By Jeff Fortney
The first semester of my junior year of high school, I was one of only 15 students accepted into an advanced creative writing class. Although our class was large (over 1,500 students in the junior class alone), I knew all the other students who were accepted. As we gathered, we all talked about how this class would be an easy credit. However, within minutes of the start of the first class, we discovered otherwise.
My teacher's first words remain in my memory. "Before we get started, let me explain your key assignment for the class. You are to write a 23-page term paper on the topic of your choice, with footnoted references. You will also turn in all notecards with your research. It will be due when you return from Christmas vacation."
For the next four months, this assignment haunted my classmates and me. Of course, a few jumped right in. But the rest of us struggled with a topic, finding sources, documenting research and ultimately writing the paper. Like the majority, I sat at the kitchen table the first Saturday of Christmas vacation to begin the writing.
This was before personal computers and the Internet; research required something rarely done today – going to a library. Writing the paper meant first writing the paper by hand and then typing it on a typewriter. For a teenage boy, even one who liked to write, the process was overwhelming.
My father must have noticed and asked what I was doing. I explained the project, what I had done so far and why I was having a hard time getting started. He paused. I expected one of his sayings like, "A journey begins with one step." Instead, he gave me a piece of advice that I still use today. It was six one word sentences: "Do. One. Thing. At. A. Time."
I clearly remember his explanation: "We try to do too much at one time. We need to break it down into small victories that lead to a finished job." He then added the obligatory cliché: "You can't eat an elephant in one bite."
This wisdom applies to all industries but is especially true for the ever-changing payments industry. It fits salespeople, customer support and product development. Start with a plan, and it all begins with one simple question: What one thing has to be done before anything else can be done?
Seems logical and easy right? Not so much. A term paper begins with research and the requisite information gathering. The same applies to selling merchant services. Before you begin the sales process, you must do basic research to determine whether you are focused on the right prospects, the right merchant types and the right individuals.
In other words, find merchants who fit you. If they don't fit, it's best to know upfront. A merchant who fits you is happier, stays longer and is more profitable. With sales, isn't this the ultimate goal?
A successful sale occurs when you identify and sign a prospect that is a true fit. But keep in mind that a successful sales effort can also be when you identify a merchant that is not the correct fit and you walk away. The key is whether the merchant is right for your portfolio.
Once you have identified whether the merchant fits, you can then execute the next step of the plan.
You can't become wrapped up in research. It's too easy to feel that you don't have enough information, aren't knowledgeable enough or are not yet comfortable enough with your offering to begin selling. This leads to lost opportunities, diminished confidence and becoming overwhelmed.
Unlike a term paper, credit card processing sales doesn't require an academic level of subject-matter expertise. No one is expected to master all aspects of the payments world. You need a working knowledge of the industry's components, as well as a source of information for certain questions you can't answer immediately.
Merchants will ask very specific questions or broach topics that rarely come up. It's OK to not have all the answers. It's better to admit you don't know the answer than to answer incorrectly. If a merchant asks about a specific POS solution, for example, it's fine to say you don't know and follow with, "but I will research it." Once said, you have to do so in a timely manner.
Following my father's advice, it took the full two weeks of Christmas vacation to complete the paper. I typed the last page at 2 a.m. on the Monday school resumed. Doing one thing at a time didn't make the process faster, but it did allow me to keep moving forward without feeling overwhelmed. This advice and approach has been very helpful throughout my life. Every time something seems overwhelming I remember to take it One. Thing. At. A. Time. I encourage you to do the same.
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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