By Jeff Fortney
The Strawhecker Group
In the stands at my grandson's recent baseball game, my 11-year-old granddaughter asked me, "Grandpa, are you an influencer or a disrupter?" We were with a group of her friends, and they were talking about the two social media terms.
Most of my granddaughter's friends have no social media access, but one older sister (I think she was 15) does. She beguiled them by speaking of friends who were "influencers" and another friend who was a "disrupter." As I listened, I realized she used "disrupter" in a derogatory way. My granddaughter and her friends were amused by the concepts, which led her to ask me the question.
My answer demonstrated that I'm no social media expert. "Not sure what they mean," I said. "The only disruptor I know of was a weapon used by the Romulans on Star Trek." This led to a fair share of laughter, and one question from her friend, "What's a Romulan?" My daughter, who was seated nearby, added, "Your grandpa is a disrupting influence."
This conversation led me to investigate the social media definitions of "influencer" and "disruptor." According to several online sources, a marketing/social media influencer is a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media. They can, according to enthusiasts, add significant credibility to your brand. And a disrupter causes a change in the way an industry operates, particularly in an innovative way. Writing about disruptors for The Guardian on June 11, 2019, André Spicer stated, "Until fairly recently, calling someone a 'disruptor' wasn’t a compliment. It brought to mind a disrupted rail journey, a disruptive child, a disruptive neighbour. Now being a 'disruptor' is a positive. Entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk are lauded when they seek to 'disrupt' established industries such as car manufacturing. Large companies appoint 'chief disruption officers.' Civil servants, teachers and school children are now encouraged to become disruptive innovators."
I realized my daughter's term for me, "disrupting influence" was a compliment if I used it in reference to the payments world. (Of course, she meant it as a grandpa, so I should take it as a compliment in both instances.)
I'm discussing these terms now because I want you to become not just an influencer or a disruptor, but a disrupting influencer in your sphere. In the payments world, before the new normal, we were all taught to be influencers. This is evident when we say things like, "One of my current clients recommended I speak with you, as they thought highly of my service." Although, it's an indirect influence (making the current client an influencer) you were the influencer in that interaction. Of course, merchants influenced us, too, getting us to reduce pricing, which was the closing aspect of our sales.
Today, although we can certainly use third-party success stories to help a sale along, we are functioning more like disruptors. The clearest example of this is in the questions we ask. Think about the questions you need to ask a merchant who is new to the online or phone order world. For example, "I see you are now taking orders online. How have you structured your card acceptance? Are you protected against the potential for fraud?"
This isn't influencing; it's disrupting. You are questioning how they process payments and advising them that they are at risk in ways they have not previously considered. These are wise questions, but they are contrary to how we have sold in the past. The disruption isn't negative; it's bringing into focus a risk most haven't thought of, or if they have considered it, have not taken steps to address. I am not talking about taking a contrarian position with merchants. There is a significant difference between a disruptor and a contrarian. Contrarians always seem to respond in opposition to what you say. If you say the sky is blue this morning, they'll disagree and say it's more pale blue with clouds.
Disruptors question the status quo because they feel change is necessary and beneficial. In essence, they are looking to better overcome the challenges merchants face when processing today. You are not disrupting the merchant; you are disrupting the process.
An essential part of being a disruptive influencer is to first be transparent. Transparency has always been a guiding principle of mine. I have found that it's easier to be transparent, sharing the good, bad and ugly. It builds trust, as merchants know you won't be solely looking out for yourself.
The biggest challenge in becoming truly transparent is the belief that you can't be transparent and succeed in selling. How do you convince someone to sign with you, and tell them that the solution you offer has flaws? Or that the solution they currently use has positives? But being transparent requires you must not let these fears lead you to obscure knowledge of what you offer and how it stacks up against the competition. Everything must be on the table.
This doesn't mean you stop selling. It means you address elephants in the room honestly and upfront. But before you address them, you must first identify what merchants use and what their needs are. Just because a solution does something doesn't mean every merchant will use it, or even care that it exists.
While assessing their pains, if a merchant is using a POS terminal, you need to ask questions about how they use the POS. Do they do inventory on the system? What other options does the solution they use provide? If it's a POS you are familiar with, and if you are aware of functionality that is unique to that POS, address it head on. Ask the obvious question. For example, "I know this point of sale well. Do you send invoices from the system?"
Being transparent doesn't mean you need to be blunt. If you identify something a merchant uses now that you can't provide, ask them how important that function is. Is it something they require? Remember, if you have identified pains, and can address those pains, loss of side benefits may not be deal breakers. But if you don't let them know some functions won't be available before the sale, it can break trust irreparably. After a deal closes and a merchant expects to find a particular function only to learn you can't provide it, the door opens for them to question every single thing you have said.
Transparency is the key to being a disrupting influencer. It may be the most important key. But it's only one key. Next, I'll discuss other aspects of being a disrupting influencer.
Jeff Fortney, a senior associate at The Strawhecker Group, is a long-time payments industry executive and mentor. He is focused on sharing his industry knowledge and experience with others to help them grow their business. He can be reached at 214-458-1379.
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