The payments industry is evolving and expanding exponentially. In the past decade we have seen the introduction of new technologies, cottage industries to address Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) compliance, and new federal and state regulations that have transformed the current financial services landscape into a totally different picture than it was just a few years ago.
To stay ahead of the competition and continue to grow both portfolios and revenue streams, ISOs and merchant level salespeople are compelled to remain lifelong learners. They must stay abreast of new products and services, security and legislative mandates, sales and marketing strategies, and burgeoning verticals in order to board new merchants and keep current ones sticky.
But what does it mean to be a lifelong learner? And how do you achieve the highest return on investment by setting time aside for additional educational and professional growth? Attending conferences, night classes and workshops can be impractical because of financial or time constraints. But there are time- and cost-effective ways to learn new things.
The way to do that is to make learning a hobby. Here are a few suggestions for judiciously using your time to increase your knowledge and skills, while helping yourself do your job better.
Put on a language instruction CD during windshield, rail or air time. Underbanked and unbanked consumer markets - which include non-English speaking consumers - are growing at a phenomenal rate. Learning a second language is a tremendous step toward increasing your vertical footprint.
Spanish is spoken in most areas of the United States, and the country's southern and western regions have significant Southeast Asian populations that include people of Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian, Thai and Filipino descent.
Who is selling to these merchants? And how many merchants who do not speak English as their first language are in your immediate area? Remember, too, international payments is a growing sector, and many U.S.-based ISOs, processors and vendors are now expanding outside American borders.
If you sit down on the couch after a long day's work and turn on the TV, you are missing prime reading time. Cracking open a book or snapping the newspaper to your favorite section is a great way to relax, unwind and learn.
Of course, make it enjoyable - not like work. Pick up a page-turner, in the genre of your choice, or read the sports section. By taking a mental break from work-related problems, you are recharging your mental batteries for the next day at the office.
In the meantime, you might be learning a good joke or anecdote you can then use as an ice-breaker when meeting prospective clients or strengthening relationships with current ones. If you service a certain vertical market, go to the library and check out an entertaining book about that industry or business.
If you have cigar stores in your portfolio, read up on the growing of cigar leaves or the history of the cigar. The knowledge you glean from forays into this subject can only help cement your relationships with your clients. You understand their business more deeply. They see that you are taking a genuine interest in their livelihood.
It has become increasingly critical to know your customer - many merchants won't even respond to sales calls over the phone. Learning about the subjects your merchants are interested in strengthens your connection to them and can make them more receptive to business offers like new products and value-added services.
Being a lifelong learner also entails being a lifelong teacher. The best teachers are those who can impart their knowledge, wisdom and experience succinctly to industry newbies or seasoned professionals learning a new technology or strategy. Lifelong learners become teachers because they are not selfish; they are open-minded and willing to share their expertise with those who also want to grow.
Continuing to learn over time enables you to think better on your feet and express yourself to merchants extemporaneously. The mind, like a muscle, will learn to react more quickly and assuredly with frequent use. And, who knows, that Spanish phrase you learned from a CD or the tidbit of information you gleaned from a book may make the difference in making your next sale. Now that's a lesson worth learning.
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