By Scott Henry
Are your sales looking a little slack? Are you concerned about recessionary storm clouds? Or maybe you're just feeling down in the dumps following the new year. If so, it's time to get motivated because there are plenty of opportunities waiting for savvy payments professionals.
Here are three fundamental things, mantras if you will, you can use to keep from feeling queasy about your sales outlook in the coming months.
Whoever said what's on the outside doesn't matter has never met your target customer. Merchants, from the smallest to the largest, are looking for an edge over their competitors. And you can help merchants utilize their countertops as key elements in their marketing and customer relationship efforts.
Payment systems have changed dramatically from those little gray boxes we used to sell (and many still populate business countertops). Today's systems are ergonomically designed and sleek. They are contoured to the hand of both merchants and consumers, and light-years ahead in terms of how they look and feel.
Merchants should attempt to figure out how to attract consumers with fatter wallets. Making an appealing presentation for these customers is a major consideration when trying to win them over.
Differentiating from the competition in terms of ergonomics and visual appeal is one factor to consider. There's also the issue of looking like a 21st century operation. Contactless payment can create the perception that a merchant is up-to-date on the latest retail trends.
Sure, not everybody has a contactless card - yet. But there are 20 million or so contactless payment cards and fobs out there, and when consumers see their neighbors and peers using them, they'll want to get on board, too.
In addition, a merchant who invests in contactless today is going to be a lot farther down the road for acceptance of mobile, cell phone-based payment transactions.
Then there is the issue of Internet protocol (IP) and Wi-Fi communications versus dial-up. Any merchant who has an existing broadband connection can save money instantly with an IP-based or Wi-Fi-based payment system. Wireless is not only more flexible in terms of moving the payment system from one location to another, but it can also be more cost-effective than traditional landlines.
Any merchant who underestimates the opportunity to replace older POS equipment is missing a chance to attract customers. This is the merchant level salesperson's (MLS) cue to convince the merchant otherwise and upsell.
Literally millions of payment terminals are in use in the United States that do not meet today's security standards or come close to meeting the speed of service benchmarks that merchants should be concerned about.
Payment and identification issues are in the news just about every day, often involving retailers who end up losing their reputations, profits and customers as a result of breached security. Don't let this happen to you or your merchants.
Consumers care about these issues. Press upon your merchant customers the pitfalls of using older equipment and the benefits of using the newer equipment. Plus, it's not just security and speed; also at issue is additional revenue generation from value added applications such as gift cards or bill payment.
If you don't have an enthusiasm for replacing old equipment, then you probably, on occasion, spend thoughtful hours trying to figure out a way to develop new markets suited to your skills and the product sets you're familiar with.
Basic credit and debit card acceptance for typical mom-and-pop retailers is pretty much a commodity business. You either need to find new merchants or you need to be able to unseat competitors to grow your business.
You may have already figured out you can increase your revenue per customer and make the relationship more cohesive by developing a portfolio of value added products. You may have jumped the chasm separating terminal MLS from solutions provider.
If you've reached this point, you've no doubt realized that mom-and-pop retailers are just one segment of the burgeoning market of small to mid-sized businesses. There are many ways to slice and dice this market. Conduct an Internet search; there's no argument that it's huge.
What you have is a bewildering array of vertical markets with some 5 million companies with up to 20 employees each, half a million with up to 100 employees, and somewhere between 90,000 and 100,000 businesses with up to 500 employees. Many of these businesses have pressing needs for efficient credit and debit card solutions and related value added solutions.
Many of them - and certainly the majority, which lack information technology staffs - are in the market primarily for end-to-end solutions. They don't have the time or resources to take a best-of-breed, mix-and-match approach.
This doesn't mean, however, that merchants won't expect you to figure out ways to leverage their existing technology. Being able to sell solutions rather than products requires that you develop - if you haven't already - the ability to listen, learn and pull together a portfolio of products and services that will meet the needs of the target customer.
You need to surround your core competency as a payments systems specialist with knowledge and partnerships germane to the vertical market you are targeting. This could range from selling new pay-at-the-table solutions in the restaurant market to incorporating payment into an office management suite of products for small health care providers.
The potential targets are only limited by your ability to segment businesses into identifiable categories. You might, for example, focus on a broad category of in-house service providers who need to be able to accept card payments on a real-time basis. Or perhaps you have a friend in the wholesale carpet business with whom you can forge an alliance aimed at targeting carpet installers.
You can also focus on the broad health services category or narrow it down to dentists, ophthalmologists, neighborhood clinics and so forth.
However you define your target market, you must get up-to-speed on the needs of potential customers and the types of technology solutions they're using. You need to identify developers and value added resellers who are marketing industry-specific solutions.
When approaching developers and value added resellers in specific industry niches, you need to bring your arsenal of payment processing expertise to position yourself as the sales lead or a valued partner.
In addition to credit and debit processing capabilities, draw upon the rich array of value added card payment applications available.
More than likely, your target market is going to rely on broadband or wireless communications, so it's critical to be able to sell IP-based payment products.
This, in all likelihood, will be much easier to integrate with a vertical solutions package than a dial-up option. Now that you've studied up on the mantras of selling, make your slumping sales turn into successful profits. It won't happen overnight, but you should see results in the coming months.
Scott Henry is Director, North America Product Marketing, for VeriFone. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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