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The Green SheetGreen Sheet

The Green Sheet Online Edition

May 28, 2012 • Issue 12:05:02

Street SmartsSM

The hard, but valuable lessons of failure

By Jeff Fortney
Clearent LLC

Failure. The word alone creates feelings of sadness, mourning, rejection, defeatism or self-doubt. Most of us have learned the hard way that, in life, we all fail at times. We may not discuss these failures with others, but they happen to us all, and they start at a young age.

When in sixth grade, I was assigned a group history project. I guess my teacher thought highly of me as a leader, as the members assigned to my group received the lowest grades in class. Our assignment was to present an oral report on South American history. We had three weeks to prepare.

We decided to present it as a newscast, with "local" reports from the various places in history. Each member had to prepare his or her own brief report. I had high hopes for the project, until the day of the presentation.

Before we started, one of the group members told me she wasn't finished. I looked at her paper and, sure enough, it stopped mid-sentence. I suggested she read what she had and we would go from there.

As the anchorman, I was to introduce the different countries and their reporters. When I called on her, she started her presentation but quickly reached the end of her incomplete report. She looked at me like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. Out of fear, I then said, "Well, we seem to be having technical difficulties from Columbia."

The class and teacher started laughing hysterically. He may have laughed, but when the grades came back, ours was no laughing matter. He called the presentation "a very entertaining failure." We squeaked by with a C.

Embracing the opportunity to fail

The first lesson I learned from failure is that every cloud has a silver lining. I also learned a valuable lesson about the importance of preparing for, as well as adjusting to, changing circumstances.

Some actually embrace the opportunity to fail. When asked about the many failures surrounding his invention of the light bulb, Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." He referred to his efforts as lessons in perseverance. "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

The payment processing profession is filled with examples of failures. These range from corporate to individual failures. The challenge is to recognize the lesson learned.

Redefining failure

Before we go any further, let's take a look at what failure is not. When a merchant chooses not to sign, this alone is not failure. In some cases, getting a real answer, a true no, will prevent you from wasting any more time. Keep in mind that a decision can be viewed as a success, even if that decision is no.

Failure can result, however, if we invest even more time on an unproductive encounter instead of focusing on future deals. As Alexander Graham Bell said, "When one door closes, another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us."

Not reaching your personal and professional goals is only a failure if you didn't exert your best effort or if you set unrealistic goals. Often, external factors take success or failure out of your control.

Take, for example, the case of a hurricane or other natural disaster about to hit your marketplace. That could significantly impact your success in signing new business. However, setting unrealistic goals based on wishes instead of facts could also be defined as failure.

Bouncing back

Simply put, failure usually results from our own actions. The early 20th century actress Mary Pickford defined failure this way: "What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down." At times, we all do or say something that results in failure. Sometimes it's the choices we make. How we respond defines how the failure impacts us.

Bob Schoenbauer, known as COACH BOB on GS Online's MLS Forum, told this story, "I started in the industry as an agent in the mid-90s, the Golden Age of leasing. As we crossed into the new century, most of my friends in the industry had gone away from leasing and were more interested in building residual income.

"I was very happy chasing new businesses and churning out leases. We did get residuals, but with new businesses and a buy-rate deal, it wasn't much. But I was happy and hard headed.

"As a challenge to my friend Tim, 'Mr. Residuals,' I had my telemarketers set up leads for us to go on together. I was going to show him that leasing was the way to go, and he was out to convert me to residuals.

"The second appointment of the day led us to a four-location merchant. Tim was leading the way. As he was talking, I slid off with one of the managers to discuss the ratty old terminal and separate printer I saw. Before he knew it I had them in a new lease! But much to my surprise, in about 30 minutes he had the processing for all four locations.

"At this point, I really didn't know what that was worth. I thought I had won. So then he told me he would make over $500 per month from this one deal. Needless to say, the light came on and the model switched that day. We were immediately all about the large merchants and residuals."

MLS Forum member DIEGO shared a similar story, "I got into the habit of only caring about large merchants. In some ways this was a good thing, but it wasn't until I visited a good friend who at the time was handling 1,000-plus merchants per month that I realized that there is gold in them there hills.

"Often times smaller merchants are easier to close, and much to my surprise, they had a much higher BP bump. It was in the mixture of the small, medium and large merchants that we found the answer."

In both cases, the common emotion felt was regret that their success was delayed due to decisions based on erroneous beliefs. There is one other common thread, the lesson they learned from their failures.

You can't avoid failure, but you can prevent it from having a significant impact on your business.

Do your homework

House painters don't start by applying a coat of paint. They first prepare the surface, repair any wood issues and tape off areas not being painted. Applying the paint is the last step.

Benjamin Franklin said that by failing to prepare, we prepare to fail. Knowledge is truly power. In designing a targeted call program, don't just identify a territory or a merchant group. Research both with goals to structure your calling efforts and identify how you best fit the target's industry.

If calling on a specific merchant, spend time on the Internet researching the merchant first. Garner enough information to understand what the business does, what it sells and who the decision makers are likely to be. This step can change the scope and nature of your call.

Refine your research

Success in sales depends on committing the time to sell. However, unless we understand what we sell, we can fail even when we feel as if we are succeeding.

Forum member R1RKAR1 tells of his experience. "I started in this business after I saw an ad in the paper for a company out of Texas. They gave me appointments every day and I closed a lot of them even without any training, but getting paid was a negotiation every week.

"I did not know anything about this industry, and it took three weeks to decide I had made a mistake. So I left the biz. It was three months before I gave it another shot and hooked up with a good company.

"I still did not know about residuals. I was paid $200 per deal, but at least I learned how to read a statement and about interchange, and got some basic training. Then one day I met a guy who mentioned The Green Sheet to me, and I started reading everything posted and learned you could build residuals, so I signed with a much better partner.

"It took a year from the time I first started in this business to get what I think is a fair deal. I am very glad I stuck it out." His story is not rare. Others have related similar experiences. The common theme was that they felt they were "thrown to the wolves." For each survivor who continued in the business, there are ten who never came back.

This failure can be seen from the perspective of the individual sales representative, but also from the perspective of the company that sent him out ill-prepared. Inexperienced representatives often don't know what they need to know to be successful.

Spend time learning about the business, but don't cut into your true sales time. Invest time in research, but spend the time wisely. Start with the areas you are most uncertain about, and be careful not to drift off into other less-critical areas.

One caveat: avoid knowledge paralysis. Don't get caught trying to know everything about the business. Don't get swamped by chasing knowledge that isn't immediately helpful.

Applying the lessons next time

Remember, even with great preparation, failure still occurs. When it comes knocking on your door, don't ignore the opportunity to learn from the failure. Examine the situation and look for the lesson(s) to be learned. Before moving on, ask yourself these questions:

  • What exactly led to the failure?
  • Was there something I said or did that could have been handled differently?
  • When faced with this same situation, what would I do differently?

No one likes to fail. Still, it must be said that it is one of the few guarantees in life. As Winston Churchill stated, "Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm." end of article

Jeff Fortney is Vice President, ISO Channel Management with Clearent LLC. He has more than 17 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at jeff@clearent.com or 972-618-7340. To learn about how Clearent can help you grow faster and go further, visit www.clearent.com.

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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