By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.
When it comes to measuring performance, many sales professionals look no further than their paychecks. But a paycheck, like a report card or set of financials, doesn't tell the whole story. It's just a snapshot of a moment in time.
For example, if you get a windfall bonus in January but your pipeline is only half full, you may choose to delay a major purchase. If, on the other hand, you bring home a small check but are a heartbeat away from signing a major deal, your angst may at least be short-lived.
So if our quality of life depends on our closing skills, who can afford to be hit or miss? How can we look beyond our paychecks to improve the way we evaluate ourselves? We can begin by using advanced analytics to help us evaluate ourselves and rate potential customers.
Leadership practices inventory (LPI) - a remarkable 360-degree assessment tool designed by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner - measures individual leadership skills. An LPI evaluates areas of strength and weakness and prescribes specific remedies for each applicant based on what they call the five practices of successful leadership.
The five practices are to model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act and encourage the heart. These combined practices are the building blocks of harmonious and forward-thinking work environments.
Implementing them can improve each merchant level salesperson's (MLS's) effectiveness, as well as the overall performance and profitability of our extended, interconnected families of coworkers and merchants.
Following are my thoughts on each of the practices.
Model the way
Commonly described as "walking your talk," modeling the way means having integrity and doing the sometimes tough things that will make you successful. This may mean staging a live demonstration of a processing system, getting into the trenches with direct reports, or doing what human resources professional Anne Massaro calls the "uncomfortable, different and new."
Massaro wrote: "When we ask our colleagues to engage in something for which they have reluctance, and when we ask our colleagues to embrace new behaviors, they will hesitate long enough to see if we are fully engaged and willing to embrace what is uncomfortable, different and new. If our leaders are not fully engaged in a new strategy and in changing their own behavior to meaningfully contribute to the new strategy, why should we?"
Inspire a shared vision
The ability to look ahead is essential for any leader, Kouzes and Posner wrote in their January 2009 article in the Harvard Business Review. The most effective leaders share their visions in ways that empower and inspire other people to take action and transform those visions into realities.
"As counterintuitive as it might seem ... the best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present," Kouzes and Posner wrote. "The only visions that take hold are shared visions - and you will create them only when you listen very, very closely to others, appreciate their hopes, and attend to their needs. The best leaders are able to bring their people into the future because they engage in the oldest form of research: They observe the human condition."
How might this concept apply when we are selling merchant services? It might mean improving your research on prospective customers so that you can speak more effectively to their business requirements. It might mean adopting a more client-centric approach to closing a sale: instead of simply signing someone to a two-year agreement, you're sharing their vision of enhancing consumer engagement at the POS.
Challenge the process
In their bestselling book, The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner encourage managers to nurture creativity and promote outside-the-box thinking.
"Because innovation and change involve experimenting and taking risks, your major contribution will be to create a climate for experimentation in which there is a recognition of good ideas, support of those ideas, and the willingness to challenge the system," they wrote.
MLSs can challenge the evolving payments ecosystem, both at the office and at a multitude of merchant locations, by examining every aspect of our business and reflecting on how we can each make a difference. How are emerging technologies, interchange fees and regulatory issues impacting our customers? What can we do about it?
Enable others to act
Whether you're appealing to a help desk professional or trying to get a merchant to sign on the dotted line, if you want people to act, you must first earn their trust, according to Michael Sutton, Associate Professor of Management at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.
"You will only be able to build collaboration if you create a climate of trust," Sutton wrote in a Feb. 24, 2011, blog post at aim.org. "This is a critical success factor, and if you are not honest and transparent, almost everyone will see through you. You must exhibit and demonstrate a framework of authentic trust. Now, you ask, 'How does one build trust?' First, you need to construct a safe environment where your team members are comfortable asking tough questions. ... You must embrace the questions either that you do not know the answer to, or that make you squirm."
Encourage the heart
At the heart of leadership attributes listed by Kouzes and Posner is the heart itself. "Encourage the heart" takes aim at the relationship component of selling, a core value and key differentiator for most MLSs. "We need to feel connected to others and, in turn, they to us, because greatness is never achieved all by ourselves, alone," the authors wrote. "Encouraging the heart is the leadership practice that connects us with one another. It signals and documents that we're in 'this' together - whatever this project, program, campaign, neighborhood, congregation, division, and so on, may be.
"Social capital joins financial and intellectual capital as the necessary ingredients for organizational success. In creating social capital, leaders encourage the heart so that people will want to be with and for one another. When leaders commend individuals for achieving the values or goals of the organization, they give them courage, inspiring them to experience their own ability to deliver - even when the pressure is on.
"When we recognize women and men for their contributions, we expand their awareness of their value to the organization and to their co-workers, imparting a sense of connectedness that, being social animals, all humans seek. While we may all be connected, leaders make sure that we're in touch."
Ultimately, we may use any number of analytical tools to evaluate performance, identify challenges and become better at selling merchant services. Some of these tools are scorecards; others ask the harder questions, such as how we're contributing to our industry and to the world in general.
What's your personal bottom line, and how would you like to be remembered by your co-workers and merchants: as someone who made a sale or as someone who made a difference?
Dale S. Laszig is Senior Vice President of Sales in the United States for Castles Technology Co. Ltd., a manufacturer and global provider of smart card, contactless and POS solutions. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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