, and rate” meetings with your largest clients.  This type of attention to continue proving why you deserve the client’s business has boosted merchant retention at one growing ISO.  

Hot tip:  Not every improvement in your competitive position costs your ISO a lot of money.  Getting your clients to share their ambitions, frustrations, and challenges concerning payments will tell you a lot about what you should focus on.  

Check out Five Biggest Questions, Part 2

If you’d like to take this discussion further, contact me at

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