By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.
Want to know what's happening in payments right here, right now? Ask a merchant level salesperson. MLSs know the players: merchants, acquirers, manufacturers, distributors and value-added resellers. They know what's hot and what's not. If you want to craft strategy, invite a few MLSs to your next focus group meeting. Insights on buyer behavior from the feet on the street will bring any situational analysis or marketing campaign into sharper focus.
MLS feedback can save you time and money, whether your strategy is functional, operational, competitive or market-specific. When you share your concept with people who are directly in touch with end users, you'll find out if your idea has any "street cred."
From initial concept through implementation, MLSs can help business owners create and execute strategic initiatives. Let's look at how business owners can leverage the knowledge and real-world experience of MLSs to create relevant, sustainable business practices and strategies.
Effective strategy begins with a situational analysis of the payments industry and market. Periodicals, blogs and newsletters provide a dimensional snapshot of current trends, compliance issues and competitive information. Reporting is compiled from a variety of sources, checked for accuracy and designed to be read on the run by busy payment professionals.
Breaking news from MLSs will validate and clarify other media sources while bringing the added benefit of direct feedback from merchants. This feedback is especially valuable in the payments industry, where six degrees of separation distance the many players in the POS value chain - from manufacturers and distributors to the end users of products.
Many large resellers have a policy of no direct selling or communicating with merchants. They rely on secondhand reports from sales channel partners and help-desk professionals to learn how products are being received. Instead of trying to back into this intelligence with percentages of product failure and return, communicate with MLSs to learn merchant likes and dislikes. What are they hearing from merchants on their daily rounds? What product features and benefits would help them sell more?
Once the situational analysis of your industry and company is complete, it's time to get tactical. How will you define your company's strategic vision? How will you identify the steps to get you there? Executives have many things to consider at this critical juncture, including creating the right kind of infrastructure to support growth and encourage innovation.
The ability to react quickly and effectively manage change is a must in today's fast-moving payments industry. Because of their competitive nature and closeness to merchants, MLSs are frequently the first people to learn about new industry and technology trends. Having one or two MLSs on your advisory board is a good way to keep your finger on the payments industry's pulse. Having worked with so many different kinds of businesses in various stages of development, including their own, MLSs offer a seasoned perspective on the marketplace and their own observations on winning strategies.
MLSs will candidly rate strategic initiatives, ad campaigns, and products and services, and let you know if tweaks are needed. It would be a mistake to overlook the influence these sales professionals have on product adoption. MLSs help merchants make informed decisions based on their confidence in product performance.
MLSs have also taken risk to a whole new level. Many boldly experiment with new technology instead of waiting for their ISOs or processors to bring tested and certified solutions to market. Some of their experiments have been wildly successful; others have failed. All have taught them important business lessons. Their experience is valuable because it blends general best business practices with specific payments industry know-how. That blend makes them perfect allies during brainstorming sessions.
Which products and services will differentiate your company from the competition and help you build brand awareness? MLSs are adept at incorporating value-added programs - such as electronic gift and loyalty, check guarantee and verification, dynamic currency conversion, and bill payment applications - into traditional credit card processing. These programs earn customer loyalty as well as increased residual income streams.
Benefit from their experience and work directly with professional MLSs to create the right blend of payment and nonpayment solutions for the merchant community. Ask for their input, and put new ideas on the drawing board. Try to break out by coming up with a unique product or service that will capture the imagination of merchants. Become the pioneering company that others emulate.
After you have achieved recognition for your winning strategies, you may find it challenging to hold on to - and build on - your success. Companies in the payments sphere need to constantly reinvent themselves to keep up with shifting priorities and practices. This includes anticipating change, reacting promptly to it and being out in front with innovative products and services.
If being on the "bleeding edge" is not a part of your current business model, you can get ideas by watching the primary "change agents, " the companies that seize the offensive, set the pace for our industry and spur the rest of us to follow.
I guarantee these leaders have done their due diligence by observing the merchant-level playing field from multiple points of view, including the wise and knowledgeable perspectives of our MLS colleagues. Corporate strategists would do well to follow in the footprints of our feet on the street. Through their tireless efforts and sheer ingenuity, MLSs continue to define the best path forward.
Dale S. Laszig is Vice President of Sales in the United States for Castles Technology Co. Ltd., a manufacturer and global provider of smart card, contactless and POS solutions. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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