By Jeff Fortney
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, ocean crossing was completely reliant on wind power. The stronger the wind, the faster the crossing. Experienced sailors were familiar with the routes that provided the type of wind they needed.
They also knew what areas to avoid. However, even the best sailors ran the risk of dropping too close to the equator and entering an area called "the Doldrums." The equator provided little to no horizontal wind. Unless a large storm brewed, the water was calm and movement ceased.
An inexperienced captain might panic and remain there for weeks until rescued. But the experienced captain knew the only way out was to lower his long boat, fill it with sailors and have them row, essentially towing the bigger ship. This was both time-consuming and back-breaking.
From this situation came the common expression "the doldrums." Today, dictionaries define this term as a period of stagnation, slump, despondency or unhappy listlessness.
Dr. Seuss captured it in Oh, the Places You'll Go!:
And the chances are, then,
that you'll be in a Slump.
And when you're in a Slump,
you're not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself is
not easily done."
The payment processing world is not immune to the doldrums. We all suffer from them on occasion. We find ourselves stagnating, with our motivation lacking. And our businesses suffer. Slumps can creep up on us and cling like glue.
Former Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench, twice a National League Most Valuable Player (MVP), put it this way: "Slumps are like a soft bed. They're easy to get into and hard to get out of."
Slumps don't usually provide warnings to keep you from sailing straight into them. Your business can be growing at a healthy clip, with new business and ample referrals. Then suddenly you realize referrals and new signings have dropped off.
Looking back, you realize you have been distracted; you haven't done your best. You're not sure when it started, but the facts are clear: You're in a slump. Unfortunately, this revelation doesn't mean the slump is over.
At this point, you have a choice. You can wait to be rescued, or you can lower your long boat and use your oars. Every successful ISO and merchant level salesperson has been in this situation, and our industry is littered with failed companies that chose the rescue option.
In addition to taking remedial action, you must learn how to recognize a slump before you are in too deep. A slump is not a bad day. Rather, a sales slump can be defined as an inability to sell at your previous levels for a week or more.
Unless you have a system that tracks your goals and actions, it may take a few days to realize you're in a slump. GS Online MLS Forum member MBRUNO has such a system. "I'm a numbers guy," he wrote. "My goal is always to do better than the month before.
"I developed a pretty good reporting system to give me a snapshot of a number of metrics by day/month/year and then cross reference those against the last month, quarter and year. It's a great motivator and helps keep me out of the doldrums."
MBRUNO identified two key components: a goal and a means to track efforts to reach that goal. Goal-setting is a topic of its own for a later time. But remember that no matter what goal you set, it must be measurable, realistic and under your control.
To reach your goal, you must have a plan that defines your necessary daily, weekly and monthly actions, all of which you will measure. I have one caveat, though. Don't measure only the number of merchant deals.
Measure your behavior - things you must do to execute your action plan - because a slump is not a failure to sign merchants for a brief period of time. Rather, a slump happens when you allow a lack of signings to impact your behavior.
Once you review your goals, look at how you use your time - your one finite commodity. Once we use time, it's gone forever. Are you easily distracted? Are you committing the same amount of time as before but getting less done? Instead of using your sales time for sales are you devoting it to activities outside of sales?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have probably reached the doldrums. It's time to drop the long boat and start rowing.
You may want to jump into a plan to attack your slump, but most will tell you the first step in that attack is to recharge your battery. "I find that life is too short," said THECREDITCARDMAN. "I am out of here and taking a few days off to do whatever. Even just a few hours on a mountain road with the top down and the cell phone off can clear your head."
One suggestion is to take a mental time out and just dream. Sit outside in a park, or take a long bath and picture what you will do with your success. Don't picture what you will do to become successful. Just picture the final results once you are successful.
If you can't leave the area, do something that is not related to work, like taking a walk, cleaning the house, playing with your children or watching a movie during the day. This will help you temporarily shut out your work so you can come back with a fresh perspective.
If your success ratio has been signing one merchant for every 10 calls and you can make 30 calls a week, you have started to expect three new sales per week. If you're in a slump, you are probably falling short of that goal.
This is when you'll be tempted to make more calls to make up for lost time. Be careful though, because the quality of your calls might drop, which means your slump could get even deeper.
To put your slump behind you, start by resetting your expectations. Don't try to make up for slow weeks. Start from zero and move forward. This means that even if it's the 15th of the month, you should reset your goal to what you would normally expect for the remainder of the month.
When you're ready to start again, follow the advice of baseball great and former MVP Hank Aaron: "My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging."
However, not many of us are like Hammerin' Hank. Getting out of the slump will likely require stepping out of your comfort zone to try something different. THECREDITCARDMAN also used a baseball analogy.
"I would try to lay down a few bunts, go to the opposite field, take a few more pitches and try to walk, or even sacrifice my body and crowd the plate for a hit."
You can try many things, both internally and externally. Internally, reevaluate your 30-second commercial, also known as your elevator speech. Is it too technical? Can you tweak it to surprise prospects with your comments? Will they smile when they hear it?
Come up with a couple of alternatives that paint different pictures, and then test them on your friends and family.
If you don't have a goal binder, create one now. This isn't a binder that tracks the calls you make or the deals you sign. This binder should show you what you will do once you reach your goals. Make it visual - lots of pictures - and keep it with you.
ADUNN put his on a poster. "As corny as it may sound, I created a little poster earlier this year and listed each of Tom Hopkins' seven motivators by text and with a picture," he posted. "For example, money is represented by a picture of several $100 bills.
"For family, I have a picture of my wife and baby. Every time I'm in a slump, I look at the poster for motivation."
An external way to break out of your slump is to call a satisfied customer or two. Refresh your confidence by hearing about what's going right for them, and then ask for a referral. If you're getting leads, don't stop at just two calls.
Keep dialing, and you'll boost your confidence as you make your way through your client list. Once you have a list of leads, start calling them. Make sure you mention who referred you, and be sure to tweak your introduction as needed.
After following up on all of your leads, reach out to a different market. Calling on a new vertical or industry type will require you to study that industry. It can open up new opportunities.
When you're in a slump, you become your own worst critic. You tend to find fault with everything - even your successes. That's why it's important that you treat this as a new start, with new possibilities.
Consider rewarding yourself for your successes. These don't have to be big rewards, but something that makes the effort worthwhile. THECREDITCARDGUY916 shared his strategy:
"Happy hour after a good day, a massage for every deal I write, and a midnight black double IPA [India pale ale]."
Soon you will find you've climbed out of your slump and your positive attitude is back. The wind is blowing strong, and your sails are full. You may even exceed your previous results.
Just remember, even the best salesperson goes through a slump at some time in his or her career. Because the doldrums are always close by, keep your long boat handy.
And should you find yourself there again one day, just remember that you surmounted it once and can do so again.
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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