Seemingly insignificant details about the way we communicate with others can say volumes about how well we do business and manage our finances. Things we don’t even think about — like the way we word our email responses to a potential business partner or the use of the spell checker or even the final review of the email to which we are replying to ensure that we’ve covered everything that was needed.
Well, over the years I’ve come to pay a very close attention to such details and have become convinced that these little things are the most important indicators of a potential client’s value. I’ve realized that, if a merchant’s communication skills are sloppy, he is unlikely to be any better at organizing his business affairs. Yes, it is true that a cunning person could attempt to trick me into believing that his business is worth much more than it actually is simply by paying attention to details, but this is a chance I would gladly take on any day. And anyway, I would still need to review his business’ processing statements and all other paperwork, so the “con game” would be short-lived. The sloppy communicators, on the other hand, would be dismissed out of hand — and for good reason.
Using Emails to Evaluate Business Worth
Most of my communication with potential clients is done through emails — it is a strategy that I’ve built into my client evaluation process. Unless it is very easy to establish the value of a merchant who has reached out to me with a service inquiry — a good example would be a well-established business with a well-trafficked website and a solid track record — I never call the merchant before I’ve received some paperwork to help me vet the prospect. Typically, the first thing I ask for are the merchant’s processing statements with his existing or, if he is no longer processing, latest processor. If, having examined the paperwork, I’ve decided that the merchant could bring value to our organization, I would follow up with a phone call to discuss his options.
The phone call, however, is not the end of the vetting process — far from it. Once we’ve decided on a course of action, I would email the merchant the application forms that he would need to fill out and sign and request a list of documents that would be required during the underwriting process. Only after I’ve received all of these documents, and have ensured that the application forms have been properly filled out and all signatures are in place, I would initiate the underwriting process. The initial underwriting review would inevitably find the need for additional paperwork and an email request would once again be sent to the applicant. Following the merchant’s response, the review would be continued and, perhaps after a few more email exchanges, a decision would be reached. So you can see that an application review can often be a quite involved process and, hopefully, you can also appreciate the importance of promptly following up on email requests. Typically, if the merchant’s processing statements and business-related paperwork look good and if all additional documentation has been supplied, the end result is that the merchant account is approved and our business relationship begins. But what if the merchant is slow in replying to my requests or is unable or unwilling to provide the required paperwork? Well, this is when the trouble begins.
The Importance of Paying Attention
One of the most common communication issues I have to deal with, almost on a daily basis, has to do with garden-variety negligence — for example I would request that the applicant fills out an application, he would respond by asking a non-related question, I would answer it and repeat my request and he would respond that he never received the application forms I had sent to him on the previous day. Here is a real-life email exchange to give you an idea of what I mean:
UniBul: Please fill out the documents in the attached package and send back the paperwork for both incorporations, as well as the other required documents. I’ll get back to you as soon as I’ve examined them.
Merchant: Is this for both visa and Mastercard? I have to set up a cyprus corp?
UniBul: Yes, this is for both Visa and MasterCard and we don’t need you to incorporate in Cyprus. Just fill out the paperwork and provide the documentation requested in the package that I sent you to get started.
Merchant: Ok, what paperwork? Nothing is attached or I didn’t get it.
All the merchant had to do was to check my previous email and download the application package, but he didn’t bother to do it. I resent it and he filled out the application forms, but left mandatory fields blank and failed to provide some of the paperwork requested in the package. Following a few more email exchanges, we confirmed what at this point I had long been certain of — that the merchant was unqualified — and moved on. And the worst part is that this merchant is representative of the vast majority of the people who contact us for service.
At the other end of the spectrum are the merchants we do want to spend all of our time on — the ones which make our company successful. As a case in point, a few months ago I was contacted by a fairly large international e-commerce merchant in need of a merchant account for a new website they had just launched. Following my initial email exchange and conversation with the owner, he put me in contact with his secretary who was to communicate directly with me for the remainder of the process and supply the necessary documentation. However, she made an error by sending the wrong incorporation paperwork. The owner was on top of it and quickly found out, after which he immediately took over the process and remained my contact person until we finalized the contract and initiated the set-up.
The good thing is that I am now able to quickly place applicants into the proper category — they are either time wasters or money makers — and proceed accordingly. This categorization system has worked wonderfully for our company over the years.
The unfortunate thing is that the time wasters outnumber our money makers by a factor of more than 15. However, on the positive side, because we are able to disqualify unpromising applicants almost immediately, we are able to devote most of our time to the merchants who make us successful. Yes, it would be great if we could improve the ratio of money makers to time wasters, but it may well be the case that it is merely a reflection of reality. Of course, we would keep trying and I’m fairly confident that eventually we’ll have accumulated enough data to help us further automate the process and perhaps weed out most time wasters before we even see them.
Image credit: HD.org.