The Green Sheet Online Edition
May 11, 2009 • Issue 09:05:01
Facing the elephants
It is a staple of sketch comedy television going back to the earliest days of the medium: Two people, usually in a living room or other inside location, are having a rather mundane conversation.
Yet, on the other side of the room is an "elephant," munching away on vegetables. The characters glance at it, but never verbally acknowledge its presence. Finally, one character will say, "Do you see...," with his or her voice trailing off, as the character is too frightened to specifically mention the gargantuan animal in the room.
The other character responds in a hushed voice, "Yes, but if we ignore it, it may go away."
In speaking with merchants today, merchant level salespeople (MLSs) often find there is an elephant in the room. Yet, as in the skits, they usually ignore the pachyderm. They use a canned sales pitch; they don't vary their offers; they just hope the elephant will go away if they deny its existence.
More than ever before, MLSs are experiencing greater frustration, lost opportunities and diminished business success. And it seems this particular elephant is here to stay for a while. It's time to begin addressing it head on.
The real challenge is that, having ignored the truth for so long, we may have lost the capacity to properly address it. We're afraid to even acknowledge it, or we believe that, by bringing it up, we will lose control of the sales process. We may even fear the elephant is inside of us, not in a corner of the room.
Take three steps
There are three basic steps to addressing the elephant. If followed, both your merchant closure rate and sense of accomplishment will grow.
#h4 1. Identify the elephant
Unlike in the skits, the phenomenon we're dealing with is difficult to identify. In fact, there are two elephants: one we carry with us; one we find at the merchant's location.
These elephants have similarities. They are both emotion-driven, and both lead to failures. They go by many names, including the economy (its impact on the merchant), ethics (actions by others in our business that lead to a lack of trust) and frustration (over lost sales).
Whatever your elephant is, it must be identified and addressed before you make any sales calls. Identify it by asking yourself what you are truly worried about and what causes you to lose sleep.
Until you answer those questions, your success will be limited. By ignoring your worries, you cause them to grow and your confidence to shrink - and if you are not confident in yourself or your abilities, you are doomed to fail.
Identifying merchants' elephants is much harder. To do this, you must ask questions that address applicable negative situations. Sample questions include:
- Boy, I was talking to a company just like yours, and they were saying the economy has hit them hard. Sales are way down. Are you feeling the same pinch?
- Mind if I ask you a question? How do you do it? It looks like you are keeping your head above water.
- It sure seems like people are afraid to buy. Are you seeing that?
- Do you mind if I ask you something? I just left a company like yours and they wouldn't give me the time of day. They said they had been burned by a processor, but wouldn't tell me what happened. Have you ever had a similar experience? I want to make sure I don't do that.
- Thank you for your time. I have to say the last three merchants I spoke with were very frustrated. They were frustrated with slower sales, rude customers and everything in between. How do you guys do it? I know I would get frustrated.
You are trying to position yourself on the same side of the table as your merchants. If they are struggling with the economy, it helps them to hear that you and your other merchant customers are, too.
If they have felt ignored and lied to, be honest with them to show you are ethical. If they are frustrated, the source of that frustration must be acknowledged.
One warning: Merchants must do the talking after you pose a question. You are there to hear their concerns, not to burden them with your woes. Let them vent, and they will tell you how to deal with their elephants.
#h4 2. Address the elephant
Once a previously ignored dilemma has been identified, it is important to find common ground. The simplest way to begin is by asking one question: If you had control of (insert elephant/issue), how would you change it?
Let the merchant give you his or her solution - even if it's illogical. If possible, agree with the concept. Again, your sole task is to find common ground and to use that commonality to become part of the solution.
#h4 3. Use the elephant
Once you have identified and addressed the massive mammal in your midst, leverage it to your advantage. This step cannot be rushed.
If you cut corners here, all that you accomplished in the preceding steps will be wasted. The ideal approach is to use a third-party story. Here's an example:
I was talking with one of my merchants just last week, and he was saying that exact thing had been happening to him. He felt just like you do. But we talked through a few solutions, and he is much happier now. The issues didn't go away completely, but his worry was definitely reduced. I was glad I
Your merchant will want to know how you helped, and from that point forward it's not a sale, it's a conversation.
You can choose to acknowledge the elephant or you can follow the lead of the old skits and ignore it. But remember, just like in the skits, ignoring the beast doesn't work.
Jeff Fortney is Director of Business Development with Clearent LLC. He has more than 12 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at