By Jeff Fortney
Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." These words, excerpted from Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 inaugural address, are as pertinent now as they were then.
Today, people are afraid. They are afraid their jobs will be cut next. Or they have lost their jobs and are apprehensive about being able to land new jobs. Even those who are not at risk of losing employment have stopped or reduced spending because of uneasiness about what lies ahead.
Heightened anxiety is common during a recession. But this is no ordinary recession. Holiday spending dropped to its lowest level since 1966. Businesses that were counting on strong holiday sales are now in dire straits. Many have already closed.
We, as payment professionals, are not immune to the crippling effect of spreading doubts about the economy's ability to rebound. If we do not address it head-on, it can cause paralysis - amplifying existing challenges.
Fortunately, we can all take steps - from the top of an organization down through the ranks - to help offset this insidious fear.
Be honest with yourself and with others that this phenomenon is real. Don't, however, allow fear to overwhelm you. Stay focused on what you can control, not what you cannot.
No matter how much you assure your team, realize that your staff is most likely afraid of what the future may hold. Likewise, merchants are not exempt from runaway anxiety. Remember this when you talk to them.
Fearing a drop in production is commonplace today. Recognize that the market is different from last year. Be realistic. If you are doing everything you should be doing, be patient, success will follow. Celebrate each success - no matter how small.
Be cautious of using the state of the marketplace as an excuse for setting easy goals. Use solid goal-setting tactics to set difficult - but reachable - goals.
Also common during economic downturns is the fear of losing stature. You might suspect your value has diminished in other people's eyes. Often this perception is unjustified. Value means different things to different people, but no one can be a better you than you.
Guard yourself against reading into things that happen in the course of doing business. And don't allow a "no" or another negative response to define what you consider to be your value.
Less than positive reactions when you're speaking to merchants may be more a reflection of the times than anything you've done or said.
Ask yourself whether you are doing anything different now than you did before. If your approach to work has changed for the worse, consider why you are behaving as though you are powerless.
Successful salespeople don't lose value if they stay the course. So take appropriate steps to generate business. If you concentrate on and persist with proven, revenue-producing measures, you can't fail.
Although you need to be honest about your feelings, it is imperative that you not unduly amplify the fears of those around you. Ongoing portfolio growth - along with ongoing company growth - depends on remembering this.
The key is to communicate, but be careful how you communicate. People see and hear subjectively. They hear words through constantly changing filters, and those filters can distort your true meaning or intent.
What is said is not always what is perceived. It can be said that perception is nine-tenths of reality.
Communicate to all of your merchants, not just the few that you feel most comfortable with. A quarterly newsletter or letter is one way to do this. If you choose to not communicate with your customers, realize that your competition will fill the void.
And when communicating with your merchant base, keep the mesage positive. Use phrases like the following:
Avoid words that can amplify negative concerns. People are working harder to get ahead, not struggling to stay afloat. People face challenges, not problems. Thoughtful word selection is integral to positive communication.
Using positive language is important, but so is honesty. It's fine to share information that may not be positive, but make sure there's a meaningful reason to go down that path. Also consider whether you or your merchants have control over issues you raise in conversations.
If so, act on them. If not, accept the situation, and move on to what you can control. This way you won't ignore issues that need to be acknowledged, but you also won't get consumed by them or use them as an excuse for failure.
Yes, fear has again become part of society. But by recognizing this simple fact and addressing it wisely, you can make a real difference over the next few months.
Jeff Fortney is Director of Business Development with Clearent LLC. He has more than 12 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-618-7340.
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