By Jeff Fortney
On weekends my brother sails in races on San Francisco Bay. He loves the feeling of the wind, the sight of the sails billowing and the need for strategy.
I have always been a landlubber; I can even get seasick watching boats from the shore. Yet I discovered while watching the America's Cup back in 1986 that this sport is much more than pointing your boat into the wind and hanging on.
The America's Cup was held off the coast of Australia that year, so I viewed live broadcasts around 10:00 p.m. I thought watching two almost identical boats sail would be like watching paint dry, but the commentators made it compelling. Their intent was obvious: to talk to the uninitiated about sailing.
I learned the roles each crewman played and all the basic terms. What intrigued me most was that each ship had a tactician whose role was "to chase the wind." The tactician announced course corrections when going down wind and advised the crew when to tack while sailing up wind.
At first, sailing against the wind seemed impossible to me, since it is the wind that makes the sailboat go. Yet, to be successful, you have to master the art of following a course against the wind by a series of tacks.
While watching that competition, I saw that tacking often made the difference between winning and losing. The crew had to know when to tack strategically. When leading, they would sometimes "cover the boat" behind by tacking when the other boat tacked, effectively stealing the competitor's wind.
When losing, they would sometimes tack early, hoping to cause the boat in the lead to err. Knowing the precise time to tack is a valuable skill. The tactician was second in importance to the crew, after the captain.
Tacking is used by ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) as well, for it can be said that selling is consistently following a course against the wind. Merchant prospects typically aren't happy to see us, since we aren't buying anything. On many occasions, they don't want to talk about payment processing, and may even be rude. That's why it takes skill and a plan to be successful.
Previously, I have written about the need to plan for 2013, starting with setting goals and devising a plan to help reach those goals. Developing this plan requires a significant amount of analysis and a full understanding of the marketplace.
Just like the beginning of a boat race, your initial sales efforts are against the wind. The key to winning is watching closely and anticipating when to tack. Tacking too early can lead to failure; tacking too late can lead to lost time and failed efforts.
Without the wind for guidance, how does the payment professional determine when to tack? Consider this scenario: You designed an aggressive marketing plan, adapted your approach and hit the ground running, but three weeks later you are seeing little to no success. You wonder if your plan is too much of a change and if you should revert to what you did in the past.
In this instance, you may have missed two critical steps in developing your plan. The first step was to understand and clearly state the reason you are changing your approach and your toolbox. If it's a valid reason, going back is not an option.
The second step was to establish initial expectations. Changing an approach does not result in immediate success, and as with everything, it takes time to practice and master the changes. If your initial expectations were too aggressive, you may want to revise them, not your plan.
On the opposite side, staying the course while seeing no success for an extended period would be foolish. You will lose contact with your market's needs and desires, which will limit your ability to reach your goals.
The third critical step that is often missed is setting specific dates for review. A solid plan includes these steps, even if nothing needs to be changed. The key to addressing this step is the fact that the reviews are scheduled and that you have dedicated time to complete them.
Fellow GS Online MLS Forum member BER shared an approach to such reviews. "My CRM system and calendar give me the data I'm looking for to analyze my efforts. It takes some time to pull the data because it's not automatically generated, but I put it on a spreadsheet along with my expenses for the month and share it with my wife.
"It's a good way to keep myself moving forward and see what I did over the last 30 days. I then compare where I am for the quarter to know if I'm behind on my goals and need to work harder next month. It also tells me if what I'm spending time on is working."
JMATHIS offered a more global approach: "In mid-2011, we decided to open two new divisions and wanted to have them up and running by January 2012.
"We committed to review our direction every quarter and made any necessary tweaks at that time. Our sales outperformed our initial goal. We are staying the course for now, but will continue to review our course of direction every quarter."
In both cases, the plan included a scheduled, formal review. However, again like the sailboat race, there are instances when tacking becomes necessary at unscheduled times.
Several incidents can lead to a need for an immediate course correction for MLSs. For example, changes in wholesale costs, changes in the structure of your product offerings and even changes in processing relationships can lead to this correction. Many of these changes may be positive; the reason for tacking isn't always negative.
Tacking became a clear need when the Durbin Amendment was implemented. It was early in the year, and although most had time to understand the implications, many found that the pricing structures they offered, along with the rates they quoted, needed modification.
Some chose to stay the course while others tacked. Even those who stayed the course examined the Durbin regulations and made a conscious decision about how to proceed.
The telltale signs of a need for an immediate tack can be national and regional, as well as market specific. Some will arise with a bang; others may be subtle. Recognizing national signs can be easy, as they will be the talk of the industry, but regional and market-specific changes are more challenging.
ISOs and MLSs must stay alert to spot changes that can impact their efforts. This is why it's so important to be aware of what's going on in the industry and in your region.
Ask yourself the following questions:
If you answered yes to any of these questions, pause and consider a tack.
I would like to mention one caveat. A tack is a course correction, not the abandonment of your plan. A well-developed plan allows for modifications and additions; it should not be discarded. Your goals don't change, but the route you take to achieve them may.
Also, before correcting your course, clarify why a tack is required, determine the added step or change required to address the reason for the tack, and identify the proper new route. Ask yourself the following three questions:
The third question is difficult, but it can be beneficial to determine the answer. For example, when Visa Inc. introduced its Fixed Acquirers Network Fee, some processors were not prepared to adjust their billing.
Knowing as swiftly as possible who would be impacted by the new fee was important; for certain processors, the initial statements after the effective date may not have included the fee.
If you are adding a tool to your toolbox, determine the best way to address the need before choosing the tool. If a new partner offering dictates a change, think through which of your merchants would benefit the most from it.
If it's a change in a product, inform your current client base of the change before offering it to prospects or modifying your approach. It could make the difference between controlled or rampant attrition.
Whatever your reason for tacking, make sure you thoroughly understand the root issue and what impact it will have on your efforts. Remember, any change - no matter how small - can have multiple moving parts. Understand all of the potential ramifications to any change before implementing it.
When the time comes for a tack, the tactician will give a warning to the crew and then announce the tack. All on board move in unison to accomplish this feat quickly with no mistakes.
When you decide to tack, be prepared, and do it quickly. The need to tack is not going to diminish if you wait. In fact, the lost time may worsen the situation.
The contestants in America's Cup always started against the wind, but finished sailing downwind. By following their example and tacking at the right times, you may finish 2013 as if you are sailing downwind.
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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