By Biff Matthews
Analyzing the events of 2007 has been a prominent theme within the payments industry since the new year. Evaluating how the industry fared is paramount. Knowing where you've been and having the requisite passion to get to the next level are two critical requirements for success.
Passion for the work you are doing is infectious and conveys to your customers that they are valued. Passion motivates you to set higher standards, perpetuating a desire for excellence. And desire breeds enthusiasm, commitment to customer care and the power to overcome the obstacles that hamper your ability to serve your customers.
You may not possess encyclopedic industry knowledge or represent the best products on the market, but if you have the vision, wherewithal and commitment to help customers reach their goals, you will surpass the majority of your competitors.
Tom Cruise's character in "Jerry Maguire" was vilified for his mission statement that stressed "fewer clients, less money, more personal attention" as a remedy to the ethical nihilism corrupting the sports contract industry.
Consequently, his desire to be more passionate, self-effacing and nurturing to his clients ultimately brought him more business opportunities, personal integrity and financial gain than anyone could have imagined. His philosophy for success supplanted his former associate's prediction of perennial failure.
Passion is intrinsic. It is all about the journey. It is not the means to an end, but an end in and of itself. In our industry, an archetype of this philosophy is Joe Kaplan, President of Innovative Merchants Services in Calabasas, Calif. Kaplan maintains continuous contact and a personal rapport with customers that is exemplary and respected.
The same is true for Mary Gerdts, Chief Executive Officer of POST Integrations Inc. She is ardent about ensuring the success of the payments industry and has served both as a board member and President of Electronic Transactions Association.
These entrepreneurs began as virtual novices to the industry, but because of their zealousness and devotion to the job they were able to thrive against competitors with far more experience and resources.
Another paradigm to this core system of beliefs is Bob Carr, CEO of Heartland Payment Systems. In 10 years, Heartland has become the sixth largest payment processor with more than $55 billion of annual processing volume. Carr, along with Joe Kaplan, crafted a Merchant Bill of Rights that has since become a benchmark in our industry.
Carr has been widely recognized for other groundbreaking accomplishments, which include creating a sales support program that frees merchant level salespeople (MLSs) from the detailed checking of contract clauses and disclosures.
He does this with automation and innovative check-listing that strives to prevent misunderstandings and gives merchants a higher comfort level with the new vendor.
Carr's unique sales support protocol of intelligent follow-up is wildly different from anything in the field. It also serves as a powerful and effective catalyst for upselling and cross-selling. This is significant, since Heartland also offers a suite of payroll services, gift card programs and other offerings for which Carr's care and attention creates a receptive and qualified audience.
Carr's vision transformed an expense into a revenue source. In the past, so many ISOs and MLSs would say anything to their merchants to make the sale. This was bad news for everyone, especially the merchants who were caught in the inevitable crossfire.
Early on, Carr established honest relationships with his customers, and his sales support program is the result of a desire to provide a credible alternative. His concept has been so successful he has not only brought his company public, but also purchased other companies to supply related services.
Due to these individuals' persistence, an industry that was once rampant with thievery, unpaid vendors and contract nondisclosures is now grounded in fairness, ethics, personal and professional integrity, and full disclosure. The solution, though difficult, was borne of education, training and the establishment of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard.
Tom Wimset, CEO of National Processing Co., started his career in NPC management, left, then returned to purchase the firm. NPC was an innovator in processing credit card transactions for airlines, oil companies and large retailers, but did not cater to smaller clients.
Before Wimset acquired the company, National City Bank purchased NPC, bringing in the mom-and-pop merchants. NPC was caught in a classic integration crisis, though today it has a healthy mix of large and small customers and the resources to serve both well.
Wimset said he had one of those "aha" moments when he realized the processing capacity of NPC was grossly underutilized. He believed it could be expanded and redefined. Today, NPC is a leader in medical and financial processing. NPC realized its goals because Wimset could envision what his predecessors could not and was willing to dedicate himself long-term.
Passion is sticking with something through the positive and negative peaks - long enough to create significant win-win situations for customers and those who serve them. The founders of the Bankcard Services Association, now the Electronic Transactions Association, were fervent about their work and dedicated to bringing credibility and civility to what was then a chaotic industry.
All of these industry leaders clearly regarded obstacles as just part of their journey. If shaping an industry were easy, everyone would be able to do it well. Passion demands tenacity, durability and the flexibility to adjust timing or other particulars - while keeping the goal in sight.
In our industry, the journey is now fairly direct because the pioneers cleaned up the unruliness. So the road, while not yet smooth, is at least paved. If you keep customer satisfaction at the forefront, you can prosper.
If you make it to 5 million in sales, there's no reason you can't reach 10 million. After acquiring and nurturing those first 50 merchants, you can acquire 500 or 5,000 as you share your passion with other MLSs and service people as well as everyone in your organization.
Every new journey, whether it's starting a company, adding an innovative capability or returning to a former company with an idea, has a naissance.
Usually it's some kind of moment that reverberates in your head like thunder, and is often related to a specific situation, issue or problem.
For me, it occurred 32 years ago. I lived in a community of entrepreneurs and executives; the neighborhood was full of business owners. As six of us were playing cards one night, the conversation turned to business and marketing.
I made a comment (apparently not the first time those people had heard it, given what followed) in which I expressed dismay that the entire imprinter industry was not only overpriced but offered no discernable service for the inflated price. No one was offering the obvious alternative of qualified repair.
A fellow player who had heard this speech before essentially dared me to put my thoughts into action. So I did. We called it Imprinter Repair Services. We started at the state level and subsequently spread regionally, then nationally. Before long, customers were coming to us in droves.
In the course of business, buyers often asked if we also sold new imprinters. Ultimately, we changed our name to Imprinters Sales and Service. Before long, we grew to 35 employees. Our customers from coast to coast ran the gamut from retailers to airlines and banks.
Many of these entities have morphed into other companies, and imprinters are now mostly a critical, but not high-demand, necessity. We're still providing equipment sales and a plethora of different services to the same business sectors; however, because we are really about customer care - good products, excellent service and an eagerness to contribute - we are a viable part of our customers' success.
That is our passion, and it should be a part of your business plan too. Whether it's selling products or dealing with customers, reflect on how you do business. Is there something lacking? Are you not as successful as you could be? Show sincerity in your devotion to the industry, and it will become infectious to those you do business with.
Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc., the parent company of CardWare International, based in Heath, Ohio. He is one of 12 founding members of the Electronic Transactions Association, serving on its board, advisory board and committees. Call him at 740-522-2150 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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