By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
Writing new business is a lot like writing a book. Whether it begins with a blank page or a list of leads, it's a craft that can be improved with practice. I perused books on selling and writing, searching for common threads. Predictably, the skills required to develop a story or cultivate a merchant relationship follow a similar pattern. Here are insights on the creative process from writers and sales leaders:
Brad Staudt, Senior Vice President of Sales at Clearent LLC has trained and mentored numerous merchant level salespeople (MLSs) in his payments industry career. His sales manual, Acquiring More Restaurants, was distributed internally at NaBANCO Merchant Services and contains a chapter on setting goals.
"If you want to be successful, you must have a plan," he wrote. He recommended MLSs break their goals into daily, weekly, monthly and yearly increments, analyzing results to assess performance.
Peter Bowerman, author of The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less, wrote, "If you're like me, when you see the words 'Goal Setting,' you get this feeling in the pit of your stomach. You know you really need to do it, but just haven't made the time."
Bowerman said saying "I'm going to make 100K a year" is like trying to fit a whole pizza in your mouth. Like Staudt, he believes in segmenting goals into "manageable bite-size pieces." Here's how he broke down his income goal:
He made a few copies, posted them in plain sight and read the chart aloud every morning and night to get his subconscious working on making the goal a reality. Within half a year he was on track. He recommends a figure that's exciting and motivating without seeming out of reach.
Hallie Ephron, book reviewer for the Boston Globe and author of The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel, tells budding writers to block out a place to write, the tools to write with and the time to get the job done. Following are essential elements she identified for a writer's office:
Staudt advises MLSs to make sure they have all the necessary tools to be successful. He stresses the importance of fixed schedules, planning and customer relationship management as mission critical factors for success. "It's called time management; try it, it works," he wrote.
In his book Good Selling! The Basics, founder of The Green Sheet Paul H. Green noted the importance of attitude in selling and in life. "People with healthy perspectives know that they have the power to change situations," he wrote, contrasting their views with those who believe problems are irreversible and beyond their control, a condition he referred to as a "bad attitude."
Ephron noted the importance of staying positive and believing in oneself, because writing, like selling, can be a lonely endeavor, typically offering no "water cooler or coffee machine where you can take breaks and reconnect with humanity." She said that when you take yourself and your writing seriously "other people will take your writing seriously too."
In any chosen profession, it's vitally important to research your subject and stay current with industry trends. Ephron calls this "tuning your ear." She recommends writers read other writers' works and spend time with readers and people who make their living reading and recommending books.
Staudt believes researching a prospect prior to a sales call can increase conversion rates. Knowing the decision maker, incumbent processor, annual volume and average ticket, as well as having some knowledge of their industry and market, will help create a targeted, results-driven presentation.
Green said many sales professionals "are lazy when it comes to research." He suggested creating a basic company profile for large accounts to help track annual revenue and keep names of corporate executives in mind. He also suggested targeting "several people with varying levels of influence within the company" to broaden your sphere of influence and make it more difficult for people within the organization to ignore you.
Much has been written on the value of being customer-centric. Staudt called it having two ears and one mouth. He advocates trying to use each equally. "Sometimes we think we are listening when we're not," he wrote. "We're too busy planning what we want to say that when it's our turn to talk we don't concentrate on the merchant's words," he added.
Green noted that an MLS's objective "isn't to make prospects think you know as much about their business as they do, but rather to make them feel that you understand their problems, viewpoints and needs."
In selling and in writing, it's important to decide what viewpoint you will use to tell a story. Ephron wrote, "When you sit down to write, you need to decide whether you will write in the first person or the third person, and whether you will have one character or more than one narrate."
How many times have you, as an ISO or MLS, weighed the pros and cons of bringing other viewpoints into a sales presentation?
"Close early and often," is the clarion call of selling, and this rule can be applied to writing as well. Ephron said a good rule of thumb is to end a scene as early as possible, in a strong moment, leaving out any final bits. "Depending on the momentum you're trying to create, you can end a scene with a sense of finality or with something that propels the reader forward," she wrote.
Green suggested ending a presentation with a question "to bring out the last of the prospect's objections and show you that this prospect is ready to buy" and move things forward to the next step.
Whether you're writing a novel or building a book of business, the process can be deeply rewarding.
Dale S. Laszig, Staff Writer at The Green Sheet and Managing Director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content provider. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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