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The Green Sheet Online Edition

October 24, 2011 • Issue 11:10:02

Customer longevity in the new commerce chain

By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.

BusinessDictionary.com defines selling as the last step in the chain of commerce when a buyer exchanges cash for goods or services. But in the merchant services trade, a closed sale is just the first step in the commerce chain.

The signed application is then reviewed for accuracy, entered into the system, assigned a merchant identification number and terminal identification number so the account can be boarded and installed. The success of each sale is measured over time by customer longevity and transaction volumes.

Considering all the time, money and effort invested in boarding new accounts, what else can we do to keep our merchants happily processing month after month, year after year? Here are some tips from sales pros and payments industry experts on retaining merchants.

Manage expectations

You know the old saying, "Under promise and over deliver"? It's so important in our business. Why promise to "overnight" a welcome kit to a new account when you can offer to "expedite" it instead? Fulfillment centers and overnight shipments can be subject to delays. You'll convey the same sense of urgency and can-do attitude when you promise expedited delivery. If the product shows up the next day, you'll be a hero. If it shows up the same week, you'll still look good.

Does your merchant know how to operate the equipment you've provided, as well as the number to call for assistance, voice authorizations and supply orders? It's tempting to cut and run as soon as you get a signed application, but taking time to review pricing, technology and back-office procedures will help transition new customers to your company's way of doing things and prevent unwelcome surprises.

Mary Anne Davis, author of The Sales Messenger: 10 Lessons for Sales Success in Your Business and Personal Lives recommends managing expectations as a practical way to close sales and grow relationships.

"Manage expectations by checking in before proceeding to the close of sale," she wrote. "In other words, find out the customer's opinion about ideas, products or service before asking them to make a decision. Ask if it meets their expectations. [It's better to] get an objection here than at the time of decision. Negotiation skills in selling start here."

Establish trust

The merchant services business is a relationship business, and good relationships are based on trust. As Paul Green wrote in Good Selling!SM 2: Thirteen Weeks to Personal Success, "Trust is paramount to the exchange of knowledge, and, as every successful sales professional knows, merchant knowledge is power. Trust is born of a common sense of commitment and desire to obtain like goals. Trust must be ingrained, a part of your business persona. It is the coaxial cable that connects you with your merchants."

Make a habit of routinely checking in with your merchants, even if it's not your primary responsibility. A quick call or email takes only minutes, keeps you connected and shows customers that you care.

Think partner, not vendor

Does your merchant think of you as a vendor or a partner? Vendors provide goods and services. Partners share in the responsibilities, outcomes and profits of a merchant's business. If you're not exploring a business fit between your merchant and your company, you could be leaving more than just money on the table, according to Mark Shonka and Dan Kosch, authors of Beyond Selling Value, A Proven Process to Avoid the Vendor Trap.

"We have to say, 'We're not going to be vendors any more; we won't be commoditized; we refuse to compete exclusively on price,'" they wrote. "Instead of focusing on features and price, or selling to gatekeepers who insist on contorting value into a grid, we must proactively understand how our customers do business, find ways to address pressing business issues, and recommend strategic solutions that improve the way our customers do business.

It means stepping away from a limited focus on departmental solutions in favor of a big-picture business value. It means presenting business fit, not product fit."

Put business first, product second

Changing the focus from product fit to business fit may seem like a tall order for many merchant level salespeople who have been trained to sell on features and benefits and whose merchants have been trained to negotiate low rates and free terminals. There's a saying in our business that if you live by rate you will die by rate. This is why it's critical to rise above the mob mentality and differentiate.

If we're serious about breaking out of the vendor trap, we can't lead with products or even value-added solutions. We must begin by interviewing merchants to find out as much as possible about their businesses, customers, pain points, and pros and cons of their current processing systems. If we're serious about doing our research, we must be willing to go beyond publicly available information on company websites to gain a deeper understanding of what's really going on behind the scenes.

Manage change

If we're committed to a relationship, we'll find ways to improve it so it will continue to grow. Organizations change all the time. The payments industry was built on change, moving from paper to electronic transactions, from analog to digital, from brick-and-mortar to virtual, scalable systems. Former Senior Vice President at Hypercom Corp. and payments industry all-star John Marshall used to say, "We have to find ways to use change as a competitive advantage."

The changing payments landscape in the U.S. market is a call to action to think globally and act locally. While we may be laggards when it comes to implementing Europay/MasterCard/Visa and near field communication technologies, we can use our late-to-the-party advantage by designing solutions that address our merchants' requirements while making them uniquely and creatively American.

Stay connected

Amid all the hype and excitement of mobile payments and social media, it makes sense to stay in touch with our merchants. Whether they're pioneering early adopters of new payment technology or the solid, dependable late majority, they're our partners who make innovation possible. Let's stay connected so we can continue to be their strongest link in the expanding chain of commerce. end of article

Dale S. Laszig is Senior Vice President of Sales in the United States for Castles Technology Co. Ltd., a manufacturer and global provider of smart card, contactless and POS solutions. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or dale_laszig@castech.com.tw.

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

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