By Jeff Fortney
My granddaughter is five years old, and the recent holiday season was full of opportunities for her to create special memories. She had to visit five different Santas because, she claimed, you never know who the real one is, so it's best to play it safe.
A few days before one of her Santa visits, I came across an old picture of myself sitting on Santa's lap when I was four years old. This is one of my earliest memories. Santa came to my house just to visit me, and I remember that instead of going up the chimney, he left out the front door and drove away.
What also stood out to me was that his car looked just like the one driven by my dad's friend Joe. When I asked my dad about this, he said it was because Joe and Santa were friends and that Joe probably loaned Santa his car. Years later, I discovered that Joe did this every year with his clients. Santa made an appearance at the home of every client who had young children.
You see, Joe was my parents' insurance agent, and he was also a close family friend. This was common in days long past. You obtained your car, home and life insurance from someone you trusted. In turn, your agent made sure he became a part of your family.
We received mailers at least once a quarter with preprinted return address labels, calendars and more. Joe was someone my family trusted, and we turned to him whenever we had questions.
When Joe retired, a man named Rod bought his agency and quickly earned my parents' trust. He intentionally took the time to get to know his customers and understand their needs. As a result, my parents transferred their loyalty to Rod.
When I was old enough to purchase insurance, I signed up with Rod, and like my parents, have had only two agents in my lifetime. I, too, was loyal to them and trusted them implicitly.
This might be surprising to some in an era when insurance advertisements seem to be all about price. You can't listen to the radio or watch TV without hearing an ad for a company promising to save you money if you just give them 15 minutes of your time.
Yet, my agent still sends me address labels and calendars every January, and I remain loyal to him.
Payment processing sales and insurance sales have long been considered similar, as they both drive revenue from residuals. The longer a relationship continues, the higher the earnings will be. However, for many businesses, price still seems to be the driver. Even if you provide value after the fact, it is difficult to build loyalty and earn someone's trust when most people seem to be focused on price.
That's why instead of selling cost savings, why not make 2016 the year of loyalty and trust? After all, in my eyes, it all begins with trust. Consider the following example that serves as a reminder of what not to do if your goal is to build trust-based relationships.
In 2015, we saw a rush to get Europay, MasterCard and Visa terminals deployed. In many cases, merchants were confused and were often given incorrect reasons why they should purchase new terminals. I'm not saying there wasn't a need, but in many cases, the sales reps did not take the time to explain all of the options and let the merchants choose what was best for their businesses.
That is the lesson learned. We need to let it be the merchant's decision, and remember that our job as the sales agent is to provide merchants with the pros and cons of our offering. Give merchants their options and let them choose. However, what merchants decide to do can be greatly influenced by what you sell. So instead of selling a product or a service, sell yourself first.
This is where trust begins. Merchants must know that you will tell them the facts, admit when you don't know something and be forthright about informing them when you can't meet one of their needs. Be honest enough to tell a merchant if his or her current deal is a good one, and be willing to walk away from the sale if it's not a good fit.
These are difficult concepts for many salespeople because of the potential to lose a sale. But remember, it's not about the sale; it's about the long-term relationship. Signing merchants is only one step. If they trust you, their loyalty will follow, and so will residuals and referrals.
This loyalty is what drives merchant retention. Sure, merchants may trust you, but like the old saying goes, out of sight, out of mind. That's why you need to be present, just like Joe, the insurance salesperson I mentioned earlier in this article.
No, you don't need to send calendars, but scheduled newsletters sent via email work just as well, if not better. And be the first to inform your merchants whenever anything happens that warrants an immediate contact. It's key that your customers hear important news from you first.
Also, keep a list of your merchants grouped by what they sell, and do your best to shop or eat at their places of business. When you visit, make it a point to say hello to the owner or manager, and while you're there, ask how the business is doing and whether the owner or manager needs anything from you. Keep it friendly, as this is not a sales call. Being a customer as well as a partner builds trust and loyalty.
After all, what do you have to lose? By taking a few minutes to review your offering and your approach, you will be able to identify ways to build more loyal – and more profitable – relationships. 2016 is an excellent year to become your merchants' trusted adviser, don't you think?
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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