In the early days of payments, the merchant acquiring field was wide open. Some folks refer to that period as the industry's Wild West days, a time when it was extremely easy and effective to adopt a transactional approach to selling.
"A transactional relationship is all about the short-term," wrote Mark Sanborn, author of 9 Key Differences Between a Transactional Relationship and Relational Selling. "Get the sale, at all costs. The focus is on winning this one sale without much thought to the customer’s needs or the longer-term."
Of course, nothing remains the same, and the dramatic transformations the payments industry has undergone since its inception exemplify this. But long after card acceptance became ubiquitous at retailers, electronic payments were the norm, and merchants had facts from the internet at their fingertips, many in the field continued to employ a strictly transactional approach. The industry had become commoditized, and representatives competed more and more fiercely on price, lowering margins dramatically.
Not all ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) were primarily transactional, of course. One example was Biff Matthews. A founder and board member of the Electronic Transactions Association, he retired in 2016 from his long-time position as president of Thirteen Inc., the parent company of CardWare International, which he founded. In "Building relationships – priceless," published in The Green Sheet Sept. 8, 2008, issue 08:09:01, Matthews wrote, "Price is everywhere. Competitors will always offer cheaper pricing. But customer service means everything in this industry. I maintain that a major factor in the service ethic is to always deal fairly with merchants and never resort to fear tactics, for instance, to close sales."
Matthews was masterful at relational selling, which Sanborn described as having a focus on "building long-term relationships. The sales rep gets to know their customer, their needs, and their wants, within reason."
Sadly, Matthews passed away in September 2020. He was known to be a good listener who was able to change as the industry grew and changed, often ahead of his colleagues. In the many articles he contributed to The Green Sheet, listed at www.greensheet.com/emagazine.php?article_id=931, he often emphasized the importance of building relationships with utmost integrity. This was before many in our industry saw the need to shift from strictly selling bankcard services to become business consultants offering a host of services and technology to help improve merchants' efficiency and profits.
Today, with ongoing advancements in technology, innovative disruptors, and shifting regulations stiffening competition even further, some MLSs still swear by transactional sales. So perhaps neither style is right for every situation. What really matters, according to Psynet Group, is agility and appropriateness: can you move between styles and demonstrate the behaviors of both styles equally well, and does the chosen style align with the activity's goals, meet the needs of those being served and minimize downside risk?
I do believe, though, relational selling is the best approach in our business. It's the intangibles, which are ever so difficult to measure, that lead to long-term, mutually satisfying relationships.
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