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The Green Sheet Online Edition

October 12, 2009 • Issue 09:10:01

A practiced approach

By Jeff Fortney
Clearent LLC

There is an old story about a couple lost on a New York street. They check their maps and finally decide they had better ask for directions. They approach a gentleman reading a newspaper on a bench, and they ask, "Excuse me, can you tell us how to get to Carnegie Hall?" Without looking up from his paper, he responds, "Practice, practice, practice."

His response could apply to the question, How do I become a successful merchant level salesperson (MLS)?

Sales is as much an art as a science. The best artists all practice, and the best of the best typically practice more than the others. However, most MLSs will tell you they practice very little. In fact, most would tell you they learn by doing. Sadly, the results of this approach usually aren't positive due to its inherently long learning curve and repeat errors, which often have a negative monetary impact.

Thousands of programs teach people how to sell, but few teach salespeople how to practice. Yet effective practice can make an average person better and an above average person great.

Go from so-so to superb

The following steps can help you develop solid practice skills and increase your effectiveness:

  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses. The most common error in practice is to practice only what you do well. The difference between mediocrity and excellence is the ability to magnify your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses.

    One simple way to identify these areas is to make a list of activities, and next to each write either "comfortable" or "uncomfortable," based on how you feel when doing that activity. Be specific. Don't list sales calls as an activity. Break it down to cold calling, referral calling, meeting face-to-face or telemarketing.

    Then add a third column, and write "successful" or "unsuccessful" after each activity. You may feel comfortable doing an activity, but not find success. Or you may be uncomfortable at an activity, but be successful doing it.

  • Build a practice plan. Create a new list and classify each activity in these combinations: comfortable/successful (C/S), uncomfortable/successful (U/S), comfortable/unsuccessful (C/U), and uncomfortable/unsuccessful (U/U). These will identify where you should concentrate your practice. You want to amplify what you do well and improve what you don't do well.

    The U/S and C/U categories should account for 70 percent of your practice time. Spend the remaining time on the other two, always finishing with C/S.

    Your practice can't consume your full day. Therefore, your practice must be limited to a finite period, ideally never more than one hour a day. Thus, it is better to concentrate on making the U/S comfortable, and the C/U successful.

    In these two areas, you are demonstrating some skill, but you need improvement. By focusing on them, you will see faster results.

    Your practice must consist of actions that are repeatable, measurable and improve what you need to improve. For example, if you have identified telemarketing as a U/S activity, it is prudent to record several calls, listen to them and identify what makes you feel uncomfortable. Is it your opening? If so, script a new one and practice it in front of a mirror. Watch your body language. (This works well for face-to-face cold calling, too. A mirror is a valuable tool for practice.)

    Be creative. An exercise doesn't have to mirror an everyday activity. For example, to practice listening skills, try this: Memorize a song by listening to it, not singing it. Listen, memorize the words and then write the words down. Don't write the words until you have memorized the whole song.

    Start with a simple song and move up to those that are hard to understand. Then, after you are confident that you have it, look up the words on the Internet to see how well you did. Do this exercise until you can comprehend and accurately repeat the words you hear.

    This works because it forces you to listen to what is said, not to the sound of the music - and to retain the meaning without using notes. You are forced to concentrate on the message received and temper the urge to interject. When you can master a rap song, you will have mastered the ability to listen.

    Devise other exercises using a similar approach. And remember, always finish by practicing what you do well; it leaves you on a positive note.

  • Find a mentor to help design your practice plan. Even the best musicians have teachers who aren't afraid to push them to improve. These teachers develop practice plans to help their students get better.

    Processing partners can be a source of trainers or mentors. Choose your processing partner by the support the company offers - and not just the training. Make sure you have access to individuals who can serve as your mentors. Their value should be factored into your choice of partners, as they can - and will - help you grow faster.

    A good mentor will tell you whether an exercise has value, if you need to work on specifics, whether you have drifted from your plan and if you have developed bad habits. If your mentors don't do this, ask them why or find others who will.

  • Develop a practice routine and stick to it. Practicing is like dieting; it only works if you do it all the time and do it right. And, also like dieting, if you quit, its effectiveness diminishes.

    Baseball players take batting practice every day. Professional golfers spend time every day at the driving range or the putting green. Practice is an integral part of their work day. They recognize that the effort put into practice will result in more success.

    Set aside the same time every day to practice, if possible, and stick to it. Book it on your calendar as if it's an appointment.

Work for rewards

Sustained practice isn't easy. Guitarists can develop calluses from practice, even blisters, but they know the effort has value. You won't develop calluses following your practice plan, but you will derive value. And when people ask you how you got to be so good at what you do, your answer will be simple, "Practice, practice, practice." 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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