By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
Vertical market specialists have more fun. Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) with in-depth knowledge of a business have an easier time reaching decision makers, getting invited to exclusive events and receiving updates on important issues of the day. There's also that priceless feeling of being an insider.
So how does one become a member of the club? Larry King believes that humility and curiosity can open many doors. In How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere, King wrote that great people tend to be great "talkers" and described the common traits of successful people he has interviewed, as follows:
In his June 2012 blog essay, telecom analyst Alan Quayle wrote, "Vertical knowledge … refers to the understanding of a specific industry including its operations, actors, acronyms, issues and trends. The industry could be healthcare, education, government, insurance, automotive, etc."
Quayle named selling, solution and support as the key components of vertical knowledge. He wrote that deep vertical knowledge supports:
Bill Pirtle has been in the payments industry since 2004. His articles have appeared in industry trade publications including The Green Sheet. His books include a guide for merchants published in 2010 titled Navigating Through the Risks of Credit Card Processing, and Credit Card Processing for Sales Agents, a 2012 anthology of articles written by industry specialists.
Pirtle agreed with Quayle's assertion that speaking the lingo and understanding a vertical industry can significantly improve an MLS's credibility. "On the surface, agents will find that knowing each customer's business can improve stickiness through the use of multiple products," he said. "By becoming an expert in a single niche, an agent can not only land a lot of business in similar situations but he or she can be a true service provider for the client."
Pirtle cited taxi companies, towing and impound yards, accountants, and e-commerce companies as lucrative vertical markets. But he emphasized it takes time to learn about an industry and warned against taking shortcuts. Pirtle then described how, as a former MLS, he gained acceptance in the towing industry.
"One night when I needed a tow, I observed how they processed credit cards and found that there was an opportunity," he said. "I joined the Michigan Towing Association and began attending its meetings. I also sought education in the industry and found an online towing forum. I was able to learn some incredible things in the forum by simply reading the discussion threads."
Pirtle described a meeting of the Towing Association where he was challenged and had to think on his feet. "A few owners asked questions about credit card processing, which I answered," he said. "One owner stood up and boldly stated that payment processing is simple enough; no expertise is required and anyone can understand it. I stood up and said that I hear that often, just as they must hear state troopers telling them how much easier it would be to tow a tractor-trailer out of a ditch if you separated the two. The room exploded with laughter as they immediately understood that not only was card processing something that they needed assistance with, but that I understood their business well enough to phrase it in language they quickly understood."
Jose Manuel Gonzalez is Chief Executive Officer of Custos Mobile, a research and development company based in Madrid, Spain, that specializes in cloud and mobile POSs, Europay/MasterCard/Visa migration, application development and advanced terminal management systems.
Gonzalez observed that fierce competition is speeding the adoption of new technologies in many vertical markets. He has found that most customers are willing to invest in a system upgrade to gain a competitive advantage. "Vertical markets are very open to new improvements and solutions," he said. "And industry specialists will find opportunities for creating new technology and fixing business solutions that are not well implemented."
Gonzalez noted that the evolution of payment technologies is creating a logical migration path for many retailers to adapt and expand existing legacy infrastructures. "Because the payment market has become even more conservative in recent years, we will 'add' new functionalities and performance to an existing system, while keeping familiar interfaces intact," he said.
He added that leveraging technology to improve profitability and consumer experience without making major changes to a merchant's normal way of doing business has been successful for his company. "[W]e have developed an innovative system for payments that looks and feels the same to our customers but is an enterprise-scale solution that's more secure, flexible and scalable than their previous systems," Gonzalez said.
According to Gonzalez, the design stage is critical to application development and requires a deep understanding of the target market and customer. Key questions to consider include: What is your customer's pressing problem in need of a solution, tolerance for innovation, and vision of the ideal user experience? What kind of feedback will you provide during every stage of the project?
"When an industry specialist evaluates the right approach for a particular client, it's important to maintain a business continuity focus," Gonzalez said. "Instead of replacing the existing system, you want to identify the 'big next step' for that system."
DigiPay Integrated Technology Solutions is a full-service payment solutions company specializing in global transaction processing, security and leading-edge technologies.
Mike Ackerman, DigiPay President and CEO, has 30 years' executive management experience in merchant processing and payment technology. He believes that a sound security strategy is the best approach to business continuity, as well as a critical factor in the design, implementation and support of any electronic payment system.
Today, merchants large and small must navigate increased threat levels associated with e-commerce and payment card processing. The best security systems proactively identify vulnerabilities and protect against internal misuse. Ackerman stressed the need to educate merchants on the changing payments landscape and the unwelcome news that many of the bad guys are evolving right along with us.
"We have learned that it is the centralized solution through our hub, not the processing that will generate and help agents sell and retain the merchants they work with day to day," Ackerman said. "The big-box retailers we deal with and the increase of these breaches now into the medium and small businesses have paved the way.
"MLS agents need to educate the merchant to realize the reality of today's world and adapt to it or be swallowed up by the uncontrollable bad card data coming into their businesses, resulting in losses through chargebacks, card associations and, most importantly, the damage to their brand."
Ackerman added that among the small to midsized merchants that have suffered a breach, "a staggering 60 percent go out of business after six months. Even scarier, the National Small Business Association's 2013 Small Business Technology Survey stated that nearly a quarter of small businesses acknowledged "little to no understanding of cyber security."
Ultimately, MLSs who are industry specialists will make their customers better at selling by giving them solutions that take their businesses to a whole new level. These solutions are not off the shelf; they are seamlessly blended payment technologies exclusively curated for each customer, with the potential to become vivid extensions of each merchant's identity and brand.
Dale S. Laszig manages business development and strategic initiatives at DSL Direct LLC, a payments consulting company that helps clients promote, design, and deliver secure, leading-edge technology solutions. Her clients include software integrators, manufacturers, retailers, and value-added service providers. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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