By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
There was a time when convincing a merchant to leave a processor or replace outdated equipment was a simple proposition. Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) would ask prospects for three months of processing statements and return a few days later with a statement analysis. This would show how improved margins would offset related costs of acquisition.
Today, most MLSs aim to sign small to midsize merchants on the first call, using digital technologies to help evaluate data, get instant approvals and convert prospects into customers. While technology has accelerated the pace of business, convincing a hesitant merchant to say yes to a new processing system or technology may require a more human touch.
Most merchants aren't fascinated by card brands, processing networks and technology. They view card processing systems as a cost of doing business. Some of the earliest ISOs instinctively understood this and simplified the decision-making process with a strategy known in the selling trade as "choice not chance." Its roots date to antiquity. "Excellence is never an accident," Aristotle wrote. "It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives ‒ choice, not chance, determines your destiny."
"You can have it good, fast or cheap … pick any two," wrote technology and digital media expert Shelly Palmer in an April 2015 blog post titled Data-Driven Thinking, A Zero-Sum Game. "If you want it good and fast, it won't be cheap. If you want it fast and cheap, it won't be good. If you want it good and cheap, it won't be fast."
While Palmer was writing about data science, the principle held sway for many years in payment processing when high-speed connectivity was scarce, and merchants were willing to pay top dollar for countertop terminals with Ethernet ports. Today's advanced communication technologies have made it possible for merchants to have good, fast and cheap products. Android and iOS tablets, integrated POS systems, and mobile and virtual devices deliver high-speed, cutting-edge payment processing at a fraction of the cost of older countertop terminals.
Thomas Husson, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research Inc., expects mobile technology to move to the forefront of the global business community. "Mobile is becoming not only the new digital hub, but also the bridge to the physical world," he wrote in a 2014 blog post. "That's why mobile will affect more than just your digital operations; it will transform your entire business."
Tiered pricing models have been a staple of the payments industry for many years, enabling merchants to choose bundled services that match their requirements. Merchant service providers will typically aggregate a collection of services from different vendors to design the right kind of product to meet the needs of an individual merchant or market segment.
Tiered and aggregated services are commonly used across many industries (including healthcare, insurance and automotive sales) that offer a range of extended warranties and ancillary subscription services to extend the life of a sale. Advanced technologies have made it possible to fine-tune product and service offerings to individual customer requirements.
"I call it divide and conquer," said Chad Otar, Managing Partner at Excel Capital Management LLC, a Merchant Cash Advance and alternative lending company. "It's easier for customers to look at tiny, bite-sized solutions than to absorb a giant product or service."
Jacques Breton, National Sales Manager at security service provider Max Enterprises Inc., said, "There's an abundance of security tools, technology and resources on the market. Many companies will sell these services individually; there's an art to packaging products and services to create a seamless merchant experience."
Breton cautioned that many MLSs don't spend enough time thinking about distinct customer situations. "Focus on the customer's requirements to find the right product fit, not the other way around," he said. "Ask them where they see themselves in five to 10 years."
Otar added that understanding each customer's business model and using predictive analytics is integral to alternative lending success. "Look at the customer's projections up ahead and build the right solution accordingly," he said. "We may use a combination of short-term and long-term products to structure the right deal."
Distribution channels are in essence another form of packaging, said Breton, who offers sales partners different ways to market his company's subscription-based services. "We have a variety of programs to help companies prevent data security breaches and individuals protect their identities," he said. "Within our distribution channel our sales partners manage their own marketing and set their own prices; our referral partners white label our services and we do the marketing for them."
Susie Maxwell, Max Enterprises President, added, "I'd rather have a lot and make less than have a few and make more by selling products and services at reasonable prices without being greedy. This industry has been built on making a tiny bit spread out over a large population of customers."
As small business owners, many MLSs have a deep appreciation for the day-to-day challenges associated with running a small business. Many derive a deep sense of satisfaction when they help their customers select products and services that improve their businesses and deliver a healthy return on investment. "No one likes being sold; my agents are more business advocates than salespeople," said Tarek Makdouli, Partner at Makdouli Inc. "We target everything to individual needs. This has always been a relationship business, and because I come from small business, I bring a small business perspective to every client relationship."
Makdouli has owned a number of businesses and is motivated to help business owners navigate the complexities of credit card processing, marketing and business management. "I try to identify their pain points in order to tackle the things that they don't enjoy," he said.
Makdouli decries unscrupulous agents' use of Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) as a scare tactic. "I've seen merchants who were told that they have to buy a new EMV-compliant terminal that I can get them for free," he said. It appears no matter how good, fast and cheap our products become, service providers' integrity will always factor into the choices merchants make.
Dale S. Laszig, Staff Writer at The Green Sheet and Managing Director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content provider. She can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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