By Jeff Fortney
As summer turns to fall, landscaping in many locales needs to be prepared for the coming winter. This means it's time to trim trees and shrubs, prepare lawns to weather the winter, rake leaves, weed gardens and so on. Ignoring such tasks will result in an unsightly, damaged or even dangerous environment.
Seasons change in the payments world, too, but this often goes unnoticed. It's all too easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day business needs.
And in some cases, climate is not an issue; the change in the calendar, rather than frosty morning air, is all that heralds the change in the seasons. You plug away and suddenly realize Thanksgiving is around the corner. As a result, your efforts, current merchant base and, ultimately, your income suffer.
The time required to recover from lack of preparation could have been spent building, not recovering - all because you neglected to tend to the needs of your "payment yard."
Two areas in your yard need seasonal tending: your merchant portfolio and your sales efforts. Each requires specific types of planning and action. Both also require honesty when evaluating and cleaning them up. Three steps toward solid "winter preparation" include:
I'll explain what those steps mean to payment professionals.
If you haven't recently analyzed your sales efforts, do so now. More effort is required to sign new merchants during the fourth quarter of the calendar year than at any other time. The competition for the same merchants is greater, and merchants who would sign easily in August won't even talk to you in December.
Analyze what you do, and closely compare your plan to what you are actually doing. Are you sticking to your plan or allowing bad habits to drift into your work day? Such lapses may seem less intrusive when the market is at its peak, but they are deal killers now. It's time to eliminate them.
If you have not stayed on top of your portfolio's management, you may have many merchants on board who are losing you money. Address them first.
Closely analyze your residual reporting. It's easy to say that every month you should thoroughly review your reporting, but it's tempting to just look at the total and say it's in line with your expectations. However, by so doing you are missing potential errors, or even losses that, with minimal effort, can be addressed.
Start by asking these questions: Are any merchants losing your business money? (Size of the loss doesn't matter.) If a merchant is causing a loss, has the merchant business changed practices? Has the average ticket changed? Or does a billing error need correcting?
If the merchant's actions have caused the loss, determine your options. There is no reason to keep a merchant who loses you money. This should be a priority.
It is necessary to shape your sales efforts to the season. Recognize the limited sales time available, and laser-focus your actions. You can't just say, "I will make 10 calls today." You must schedule your calls by industry type and schedule through the end of the year.
For example, retailers are still listening to merchant level salespeople in October and the first two weeks of November. But as you get closer to the peak sales season, they are less likely to listen.
Instead, they are inclined to put you off until January at the earliest. Therefore, be very specific regarding your calling plan through the end of the year, and design a call plan that targets merchants who are not affected by the holidays.
You must also closely examine your portfolio to identify and analyze merchants who are at risk. If you have access to ongoing volume reports, see if there are merchants experiencing drop offs in volume.
For those who are experiencing declines, reach out and determine if they are leaving your portfolio, having problems or just experiencing slower sales.
Make sure you reach out to your profitable merchants as well. Make outbound calls to all your merchants to check in or ask about the information you have culled from your analysis of their transaction activity.
Ask them how they feel about their market sectors, listen attentively and make notes regarding what they say. That information will help you in the future.
Make these calls now - before Black Friday.
Next, regroup for the coming year. We spend so much time selling that we neglect to answer essential, building-block questions, including:
Failure to address such questions could result in an ineffective sales program throughout the year, which could have long-lasting repercussions.
The answer to some questions may require that you research the market, schedule training or take other steps needed to make 2011 a better year for your business than 2010.
Also, review your merchant portfolio and ask these questions:
Reward those who have furnished you business, and seek new opportunities from the rest. If you are ignoring the benefits inherent in having satisfied customers, you are neglecting a powerful marketing opportunity.
Even though, for some of you, it's still balmy enough to wear shorts outside, if you don't act now, you will miss out on great opportunities in 2011 - opportunities you may never know you had.
Now is the time for winter preparation.
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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