By Jeff Fortney
It's mid-January. The days are short, the weather is bitterly cold in many locales and the joys of the holiday season are behind us. No wonder that one in five people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
WebMD LLC defines SAD as "a type of depression that affects a person during the same season each year. If you get depressed in the winter but feel much better in spring and summer, you may have SAD." SAD is common in the globe's far northern regions. Due to lack of sunlight, many Alaskans have reported feeling listless and depressed. Some cope by employing bright-light therapy, which can be effective, according to reports from medical doctors.
The payments industry is not immune. In fact, many think the number of affected professionals in our industry is higher than the national average. What's more, our SAD may even be self-induced.
Let me explain. Knowing the holiday season isn't the best time for sales calls, many merchant level salespeople (MLSs) experience a slowdown or take time off each December. So their sales efforts are modest, at best. In January, MLSs start to sell again, often with limited success.
They see results below the levels they had in September, October or even November. On top of that, many prospective merchant customers are also a little down and less inclined to talk to sales reps. Under these conditions, SAD can set in.
I don't begrudge anyone for taking time off to recharge, especially around the holidays. But the above scenario is all too common. Moreover, SAD affects more than those who are new to the payments business.
The good news is that many industry veterans have faced this syndrome head on and survived. They will tell you it is best to avoid developing the disorder. You can do so with a little preparation.
First you must address the causes of SAD. These include weather, seasonality and merchants suffering from SAD.
No matter where you live in the United States, January is consistently the coldest month of the year, even though cold is a relative term. If the temperature is 50 degrees in Miami, people there think it's cold. When it is minus 6 degrees in Minneapolis, that's really cold. You need to dress appropriately for cold weather.
My grandmother used to tell us that if we didn't wear a coat in the winter, we would catch a terrible cold. As we all know now, cold weather is not the direct cause of winter colds and flu.
But she was right about bundling up. If you are making face-to-face calls, be prepared for the impact cold weather can have on you. Do not allow the weather to be an excuse for not making calls.
Some MLSs adapt to the weather by changing their approach. For example, they may add a telemarketing component to their merchant sales efforts. However, this can be dangerous if you do not have strong telemarketing skills. Selling over the phone is very different from selling face to face.
In many markets, the actual sales season begins in December and runs through May. Their off-season occurs in the summer. This is very common in areas that are primarily supported by the snowbird community, such as Palm Springs, Calif. NWBC of GS Online's MLS Forum referenced such an area.
"In Northern Idaho, most deals happened in the winter. By late May, our deal count slows down because this is when tourism starts to pick up. Our processing volume in August was twice that of February."
If you are in an area that has significant swings, you must understand those swings and market accordingly. NWBC added, "Getting around isn't much of an issue as you become accustomed to the piles of white stuff. I remember my last winter there. I needed to service a marina in Spirit Lake, and there was still snow on the ground on June 6."
For many merchants, the holiday season is the highlight of their year. However, this high is often followed by a very quick drop in activity and sales. In some cases, if their holiday sales were not sufficient, they may find they can't survive long into the new year. This slowdown can and does lead to merchant depression.
Many will be willing to talk in January, but their conversations will not be about growing their businesses. Rather, they will probably be focused on keeping their doors open through the post-holidays slowdown.
This situation creates a challenge. You can try to sell to them as you normally would, but you will likely find they aren't listening. The best thing you can do is to mirror the person you are talking to.
My father was a mechanic and never considered himself to be a salesperson. He worked for the Caterpillar Inc. affiliate in central California, meeting with loggers and ranchers in the Sierra foothills.
Sometimes in the summer, I went to work with him. His greatest skill was his ability to mirror the person he was speaking with and make that individual feel comfortable. My father could be reserved or outgoing. Some ranchers could cuss like sailors, and he quickly adapted to their manner. When others talked like Puritans, he did the same. His ability to mirror people made him successful.
Mirroring is a skill all salespeople need to master, especially during the slower months. To match your potential client, you should adapt your mannerisms, how you talk and what you say. The best way to mirror someone is to encourage your prospect to talk and acknowledge his or her position. You can get merchants to talk with statements such as "Tell me more" and "I understand."
Commiserate with them about their slow sales, using language that is similar to theirs. Remember, each industry has its own terminology. So, when possible, talk about your offering using their language.
Once you have mastered the art of mirroring, you will find that you are also adapting your sales presentation. BER described how he does this. "I position myself differently when I speak to merchants in an effort to increase my effectiveness and set a different tone," BER wrote. "For example, I will say, 'Mr. Merchant, I know a lot of businesses like to take a look at things when the winter comes and business slows. Are you open to seeing if your payment system can be improved?'"
Just remember, when facing a merchant suffering from SAD, talking about your success will kill any chance of a sale in a heartbeat. Change your approach to acknowledge that the retailer's sales are slow, and let the individual know you are there to help him or her keep moving forward in a way that will ultimately lead to growth.
Even if you make every effort to address the conditions that lead ISOs and MLSs to become vulnerable to SAD, you can still be affected. Thankfully, the symptoms can be treated to help you or your colleagues recover quickly. It begins with recognition. Ask these questions:
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be in the early stages of SAD. Take immediate steps so your sales will not be adversely affected. The first step toward recovery might be surprising.
You need to step away and examine your efforts. Look for things you are doing differently due to the season, or approaches you need to adapt to current market conditions. Identify what needs to change, and then alter your approach to incorporate those changes.
Before you start selling again, examine the plan you prepared for 2013. If you haven't prepared a marketing plan or set goals, do so now. The quickest way out of SAD is to have a road map: your goals and plan that will lead to success.
If you have already developed a plan, ask yourself if you have strayed from it. If so, now is the time to get back on track. The earliest stage of a plan's implementation, it is not the optimal time to review or change it. After all, a successful plan is like a cake; you must give it time to bake.
Lastly, review your goals binder. If you have not created one, do so now. This should lay out the personal goals you are working toward, rather than your work goals. When you are feeling down, this binder alone can lift your spirits and keep you going.
By completing these steps, you will find yourself in a better place to restart your sales efforts with confidence. You'll have a new and better approach that will make all the difference. Ultimately, the key is to be adaptable and to have a plan for success.
POWERHOUSEPAYMENTS shared his 10 steps for addressing SAD. You might find them useful now, as well as throughout the year:
January, February and March should not be feared. They also need not have a negative effect on your success for the year. Just remember to dress in warm clothing, mirror your potential clients and stick to your plan.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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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