By Jeff Fortney
One of the first lessons my children learned was about consequences. It was a big word but had a simple meaning: the things they did or didn't do affected them in positive or negative ways. If they didn't pick up a toy, the consequence was that it might be stepped on and broken. As they got older, they experienced the consequences of not doing their homework, using inappropriate language and other behavior.
They became aware that their actions caused reactions, some of which were not positive. With this came another valuable lesson: by understanding potential reactions, they could adjust their actions to avoid negative repercussions.
In sales, consequences are often ignored for the sake of the sale. I've heard thousands of stories of salespeople saying or doing anything to close the sale. This happens primarily when a sales relationship ends at closing and money exchanges hands only once.
The payments world does not involve that type of selling; revenue is earned throughout the life of the merchant account. However, if merchant level salespeople (MLSs) fail to consider consequences before taking action, this can have long-term negative effects on their business relationships. Such actions often seem small initially, and the degree of potential damage seems negligible.
The most common action error occurs toward the end of the sale when the merchant asks a last-minute question: The merchant has agreed, in principle, to the pricing; the application is complete; and it's time to sign. As the merchant signs the application, however, he or she casually asks a question. It seems innocuous, and you reply casually as well. Afterward, you likely don't even remember the question.
For example, the merchant might say, "I assume you can provide reporting that meets our needs." The most common response is to say, "We can provide reporting- no problem."
Afterward you discover the business is using a unique accounting system that requires reporting you can't deliver. You spend hours - and sometimes days - trying to find a work-around or alternative. During that time, your merchant, who has started processing without the level of reporting promised, is very upset and is calling you daily.
Ultimately, this can result in a valuable merchant leaving your fold. You lose the revenue, as well as a referral source. You also lose credibility with any merchant your disgruntled former customer may know.
Every question is important. Alarms should sound when the merchant uses the word "assume" in any form. Usually that indicates the merchant has some sort of specialized need or perceives a particular need as unique. In all cases, that assumption has serious consequences.
When a merchant asks a last-minute question, follow these three steps before answering:
In the example I gave about a merchant's reporting needs, the proper response to the merchant's assumption about reporting would have been to stop and say, "What type of reporting needs do you have? We have several options, but if it's important enough for you to have raised it, I want to make sure I can meet your needs."
If the merchant clarifies the reporting needs and you are still not 100 percent certain you can meet those needs, respond with, "I am not absolutely sure, but let me check." Then call your support person or mentor to find out.
The process may add five minutes to the sale, but it can change the consequences and can help avoid negative results.
The second most common action is avoidance through inaction. It is human nature to avoid anything that is likely to provoke a negative response. But in sales, avoiding such instances can result in serious problems.
Avoidance occurs throughout the sales cycle. For example, you might not ask how a merchant currently handles card transactions or if the merchant has any special needs. Avoidance can occur when quoting fees. For instance, you might have a Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard compliance fee but simply list it rather than verbally disclose the fee. It can also happen after the merchant signs, like if a merchant gives you a voided check without an imprinted business name and you say nothing about needing more complete information.
In every case of avoidance, one more question would have likely solved the problem. Instead, fear of the answer prevented the salesperson from asking the needed question. The MLS tried to work around the issue rather than address it directly. (For example, instead of asking for details missing from the merchant's check, you beg the processor to work with insufficient banking information.)
The best way to handle the urge to avoid something is to face it head on. In almost every case, when an issue is addressed right away, it turns out to be much smaller than anticipated.
An easy way to ensure you haven't avoided anything is to close with two simple questions:
These questions may seem akin to opening Pandora's box, but that isn't the case. They allow for a strong closing dialog and can help you bond with merchants.
Consequences can be great or small. They can be positive or negative. But at least in sales you can control them and thereby increase your income. All it takes is remembering what you learned as a child.
Jeff Fortney is Director of Business Development with Clearent LLC. He has more than 12 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-618-7340.
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