By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.
The credit card industry may be recession-proof, but that hardly makes selling merchant services easy. Merchant level sales professionals (MLSs) must navigate a turbulent payments ecosystem. We're buffeted daily by variables such as margin compression, attrition, competition, security and regulatory issues, disruptive technology, and high-maintenance customers. Even the most seasoned pros don't expect to win every deal. So how do they handle losing? Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, challenges traditional assumptions about failure in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. The book is a testament to his tenacity, and a reflection on his winding career path, which took many detours, including stints as an inventor, restaurant owner and banking professional.
Adams wondered if his eventual success as a cartoonist and author was brought about by talent, luck, hard work or a combination of all three. "All I know for sure is that I pursued a conscious strategy of managing my opportunities in a way that would make it easier for luck to find me," he concluded.
Adams shared some of his epic failures in an Oct. 12, 2013, Wall Street Journal essay. "I'm delighted to admit that I've failed at more challenges than anyone I know," he wrote. "And I'd like to think that reading this will set you on the path to your own magnificent screw-ups and cavernous disappointments." He added that failure is "the place where success hides in plain sight."
Adams noted that top performing sales professionals know that they won't get every deal. They continually look for new opportunities while staying up-to-date with current customers and trends. He prefers this type of continuous activity over static goal setting, which can sometimes lead to an empty feeling upon reaching a goal.
"Throughout my career, I've had my antennae up, looking for examples of people who use systems as opposed to goals," Adams wrote. "In most cases, as far as I can tell, the people who use systems do better. The systems-driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways."
He added that achieving a goal makes you feel terrific until you realize you have just "lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction."
Alternatively, instead of focusing on specific accomplishments, systems-oriented professionals take pride in their overall professionalism, work-ethic and continual improvement. "[B]eing systems-oriented, I felt myself growing more capable every day, no matter the fate of the project that I happened to be working on," Adams wrote.
How does this portend for the goal-oriented among us? We need to make sure that whatever we're pursuing has a useful life beyond our achieving that one big thing. What is our plan for post achievement? Our goals need to have goals.
Systems-oriented professionals accept that they are not going to win every deal. GS Online's MLS Forum member Clearent recommended asking merchants who turn us down for an honest critique that helps us understand how we might have done better.
"Examine the reasons and make changes," he wrote, adding that improving your odds of winning might be something as simple as changing your tone, demeanor, closing technique, and that sometimes being willing to walk away from a deal will signal your sincere desire to help a merchant. He also recommended beginning sales calls by asking questions and identifying a fit before proposing solutions.
MBruno sees value in self-review, as well. "Reviewing the process helps keep goals and ideals on track," he wrote. "Reviewing both successes and failures can help push the results positive more often. Why did this business owner choose to process with me? Why did that business owner throw me out of the shop when I said 'credit card processing'? Why did the merchant fight over this fee, but not care about that fee?
"These questions can help better prepare for the next sale and ultimately show where deficiencies in the process lie – for example, if you can't answer what the merchant was looking for, maybe listening is a skill that needs work."
Adams suggested it's more important to bring energy and stamina than passion to a business venture. "Success caused passion more than passion caused success," he wrote about his own achievements.
MBruno cited having a positive attitude as the single most important way to stay energized. "A positive outlook helps stay the course even in the face of adversity," he wrote. He added that everyone stumbles – some more frequently than others – and if negative thought patterns take hold, it can push even the best salespeople into a slump.
"Staying positive can help fight this and ultimately becomes a self-fulfilling ideal," MBruno noted. "If you come from a positive place, it's more likely you'll have a positive result. To that end, part of this for me has been having a good work/life balance. I work hard, but I also rock climb, brew beer and play music – good for venting (and staying positive) and for networking."
You may be familiar with the adage that successful people do what others are unwilling to do, which loosely translated means working that extra hour or going that extra mile to deliver unprecedented service. 1Slick67 is an example of the many MLSs who operate outside the 40-hour work week.
He wrote, "I might be old school, but even when I am out and about I still find myself handing out a business card or two 'cold calling,' and my closing ratios are much better than [industry statistics indicate]. He added that, more importantly, it's not the dog that's in the fight, but the fight that's in the dog.
Forum member blueplatepc deserves credit for just staying in the game. Many would have cut and run after an encounter similar to his inaugural sales call.
"The first merchant I ever tried to sell to actually screamed at me to get out of his store," he recalled. "After over five years, it is the hardest rejection I ever had. When you are confident you have a good product that is competitive, I have always looked at rejections as 'their loss' not mine."
As Adams reminded us, you can't control luck, but you can take actions that will make it easier for luck to find you. He mentioned a friend who was a gifted salesperson and could have sold anything "from houses to toasters" but wisely chose a sphere that has enabled him to prosper.
"The field he chose (which I won't reveal because he wouldn't appreciate the sudden flood of competition) allows him to sell a service that almost always auto-renews," Adams wrote. "In other words, he can sell his service once and enjoy ongoing commissions until the customer dies or goes out of business. His biggest problem in life is that he keeps trading his boat for a larger one, and that's a lot of work."
So persist after your failures and you, too, might soon be deciding when to upgrade from a mere boat to a luxury yacht.
Dale S. Laszig is a writer and payments industry executive specializing in business development and sales performance improvement. She manages channel sales at Castles Technology and sales effectiveness programs through IMPAX Corp. and C3ET Credit Card Consortia for Education & Training Inc. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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