By Kelly Cullum
SUR Technology Holdings LLC
Steve Jobs once said, "Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it." It's as simple as that. That's the secret to an independent software vendor (commonly referred to as ISVs in the payments industry). Your reaction to Jobs' statement is likely that you treat every merchant in your portfolio that way, but with ISVs, you must embody that concept more than ever before.
One of my first interactions with a payments company involved looking at an application programming interface in a Microsoft Word document. The integration was brutal due to lack of support and took what felt like forever. Once up and running, virtually every deal we submitted was declined, and nobody would explain why.
Sound familiar? Every new agent in payments remembers this pain point. Bottom line, just like being a new agent, as an ISV, you have to earn your stripes before anyone will pay attention to you.
I realized that if our payments feature was going to become successful, I was going to have to force it to be. The software company I was working with could barely afford to pay me minimum wage. I took on five roles, including payments, so I frequently stayed long hours with no pay to learn the payments industry. Not because I liked payments, but because I thought our software could really change the world.
So, the secret was it took a person with drive to grow the payment portfolio. But now the tables have turned. ISVs, like merchants, get frequent calls. With new technologies and easier methods of integration, it's payments people who need to be driven to nurture partnerships with ISVs so that they thrive.
So how do you determine a good ISV from a bad? First, mystery shop the ISV and demo the solution. This will not only be educational, but it will also show genuine interest later on. Ask yourself questions like:
Next, figure out how the organization is run. An incredible software solution paired with an equally amazing sales and support team are qualities to look for in every ISV. So the guy telling you he isn't focusing on sales is probably not for you. If it is a business attempting to organically grow, that's a great sign. You want a driven individual who is not getting lost in startup events and is hyper focused in his or her vertical. Also, I have been known to call some current clients of the ISV I'm evaluating. Why? They tell me what is wrong so that I can go into the ISV and tell them how I can fix it.
What I have come to discover is that the simplest answer is really the solution. Last year, I piloted a program where I took 10 feet-on-the-street agents and asked them these questions about their networks.
All of them stated something equivalent to, "I don't know anything about that software stuff." After doing some research, I convinced two agents to pursue a contact at two different software-as-a-service companies. I told them to just be candid about the value they bring as representatives.
Every agent I have ever met has one abundant quality: the ability to build relationships. You can use that strength to leverage contacts and grow a portfolio you never thought possible. The ISOs or processors will have all the tools and the lingo, but they rely on their agents to establish that everlasting relationship with clients to keep them engaged indefinitely. It's that value that I see so many companies miss the mark on.
The payments space has changed quite a bit in the past 11 years, but the need to have an advocate hasn't. A software company is coming in with little to no knowledge of our industry, so taking a white glove approach while educating an ISV will only help your portfolio in the end.
We've evolved quite a bit since the Word document I saw more than a decade ago. Now it's just about learning how to utilize the technology to improve your portfolio with ISVs. Which, by the way, they have no clue they are called ISVs, so don't throw that term around too much outside of our space.
Kelly Cullum, Business Development Director at SUR Technology Holdings LLC, can't wait to see the day when payments and software companies see eye-to-eye. Until then she bridges the two by building software for payments people ready to build their own technology. You can follow her on Twitter @cullum_kelly or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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