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The Green Sheet Online Edition

July 13, 2009 • Issue 09:07:01

Smart specialization

By Jeff Fortney
Clearent LLC

Should I specialize in a particular service or product, or maybe concentrate exclusively on one type of merchant? This is a common question heard from new merchant level salespeople (MLSs), as well as from those who have concerns about their current sales processes.

Even the most experienced MLSs (also known as independent sales agents) will sometimes ask this question in some form. It is not an easy question to answer, but it is a critical one to consider. The simplest answer - of debated validity - is that all successful MLSs ultimately become some form of specialist. The key to this argument is the definition of a specialist.

In the medical profession, a generalist is someone who doesn't concentrate on one specific field or illness. When a specific illness or injury requires treatment beyond the generalist's capabilities, or if the condition necessitates further diagnosis, the generalist will send the patient to a specialist in the appropriate field.

Capitalize on your expertise

In our world, referring a merchant to someone else can mean lost revenue and lost opportunity. As a result, instead of referring merchants to specialists for deals requiring uncommon expertise, MLSs will try to gain enough information to make the deals work. The result is knowledge that MLSs can use to benefit other merchants of the same type.

Finding themselves with a newfound specialty, good MLSs recognize its value and target similar merchants. The merchants gain an expert who speaks their language, not just standard payments industry jargon.

In turn, the specialized channel generates higher returns to the MLS because he or she knows the price points, provides a value-added service to the industry and uses a sales process that is easily repeatable.

Choose targets wisely

The trouble in developing a specialty is that it depends too much on chance. There are too many occasions in which narrowly focused information just doesn't translate well into an industry specialization, and the result is lost sales time.

On the other hand, the most important benefit of specializing is gaining a new referral base: Your merchants will refer their peers because you're the expert in their eyes.

It is possible for you to jump-start the evolution process, identify your likely specialty and prepare for rapid growth. But it is first necessary to identify what a specialist is not.

A specialist is not an MLS who only concentrates on merchants of a certain size. Nor is it an MLS who only sells to one specific merchant type. Don't restrict your specialty too much, and don't target merchants who require longer sales cycles or yield consistently lower returns.

Master merchant types

Before looking narrowly at potential specialties, you must first have a global understanding of merchant types. The simplest way to develop this is to closely examine your partners' credit policy and where merchant types are classified.

Your goal is to develop a clear understanding of the requirements for approval for each merchant type. If you can expedite an approval simply by obtaining the needed paperwork, you will be light-years ahead of MLSs who must delay the process to request further information from the merchants they are attempting to board.

Remember, you must be comfortable both with the list of items required of each merchant and the reasons for those requirements. If you can explain why an item is needed, merchants are less likely to resist providing it.

You must next identify potential merchant specialties. Risk classification should not factor into choosing a field - it only helps identify the knowledge you need for a merchant type.

Identify your assets

If you're a new MLS, several merchant types stand out as opportunities. The key to choosing a specialty is not identifying undersold markets, but rather identifying those that would benefit from the services of a specialist.

Consider your personal history as well. Do you have knowledge of a certain merchant type or specific people or groups? Is your vocation or your avocation something that can help open doors in targeting merchants?

Eliminate the most common merchant types (like restaurants) or those that have consistently small or no margins. These merchants either do not need specialists or aren't worth the time it takes to gain the requisite knowledge to specialize in their arena.

If you are an experienced MLS, examine your current portfolio. Does it contain any consistent merchant types? If so, you may already be on the road to specialization.

Pinpoint the standouts

Here are several merchant types that immediately stand out as needing specialists.

  • Physicians: A recent survey by a medical organization discovered that one-third of all physicians still do not accept credit cards.

  • Business-to-business (B2B) firms: Several trade publications encourage businesses to demand payment terms or extended payback periods. This slows down the demand on the buying merchants' cash flow, but for selling merchants, it can have a serious impact.

    However, many B2B merchants still do not accept payment cards for a variety of reasons. Take the time to learn your customers' businesses, and help them understand the cost savings that can be had by accepting credit cards instead of offering extended payment terms.

  • Repair services: These days, people are keeping their products longer. Instead of buying a new television, they are likely to get their current one repaired. Yet, not many MLSs target repair shops, and repair shops have a poor understanding of the costs of accepting credit cards. Learn the ins and outs of businesses in the repair sector, and show them how to properly accept payment cards.

Don't stop here. Numerous other types of merchants would do well to have a specialist. Think outside the box, and you will find several that fit your background, too.

Find the networkers

There has to be one constant in any industry you choose for specialization: The merchants within it must talk to their peers. The previously mentioned business types are examples of those in which owners and managers, once convinced of your value, can become excellent referral sources.

Specializing does not preclude you from signing other types of merchants, but it can - and will - result in more business. In today's market, isn't that the goal? end of article

Jeff Fortney is Director of Business Development with Clearent LLC. He has more than 12 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at jeff@clearent.com or 972-618-7340.

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