By Jeff Fortney
We all know selling merchant services is not easy. People with superb sales skills but limited knowledge of our industry routinely fail. Time and again, I see promising reps leave the industry because they don't find the success they anticipated.
This trend bothers me. In any field of sales, there will be turnover with newbies. However, the number of newbies who fall flat in our sphere has always seemed higher than it should be. It would be easy to chalk this up to the complexity of payment processing, but that is too simplistic. I've seen too many individuals fail who had the skill set, desire to succeed, thirst for knowledge and thick enough skin to handle the rejection. Maybe the problem isn't them, but us. Let me explain.
The common goal of successful ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) is to grow their businesses. One way to do that is to bring on new agents to work for them. In most cases, these people are either brand new or newer to the industry. They have the sales skills and maybe even the contact list (Rolodex for the old schoolers), but what they lack is key industry knowledge.
When new agents are brought on board, the hiring ISOs and MLSs have confidence they can provide the knowledge and direction necessary to help them succeed. The problem is that for many newbies, success requires handholding and a time commitment. Both take time away from what made the ISO or MLS successful in the first place – selling.
The established ISOs and MLSs then fall back on the old tried and (believed) true approach. They advise newbies to just get merchants' statements and submit them for analysis. The ISOs and MLSs will then provide proposals that save merchants money. The expectation is that the newbies will present the proposals and merchants will be thrilled with the savings. It worked for the ISOs and MLSs at the beginning; surely it will work for newbies, too.
This approach involves no training on any facet of the industry; no reference to terminals, POS systems or even basic information on how payments are processed; no discussion on the needs of the merchant; and no conversation about interchange and its components.
This commonly results in one of the following scenarios:
In both cases, the weight of the situation falls on the newbies, not the agents who hired them. After about 10 of these calls, newbies are not only frustrated, but also embarrassed. They don't want to anger their contacts, so they leave the business or seek others who can be of assistance.
How do you address this? First, look inward before even considering hiring newbies, and answer these tough questions: How do I sell? Do I sell price? Is that the best way to be successful today? Am I prepared to train a new agent to be successful or am I just looking to grow a portfolio? Do I have a strong foundation of industry knowledge and know how to effectively share it without overwhelming someone? Am I willing to tell someone that they aren't a fit for me?
Be honest. Determine whether the sales approach you have used to build your portfolio will translate to success today for someone new to the business. You can't sell cost savings as a pure play today and be successful in the mid- to long-term.
Also, be realistic. Not all great salespeople make great sales managers. When you hire reps, don't expect them to be clones of you. They have their own skill sets, which need to be amplified. Telling them to go get statements is a recipe for failure.
Be able to recognize those who don't have the skill set to succeed in the payments world. The ability to sell, alone, isn't sufficient to sell a merchant services product mix. Neither is a large contact list. Newbies need to be told what is required before they start, instead of learning it the hard way.
If you're just getting started on your payments journey, ask a lot of questions. Recognize there is much you don't know, but need to understand to be successful. The key question for prospective payment partners is: What will you provide to help me gain the working knowledge I need to be successful? If they don't have a structured plan, they aren't a good fit.
We need new people in our business. And newbies need to be given every opportunity to succeed. It's up to all of us to position them for success or, at worst, give them the ability to recognize they won't succeed. It's up to those of us with experience to give them direction, and it is up to them to put it to use. It benefits us all.
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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