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The Green Sheet Online Edition

August 27, 2012 • Issue 12:08:02

Street SmartsSM

Stocking your MLS toolbox

By Jeff Fortney
Clearent LLC

In the summer before my 16th birthday, my father thought it was best that I learn to drive in the car I would be driving every day, so he brought home a 1962 Corvair station wagon. It had been reconditioned by my uncle, who had pulled it out of the San Joaquin Delta.

Corvairs were Chevrolet's rear-engine offering. A trunk was in front where the engine normally is, and the engine was in the back. This was the car upon which Ralph Nader's book Unsafe at Any Speed was based.

My Corvair had a hole in the floor where my uncle had drained the Delta water. In winter, cold air blew in quicker than the heater could work. The doors would shake violently if I approached 50 miles per hour. It also had a distinct oil smell, as it leaked a pint of oil a week.

My dad wanted to make sure I was equipped should a problem arise. So he put together my first tool kit. In it he put flares, two screwdrivers, a hammer and a roll of duct tape. For you see, his favorite statement was, "You can fix everything with two screwdrivers, a hammer and duct tape."

He was a mechanic by trade and had a shed full of tools, each of which had a unique specialty. But he truly believed these three common tools and duct tape were all you needed. He had three toolboxes; each contained a roll of duct tape which he used on everything from leaky pipes to roof leaks. One of his retirement gifts was a 12-inch roll of duct tape. In the card was written, "Some have said, give a man a lever, he can rule the world. You have proven all you need is duct tape."

Each salesperson also needs a well-stocked toolbox. It may not consist of physical tools, but it does hold what we need to be successful. The challenge is that it's easy for a toolbox to become so large that it hinders a sale rather than helps it. Whether you are new to the industry or a seasoned veteran, you need to determine the most appropriate items for your toolbox. To do so, ask these four questions:

  • What do you need to be successful?
  • Which tools would you use most often?
  • What specialized tool would you use the least?
  • What is your "duct tape"?

As with any toolbox, available space is finite. A skilled mechanic organizes the box in a fashion that gives fast access to the tools that are used daily; it also finds a place for those that are not used as often but are still necessary. It helps me to think of the various sections of a toolbox as these categories: product knowledge, communication skills, confidence and time management.

Product knowledge

Successful salespeople must understand the products they sell. Our sales are primarily service related, so we must have a general knowledge about the service, its functions and its costs.

For ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs), this means having a working knowledge of interchange, dues and assessments. For fellow GS Online MLS Forum member NCRUM, this knowledge is his duct tape. "My best tool is pricing clients on interchange plus, and then providing 'interchange management,'" he wrote. "I have been able to increase my profitability significantly doing this and at the same time reduce the merchant's costs.

It becomes my job to be the merchant's advocate and take money from the card issuing bank and deliver it back to the merchant's bottom line by helping them reduce downgraded transactions and their interchange and processing costs."

I need to mention an important caveat. Sometimes too much knowledge about a product is like the mechanic with the overflowing toolbox. It can lead to paralysis by analysis. It is not necessary to have a complete knowledge of interchange to be successful. However, it is necessary to have a basic foundation and access to someone who can give you answers to specific technical questions when they arise.

If you are primarily selling an ancillary product such as check services, loyalty or other products of this type, the need for product knowledge still applies, as does the caveat. No matter what you are selling, you must understand the product, its basic functions and its intended use. Sometimes just having a basic understanding of how an ancillary service is used can make the difference between a sold deal and a lost deal.

MBRUNO stated that his duct tape is his "knowledge of technology, the ability to learn new technology quickly and to think outside of the box to use existing tools in unique ways other than their original intent. These tools and abilities have helped me land merchants or partners I wouldn't have been able to if I took things at face value."

NCRUM added that ancillary products are also an important part of product knowledge. He makes "sure merchants have the correct solution to process credit cards and then offers them ancillary products that can help them grow or become more efficient."

When examining this section of your toolbox, be honest; seek the general knowledge you feel you are lacking. This is where a trusted adviser could help you fill in the gaps.

Communication skills

Hundreds - if not thousands - of sales training programs are offered today. They teach a variety of techniques and sometimes have a completely different sales philosophy than what we may have learned in the past. All of these programs have value. However, their value may be limited by what is sold and to whom.

In our industry, we sell to businesses, not consumers, yet business-to-business sales training doesn't always apply. We sell a service, but it can appear to be a commodity. These dichotomies can lead to confusion in both the salesperson and the buyer.

Sometimes the most important sales skill is not what you do, but what your merchant does. "Listening skills, in my opinion, are the most important tools any salesperson could have," said JMATHIS said. "Being able to read people is also important."

Listening is not just hearing what the merchant said. You must also recognize and understand the merchant's needs. Shut off all distractions and focus solely on the needs. BIGRED_DAVE put it this way: "My most valuable tool is my genuine desire to listen to my customers' wants and do my best to deliver that." Listening and understanding are BIGRED_DAVE's duct tape.

LADERA BUSINESS SOLUTIONS took it a step further. "My greatest tool is my ability to speak and listen to customers or potential clients without fear," LADERA posted. "Being able to speak to one person or a large group in a relaxed, calm, confident tone is a skill that I am very proud of."

Adapt your sales skills to fit your market. Don't hesitate to provide a solution to a problem, but before jumping to that solution, make sure you listen closely. Those that do are more successful, as they are addressing a real need.


An old sales adage says people buy from people they know and trust. Most will agree that trust is earned. It starts with a salesperson trusting himself or herself.

To be successful, you must have confidence in yourself and your abilities. Many believe confidence is their most important tool. 1SLICK67 said, "My best tool is selling myself as the solution to whatever the merchant needs. ... I let the merchant know that I do not have all of the answers, but I know how to find them quickly. I don't pull any punches. I work with the merchant to build a trust factor and then ask for his business."

Arrogance is defined as a refusal to admit a lack of knowledge or an error. Arrogance is external; confidence is internal. Arrogance is when salespeople act in ways that convey they think they are superior to merchants. If left unchecked, it can cost you sales.

CCGUY said his "best sales tool is me." STEVE NORELL added, "My best tool is my attitude. I believe that I am better than all of my competitors put together, and I can out sell everyone and anyone regardless of what they offer." Both statements reflect confidence, not arrogance.

Some define confidence as honesty. Be honest with yourself and those around you. Honesty drives trust, and trust drives sales. Remember, confidence stems from being able to admit you don't have all the answers, but you know where to find them.

Time management

Another key tool for your toolbox is a system to measure your time. Some refer to it as a call log or tracking log; others may call it a goal sheet or plan sheet. Whatever the name, the purpose is the same: to monitor your efforts and keep you on track.

Remember, time is finite. Unlike duct tape, once it's been used you can't buy more. Savvy salespeople know that to be successful they must use sales time for sales-related activities only. They dedicate that time to selling and can measure its success.

An MLS's toolbox may have other items, but these are like the specialized tools mentioned before. They only see the light of day when a specific need arises.

Each MLS will find his or her own duct tape, that one tool to use every time with every merchant. It's what makes you unique and what convinces merchants you have the best solution. Perhaps it's your ability to empathize, or your ability to quickly find the solution to a merchant's problems. It could also be that you listen, or that you understand the merchant.

As my father said, even with all the tools in the world, a hammer, two screwdrivers and duct tape may be all you need. 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.

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