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The Green Sheet Online Edition

December 10, 2012 • Issue 12:12:01

Street SmartsSM

Building a road map for the coming year

By Jeff Fortney
Clearent LLC

I have never given much thought to the New Year's Day holiday. To me, the last day of one year and the first day of the next are no different than any other two days of the year. I see New Year's simply as an excuse to party - and millions take advantage of that excuse every year.

However, the idea of planning a new beginning has merit. It is an opportunity to take stock of our progress and start fresh. And though I have always tended to look forward, one of my favorite sayings - from philosopher George Santayana - reads: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Starting anew requires retrospection, as well as forward planning. Businesses understand this concept and use it to plan their next 12 months. They start the process well before Dec. 31 so they can hit the ground running in January.

Adjusting the rear-view mirrors

Retrospection and forward planning are prudent for our profession, as well. Some larger companies start this process in October, with high-level plan construction followed by sub-plans to accomplish their main objectives. Smaller offices may not go this far.

Yet, being successful requires the same retrospection and forward planning. Regardless of the size of your business, planning is important, because those who fail to plan, plan to fail.

Those new to the industry may be tempted to overlook this process because they are focused on one thing: signing more business. Be careful not to fall into this trap. Instead, mirror those who have been successful in the business, and develop a plan for your success. To do so, you must first look back at the past year and ask yourself these questions:

  • What did I try that didn't work?
  • What was I successful at?

What didn't work?

You may find it hard to admit when your efforts are not working. However, if you are committing time to an activity or leading your sales effort with a specific product and are not seeing the production increase you expected, it may be time for a change.

I asked GS Online MLS Forum members what they attempted that did not work for them. In response, BLUESTAR identified one change in strategy as ineffective. "Recruiting agents didn't work," BLUESTAR wrote. "We still support existing agents but have stopped adding new ones. I have a new-found respect for all of the companies out there that choose the agent route."

What didn't work for BLUESTAR may yet be working for other companies, but it was not the right approach for his business at this time. BER also shared that "leading with loyalty" was not a winning strategy for him. The product may have value, but not the value he feels is necessary to open doors and sign more merchants.

The experiences of both of these agents are proper approaches to answering the question. After all, no answers will be right or wrong in all situations. If you find it difficult to determine what didn't work, examine what you did differently this year and what products you added to your toolbox.

Did your new efforts or tools increase, decrease or have no impact on your success in signing new merchants? If you found they either hindered your success or had no impact, then the answer is clear.

Retracing the turns that got you off course

Once you have identified what didn't work, you need to ask yourself why your effort was ineffective. Your answer may surprise you; you may find you gave up on the product too soon or reverted to old habits too quickly. In essence, were you committed to the strategy or product?

Keep in mind that just because a particular sales strategy or product offering proves unsuccessful at a particular point in time doesn't mean you should abandon it altogether. Examine why you originally chose that product or marketing effort.

Perhaps your reasoning was sound, but you miscalculated the results. The product can still be part of your toolbox; it just doesn't have to be your lead. Before moving on, be sure to take a close look at how you came to your projection, so you can avoid that same mistake as you plan for 2013.

What strategies paid off?

The question of what worked tends to be easier to answer because a good salesperson in any profession knows what works and what continues to drive his or her success. BER identified a list of factors that work for him.

"Leading with POS, networking, targeting larger merchants, and targeting hospitality," BER said. "I also found asking for specific referrals, such as asking for an introduction to a specific merchant, to be quite successful."

BLUESTAR found that the alternative to what didn't work for him in 2012 positively impacted his success. "We have gone to an almost completely referral-source-driven sales strategy, and for us it has completely changed the way we do business," BLUESTAR said. "Let's just say that I have seen the light, and I don't think we will ever do business the old way again."

Others found concentrating on the basics to be the best course of action. 1SLICK67 said, "For the past 12 months, I focused only on acquiring credit card accounts with no extras of any kind. My results were, to my surprise, up over 10 percent in residuals in every merchant category."

Keeping your eyes on the road

Although products and sales techniques were often the answer to the question, others found that simply freeing time to allow for more sales efforts made the biggest difference. JOHNMCKEE was very clear on the benefit of this approach, stating, "In the ATM business, I have added partners to do the dirty work of loading cash, maintenance, etc. That way I can stay focused on selling, as opposed to handling all of the headaches associated with the ATMs' functions. It has definitely increased my production."

For planning purposes, it is essential to be specific when articulating what worked. More sales calls may be an answer, but what did you do to free up time to make those calls? For example, many will book specific time on their calendars for sales calls.

Some choose to stop doing all activities unrelated to sales during prime sales hours, while others found a way to eliminate distractions. Each led to more sales calls.

For both questions, be as objective in your answers as possible, rather than subjective. Something you may have enjoyed doing may not have increased your sales. Subjectively, it may have improved your mental approach. But unless you increased sales over the previous year, it may not have the value you desired. Once you have completed the retrospective aspect of planning, you can start looking forward to 2013. This last process involves creating three distinct elements:

  • Personal goals
  • A professional plan
  • An action plan.

Setting personal goals

This step is not commonly practiced by many. Yet, it's something that nearly every salesperson should do. Personal goals are why we work, and being successful requires a lot of hard work. In sales, we must be thick-skinned because rejection is common. At times, personal goals may be the only reason to make that call to an irate merchant or to tell a merchant he or she was declined. Goals make all of your efforts and rejections worthwhile.

A personal goal must be tangible. It should not be vague like signing merchants to make more money. Rather, try an incentive like buying a new car, paying off debts or even learning a new hobby. Personal goals should be something you can visualize. Just saying you want a new car doesn't give you a clear goal. Be specific about the car, model and even the year. Be realistic, but make it a challenge.

Next, build a personal goal binder. Ideally you would create a page for each personal goal with pictures of those goals. No words, just visual examples of your personal goals. This binder should be something you carry with you. When you are forced to do something negative, this visual reminder helps you remember why you work.

Professional plan

Your personal goals are necessary to properly design your professional plan. I call it a plan, not a goal, because the purpose is to aide you in reaching the personal goals you have already set. Before you start to plan, you must first establish your baseline. This is the production you must meet each day. In other words, it's the amount you need in order to break even - not reach your goals.

A baseline may be your existing revenue from your residuals. If so, you must factor in attrition so that you include the need to replace those merchants who leave. Although we all want to say our portfolios are attrition-proof, some merchants will leave based on factors that are beyond our control.

Once you have established the baseline, determine how much growth above that baseline is needed to reach your goals. Translate the revenue needs into your residuals and your average earnings per merchant. This gives you a target. Remember to add in the necessary merchants to address attrition. This number will reflect your targeted growth for 2013.

Action plan

Having a target is good. But without putting specific actions in place, that target will be nothing but a dream. These actions have a common theme. They must be in addition to what you do successfully today, and they must propel you toward your goals.

Several forum members have their action plans in place. CCGUY sees 2013 as "the year of the POS" and intends to incorporate POS products into his offering. BER, on the other hand, has planned very specific actions. He wrote that they include:

  • More networking, less door knocking
  • Community involvement to create brand awareness
  • Creating, sponsoring and running co-promotion events for hospitality merchants to create brand awareness (for example, restaurant week, pub crawl, dine-out evenings)
  • Writing for a local hospitality publication
  • Playing more golf, selling more golf courses
  • Growing his sales staff to cover areas not close by, geographically.

Map the path to success

An action plan can have many components or a select few. They should all be measurable so that you can determine if they're bringing you closer to your goals.

For example, if you say you are going to concentrate on a specific market segment, you must clearly define your steps if you want to be successful. You also must set clear expectations for your results. Here's an example, "By making 10 calls in this segment, I will garner one new deal and five referrals."

Creating the action plan is but one step. The next - and most important - step is executing the plan. Remember, an action plan is only worthwhile if you execute it. Track your efforts daily, and set specific target dates to examine your success and make any needed modifications.

Most of all, remember that no two years are ever the same. Take the time to create a sound plan, and 2013 can be one of your best years yet. 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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