By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
In a company meeting in 1998, Hypercom Corp. Senior Vice President John Marshall warned sales directors against thinking of the T7P as an annuity. Orders for the product were through the roof, but Marshall was saying it was over. And he was right. The shift didn't happen right away, but the payments industry has evolved into a long tail, bring-your-own-device environment.
As countertop terminals approach the end of their useful lives, merchant level salespeople (MLSs) are using mobile and digital tools to help merchants solve complex problems. Machines have adapted to the networked world, but have humans? Have we sufficiently rebooted our thinking, or are we bringing an analog mindset to the digital payments landscape?
Upgrades like Windows 10 and iOS Sierra can simplify tasks and improve efficiencies, but may require a return to basics, where we learn new settings and navigational shortcuts. The payments industry has received a similar upgrade, one that requires us to re-evaluate tried-and-true sales techniques and products.
To some extent, humans have always brought old ideas to new products. It's how we roll. Douglas Rushkoff, author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, wrote, "The first television shows were simply stage plays with a camera in the audience. The first graphical computer interfaces imitated the real-world office desktops they replaced. Likewise, our digital economy is still more in its 'horseless carriage' phase than in that of the automobile."
Rushkoff warned against the pitfalls of thinking of the digital world in terms of the previous landscape, rather than considering the vast potential of the new one. Similarly, those who think of payments as auth and settlement are rooted in a horseless carriage mentality. Square Inc., PayPal Inc. and others have moved on, using payment technology in vastly more interesting ways.
The same can be said for sales techniques. "As a general industry observation, when I look at email blasts pushing 80 percent splits and $500 upfront bonuses, I feel we've lost all creativity and become a race to the bottom," said Jared Isaacman, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Harbortouch Payments LLC, a POS systems and merchant services provider. "These promotions are setting us back a decade. Without a compelling value proposition, even a 90 percent split isn't going to help you sign a new merchant."
Joe Cincotta is Director of Sydney, Australia-based Thinking Group, which includes Thinking.School, Thinking.Studio and Thinking.Ventures. He concurs with numerous experts who advise against bringing analog thinking to the digital world.
"Over the last 20 years, I have worked with fast-paced American and Australian startups, global corporations like P&G, Intel and Facebook, financial institutions and government agencies," Cincotta stated. "As I observed the different approaches and cultures, I saw patterns emerge. I started mapping this with research in the fields of cognitive psychology, the psychology of creativity, design thinking and even the lean startup movement to understand the deeper structure of these patterns."
In defining innovation, Cincotta distinguishes between iterative and disruptive processes (which ideally co-exist in pioneering companies) as follows:
Focusing on iterative innovation while having a few measured, disruptive projects allows you to make sure you're maximizing your value today while setting yourself up for future "horizons of innovation," Cincotta said.
Cincotta sees value in understanding why and what makes your organization unique. "Try using the 'five whys' tool – another tool developed by the founder of Toyota to help get to the root cause of problems – as a strategy to dig deep and get clear on articulating and understanding your purpose," he said.
Next, the quality of your innovations is only as good as the questions you ask, Cincotta noted. "Create a challenge statement by getting concrete on the result without prescribing how," he said. "For example, 'I want us to get so efficient that we are able to bring on three new accounts faster than we have ever done it before, and not need anyone to work extra hours.' We've defined the challenge, we don't know exactly how we'll get there, but we know how to measure the result."
Cincotta also recommended setting up idea sessions where you use divergent/convergent thinking. Go for lots of ideas, record them all and watch for "big thinking" ideas, he suggested. "Multiple people can review ideas and select the 'good' and the 'big,'" he said.
Empathy is a core principle of Design Thinking, Cincotta added. Ideo, a design company, implemented this approach by spending time with customers and watching them closely. "I don't mean a sales visit; I mean ask to work behind the counter," he said. "It's amazing how the power of empathy can drive innovation."
I recently came across a brochure from 1999 that touted Hypercom's Interactive Consumer Environment. Hypercom founder and Chief Executive Officer George Wallner called the device an Internet appliance. The POS platform supported email, in-bound ordering, and a range of functionality that has taken nearly 20 years to gain widespread adoption.
For decades, payments industry leaders have been challenging the status quo, introducing products and services that cynics occasionally criticize as solutions in search of problems. In most cases, these solutions brilliantly solved emerging issues that had barely registered on most people's radar.
As history has shown, there was nothing magical about these techniques or predictions. Innovative thinking is soundly rooted in a cultivated, logical framework that's solid enough to support risk and flexible enough to adapt to ever-changing market conditions.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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