By Jeff Fortney
It can be said that the best advice is shared by people who have learned from their own experiences - people who have "been there, done that." One of my most memorable life lessons occurred when I was working as a commercial real estate loan officer for a regional savings and loan in the 1980s.
I was responsible for writing major construction loans and would present loan requests to the senior loan committee, which consisted of high-level company executives. Since the amounts in question were large, they would examine all aspects of each request, approving some and declining others. Often rejected applications were accompanied with a comment stating, "This sure looks like pioneering." I asked for clarification when I first heard this because I'd always thought pioneering was a good thing.
One of the executives explained that our country's pioneers were adventurous people, but most of them didn't survive because they died of disease or various other causes. Hence, it was better to be the person who followed the pioneers, as the follower's chance of success was much greater. It made sense, and it's still sound advice I use every day.
Chances are you also recall a few life lessons that stand out as having had a significant positive impact on your sales technique. I asked fellow members of GS Online's MLS Forum to share their lessons learned and their advice.
MBRUNO shared a story similar to mine. "One very valuable lesson I learned was not to be afraid to disagree with someone in a position of power," MBRUNO wrote. "While working as an accountant for a large firm, I was in charge of the financial advisers' pay, managing and calculating their bonuses, etc.
"An executive in charge of the entire western division told me I needed to transfer $50,000 in assets from one account to another before the end of the month (which was in two hours). She gave me a reason, but I couldn't see the logic. I started the process anyway because I figured 'she's in charge of a lot of people; she must know what she's doing.' ... Then it dawned on me that it was the end of the month and bonuses were calculated based on assets under management at that time.
"I went to my boss and explained that I didn't feel comfortable because I felt like this wasn't justified and was borderline fraudulent. I got reamed out by my boss but stood firm in my asking for proof that this wasn't fraud. I was literally yelled out of the office and was sure I'd be fired quickly thereafter, but I wasn't. About a month later, I saw my boss working on a project and asked her what it was. It turns out that the transfer they made a month ago, which I refused, got my boss within a hair of being fired for negligence. I, on the other hand, got promoted for my actions.
"This taught me three things. One, when you believe you are right, stand up for yourself, even when no one else will. Two, just because someone is in a position of power it doesn't mean they know everything. Three, listen to the objections of others, and don't make rushed decisions just because it's easier than thinking about it."
Wisdom can also be found by learning from failure. As Richard Branson advised, "A setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve."
One ISO recently told me about an unexpected setback that came from an unlikely source. In the early days of his company, he was good friends with some of his employees. They were close enough to spend their free time together. Without informing him, however, four of these so-called friends started their own ISO.
Two of these four even went on a company-sponsored reward trip to Jamaica. Upon their return, his processor mentioned how he had seen significant attrition over the past few weeks. While in Jamaica, his two "friends" used his company's client list to sign merchants.
Unfortunately, because of the friendship, he had never drafted a noncompete clause. He learned two valuable lessons that day: 1. always have a noncompete clause in place for all employees; and 2. always be prepared for the worst.
On the flip side, many merchant level salespeople (MLSs) shared advice from a different perspective. Forum member MAL4400, stated, "If you are new to this business, make sure you never sign an exclusive with an ISO. I know it seems obvious, but I am a victim of a hard lesson here.
Being too trusting can come back to haunt you." MAL4400 said he signed almost 400 accounts with one ISO and developed many large association partnerships, but he came to have misgivings about the ISO's business practices.
"I told him I was leaving and he has had a hard time letting me go," MAL4400 noted. "He says he feels very cheated, yet I refuse to continue to be mistreated. Even though I will more than likely have to give up the $4,000 per month on $5.6 million processing, it's still a better option than allowing them to take advantage of me, or to have me sign up merchants on a pricing plan that only benefits the ISO.
"Sure, they are holding this one-sided, unenforceable noncompete over my head, but in the end they will never be able to hire anyone in this industry with any experience. Stay true to what your heart tells you, and no matter what, never lie to a client, even if your ISO tells you to by disguising it with some 'new sales technique.'
"Merchants will appreciate you more for looking out for them than trying to make a fast buck. Always (and I mean always) network with industry professionals doing what you do. Do not ever just take one man's word as law no matter how much they try to convince you."
These stories illustrate how essential it is to be honest in your dealings, both as an employee and an employer. Having been burned by employees, the ISO I mentioned now requires a noncompete clause in his contracts. In turn, he operates ethically and fairly with those who work for him.
MAL4400's argument and advice is also sound. "Unless you are fully aware of the industry, garner information from alternative sources, and if you're not comfortable with the conditions of the noncompete, don't sign it," he posted.
Forum member STEVE_NORELL's advice also centers around ethical treatment. "I have learned that unless it's in writing, a person's word means nothing when push comes to shove," he said. "And even then there is no guarantee that what's in writing will mean anything."
He thus described a situation he once endured: "The signed contract states, 'We will never sign any of your agents directly without a written release.' The ISO then signed my agent directly without a written release. I brought it to their attention only to be told tough luck.
"I pushed the issue, and they raised all types of reasons why it was OK for them to do it, such as, we got your assumed approval, he wasn't really your agent, you released him so therefore it was OK, and others. So even when something is in black and white, it does not always mean it is honored, and that leads to a lawsuit which leads to money and time and pain and suffering."
His advice? "Get a written agreement, but understand the ethics of the other party signing it," he stated. "If their ethics are below yours, don't sign it. Walk away."
CREDITCARDMN offered the following: "For newbies, negotiating that first-time deal and really understanding the contract and how you make money is worth its weight in gold."
Forum members' advice could be summed up simply: act ethically, expect honesty and find a mentor to walk you through the minefields.
Richard Branson has another morsel of advice that all salespeople should follow: "My mother always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project always amazes me."
MAKETELINC offered advice in the same vein: "The hardest but most important lesson here and in life in general is to learn the art of how to move on."
Perhaps the best advice was given by The Brady Bunch character Carol Brady, "Find out what you do best, and do your best with it." Or as Terry J. Lundgren, Chief Executive Officer of Macy's Inc., said, "There's a finite amount of time you're going to be doing this.
"Do this really, really well. And if you do this really, really well, everybody will see that, and they'll move you onto the next thing. And you do that well, and then you'll move."
Remain true to our ethics, act honestly and always move forward - that about says it all.
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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