By Biff Matthews
The year everyone wants to forget is 2009. Thankfully, in a few weeks, we all get to start over. The key to success in 2010 will be to revitalize our work with techniques that already serve us well.
As a 35-year industry veteran, I welcome putting principles that have slipped from the top of my mind back into practice. Here are my favorites.
Cold is "old" (or, at least, old school), and for myriad reasons it's no longer an effective prospecting strategy. Successful merchant level salespeople (MLSs) work almost exclusively from referrals. This entails being regularly in contact with customers to learn how things are going, how well their services are fulfilling merchants' needs and what MLSs can do to assist. Any customer is a potential source of referrals. Referrals are the most effective way to "spider" the network of people you know and mine for potential customers. In a nonaggressive way, ask customers for referrals when opportunities present themselves.
Some believe referral generation is counterintuitive in the middle of a recession. One writer likened it to asking a car crash victim to buy a time share while riding in the ambulance to the hospital. It is true many vendors reduce customer calls during down cycles, but wise MLSs will recognize the value of a less cluttered field combined with an environment in which merchants are actively looking for ways to work more efficiently. An expert who has written widely on this topic said 20 percent of customers will always provide a referral and another 20 percent (even those who are very satisfied) never will. Why? It's impossible to know. What we do know is that just requesting a referral plants a seed, and it often pays off in the future, if not immediately.
If referral-getting is not a skill you have honed, make a commitment to master it. Like all good interactions, it's a win-win. You get new prospects, and your client gets the chance to help a trusted vendor - you - while helping a colleague by being introduced to you.
The best ideas come from books. Even for an experienced MLS, David Mattson's The Sandler Rules: 49 Timeless Selling Principles is an excellent read. Sandler's rules, such as "Never help the prospect end the interview," are timeless and delivered with humor, irony and relevance.
The Managerial Moment of Truth: The Essential Step in Helping People Improve Performance, by Bruce Bodaken and Robert Fritz, focuses on transformative techniques to help employees correct mistakes and adjust processes to build more successful organizations. The core of the book is a step-by-step plan for the addition of 25 to 40 percent additional sales capacity, with no increase in staffing.
For the new MLS, Mastering the Game: The Human Edge in Sales and Marketing by Kerry L. Johnson is my top recommendation. This book focuses on "neuro-linguistic selling" - understanding body language and what your prospects are thinking.
Virtually every successful professional I know has a favorite "habit," as in Steven Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. (Habit number five: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood" is a great place to start.)
Finally, Blue Ocean Strategies, by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, presents a compelling case for a creative, rather than combative, approach to sales competition.
The "red ocean" is roughly defined as continuing to beat one's head against the wall, turning the proverbial water red. The "blue ocean" is the path less traveled. But to pursue that, you must exit your safety zone - perhaps for good. What other services can you offer? What kind of expertise can you bring to your current or prospective clients? It's all about helping customers stay in business.
Also, avoiding boredom is an ongoing challenge for type A personalities; as a result they improvise, sometimes to their detriment. Remember that your presentation, though delivered many times, remains fresh to the prospect. So, if it works, resist the impulse to change it.
On a related note, when prospects ask common questions, even seasoned MLSs can slip into canned responses. It's hard to stay focused when you're answering the same question for the fortieth time, so try harder. Bright, successful people are bored easily; that's understandable. Just don't let it erode your performance.
2010 is not likely to begin with a bungee-style bounce-back. Growth is likely to be anemic. The smart money says the economy as a whole will continue to be sluggish through most of next year.
There will be more bank failures and foreclosures, and lots of industries will go into - or remain in - the doldrums. When the ice finally breaks, pent-up demand will cause a surge, but it will be some time before there is capital to start new businesses.
For the MLS, this means it's time to focus on services that can help keep clients viable.So, what does that mean? The most urgent issues relate to Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) certification and compliance, and contingency strategies for notification and other legal obligations in the event of a security breach.
There are companies that offer policies to perform those functions and satisfy both state and federal requirements. And there is PCI insurance, which covers fines levied by card brands and state regulators. The ability to help merchants navigate these options will add to your credibility, your revenue stream and your retention rate during this challenging business cycle.
The first cousin to data security is identity security. I recently read Stealing Your Life: The Ultimate Identity Theft Prevention Plan, by Frank W. Abagnale. The book outlines steps merchants and others can take to protect their identities. What many do not realize is that company identities are being stolen at rates nearly equal to that of individuals. Helping merchants erect practical fraud barriers is another way to expand your suite of services.
With the mid-year deadline approaching, opportunities exist to assist customers with upgrading their equipment for PCI PIN Entry Device compliance. The July 2010 PIN encryption deadline is of critical importance to merchants. They all need effective solutions. Know and discuss the requirements in realistic terms, and avoid scare tactics.
Because of the rapidity of change in our industry, I want to reiterate something I advocated in an earlier article: Equipment purchases do not make sense for merchants today. Lease-to-purchase makes some sense, but rental gives the merchant the greatest flexibility.
With rental, there is income, and later, upgrade opportunities for MLSs. Additionally, rental gives both parties the ability to cancel the agreement. It also prevents merchants from becoming saddled with obsolete equipment.
This is 180 degrees from what I said two years ago, but changes are coming rapid fire, and many of them involve security. Changes not even on the visible horizon will have to be managed as well - and soon. If you're part of that managing, you will distinguish yourself in the value you add to every merchant in your portfolio.
Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc., the parent company of CardWare International, based in Heath, Ohio. He is one of 12 founding members of the Electronic Transactions Association, serving on its board, advisory board and committees. Call him at 740-522-2150, or e-mail him at email@example.com..
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