By Jeff Fortney
Last year was my 40th high school reunion. When I received the invitation I flashed back to my classmates, our friendships and my memories of those times. My class was very big, even for today's times. There were 1,330 students in my graduating class, along with several others who, unfortunately, didn't graduate.
Because of the large number of students, it was next to impossible for me to know each and every classmate. I had a primary circle of friends, others who shared a class or two with me whom I classify today as acquaintances, and those who stood out from the general student body, such as the class president, cheerleaders, the popular crowd, athletes, the parking lot group (who hung out by the cars and smoked) and, of course, the class clown (or when your school was as big as ours, multiple class clowns).
The classmates in groups that stood out for various reasons weren't necessarily friends or even acquaintances with a great number of people, but almost everyone knew who they were. After all, it's common knowledge that if you want to stand out from the crowd you either need to have athletic ability, be forcefully outgoing, very popular or just plain funny. For the majority of my class, the only option was to try to be known as the class clown or be forced to blend in with the masses.
Back then, it wasn't so important that your transcript set you apart from everyone else. The need for ancillary activities wasn't really a prerequisite for getting into your college of choice. So a large number of students remained unseen and, in many cases, unknown.
Yet many of that group of "unknowns" went on to be highly successful in their chosen careers. Some who never stood out in school and still don't particularly stand out in a crowd have gone on to become top earners in various sales fields.
Even so, we hear every day that to be successful in sales you have to stand out from the crowd. You must differentiate yourself from the rest. I even heard once that you had to be a giant in a room full of munchkins, which exemplifies the notion that you won't succeed unless you don't blend in with the crowd. So, what does it really mean to "stand out"?
In the payments world, that question is always relevant. How do you grab and hold attention in a crowded field of merchant level salespeople (MLSs)? There are two keys to doing so, and they are interrelated: you must be different and trustworthy.
It's easy to appear to be exactly like everyone else. In many cases there is little difference in product, statement, support and the overall solutions offered from one ISO to the next. Being different is difficult, but it can be done. All it takes is a simple philosophy: If your competition is doing something, you should stop doing it. This is easy to say, but in practice it is quite difficult to do. The first step is to identify what your competition is doing. But most importantly, you must identify who your competition truly is.
Globally, it's easy to say every company is your competition, but unless you are national in scope, your marketplace is likely to have local, primary competitors. If you specialize in a few select few verticals, your number of competitors may be even smaller. If you don't know who your competition is, how can you be different?
Don't stop with just identifying your competitors. Identify their ISO or processing partners as well. Remember, your goal is to be different, and if your solution – no matter how you present it – is the same as theirs, differentiation becomes that much more of a challenge. You may want to consider your current ISO partner's offerings, and maybe identify someone that can help you stand out by offering a different solution or platform.
Once you know who your competitors are, determine how they sell. Do they sell on price? Do they push cost savings, or some product that is proprietary? Once you understand how they sell, compare their methods with your approach. If they ask for a statement right away, for example, you shouldn't ask to see one until later in the process. Also, if they spend timing "selling," you should spend your time listening.
Above all, you must position yourself differently. Remember, you don't have to sign each and every merchant. You should instead focus on those that fit your offering.
This isn't something you can just announce and expect your words to have an impact. Trust is earned. But before you can earn it, you must first have confidence that those who support you are trustworthy.
Examine every element of your company and offering. If you are a small ISO or MLS, this includes those companies that provide your equipment, offer your ancillary services, and even your ISO or processor partner.
If you haven't completed an internal audit before, now is the time. How do your partners respond to challenges, issues or problems? Do they accept responsibility and fix the issues if they can? Do they make changes to your merchants without your input? Have they addressed any concerns you have had with respect and timeliness?
Next, do a simple complaint check. What is being said about your partners and vendors? No matter how trustworthy you are, any issues that are not addressed by your partners in a timely manner can impact your reputation as well.
If you have concerns or if the answers you receive to inquiries about your partners are not satisfactory, look for ways to address them. Maybe these are things your current partners plan to change, or maybe you need to find an additional partner or two.
Remember, if you really want to stand out from the crowd and grow your business, you have to be different and trustworthy. Only then will you be able to differentiate yourself in the crowded field of merchant processing.
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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