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The Green Sheet Online Edition

March 14, 2011 • Issue 11:03:01

Street SmartsSM

Earning and keeping merchants' trust

By Ken Musante
Eureka Payments LLC

As providers of payment services, we sell a service that allows merchants to make their businesses more efficient, increase sales and drive loyalty. Competition is fierce. What differentiates our service from others in the industry? The answer is trust.

Trust is what makes my offer different from others. Trust allows merchants to fully disclose their needs and frustrations so I can fully address them. So how do you earn trust? To learn more, I posted the following on GS Online's MLS Forum:

"The key to getting merchants is gaining their trust. Regardless of your product, pricing or technology, if you do not earn the trust of your prospects, you will not be anything more than a quote your prospect will use to select another processor. What do you do to earn your prospects' trust?"

Grasping the intangible

This question is as personal as how one person communicates to another; it often hinges on how emotion and empathy are conveyed. Trust is elusive. How do you know if you are earning trust or are even perceived as trustworthy?

BANKCARDREP1 started us off by stating, "Trust or greed? With all the deals I see going to telemarketers, I doubt that trust is what earns most deals. In a face-to-face environment, trust might be the winning factor, maybe."

I agree that telemarketers are getting deals. They are successful. But will a merchant sold by a telemarketer be as loyal as one who has a connection with his or her salesperson? If that same merchant receives another call from a new telemarketer with a better rate, would the merchant not opt to switch processors again? And would they even think of calling the first telemarketer back to inform them of their new offer?

Offering to educate

BILLPIRTLE offered advice next (incidentally, Bill is the author of Navigating Through the Risks of Credit Card Processing and will be the next writer for Street Smarts). "I was called by the owner of a local restaurant who had read my book," he wrote. "She had several people approach her in recent days promising big savings. Her average transaction was $11, and her debit transactions were clearing as small ticket.

"After running numbers, I found I could save her at best $3 to $6 per month and told her that, in my opinion, she should stay with her current processor if satisfied with the processor.

"[T]hen I warned her that some reps will tell her she is being overcharged on debit card transactions running as small ticket and showed her the math. She then produced two quotes that showed she could save on debit transactions. Before I left, I asked if she was still planning a website with her other company as she had discussed last year. She said she was preparing to launch, and we covered some options. I expect to take the more profitable website contract because I was honest on her store's processing. Trust is important. It can help open doors."

BILLPIRTLE earned the merchant's trust by educating the merchant. This helped her feel empowered over her decision and moved her to a more comfortable place in the conversation. This then allowed her to share more about her business and presented an entirely new option and, as mentioned, opened doors.

Focusing on respect

JMATHIS spoke from experience, stating, "It's simple for us. We listen to our merchants' needs, desires, problems, etc. We empathize with them whether we sign them or not. Last but not least, we deliver exactly what we said we would."

The important point in the post: JMATHIS acts the same regardless of whether the merchant is signed. This is critical in earning trust, as a merchant may take months or even years to sign with you. If merchants do not sign with you, and then you treat them differently because of that, you will never get a second chance.

As elusive as trust is to gain, it can be lost in an instant. As CLEARENT shared, trust can be "difficult to earn, mainly because so many before have damaged the ability of the prospect to trust at all. It starts with respect.

"First you must earn the respect with honesty - and sometimes saying things like, 'I don't know' and 'Yes, there are challenges in our industry, but I do my best to avoid them.' You must also listen. Often, to earn respect, and then trust, only requires that you listen, acknowledge their position and opinion, and respect them. That leads to trust.

"Sadly, it can quickly be lost if you don't work hard to continue that respect and earn that trust. Lastly, it must be acknowledged that there are instances where no matter what you do, you can't earn their respect or trust. Don't let it impact how you act to them. Surprisingly, if you maintain a sense of respect (whether it is reciprocal) you may turn them around."

Earning the business

One Friday, I had a prospect experiencing difficulty with his processor. One of his terminals had gone down, so I loaned him a terminal to use to get through the weekend. He called me on my cell on Sunday. He did not need to call me; his question could have waited until Monday. But because I was available and responded, he was impressed enough to then show me all his statements and trust me with his business.

You build trust on a sales call or you can earn it in a marketplace over time. In my territory, I can build trust in part because of who I am. I can build trust in part because of my association with my company and business partners. I can also rely on folks who are trusted by my prospects to introduce me, which further extends some level of trust.

CLEARENT added the following: "Yes, you can earn trust from a sales call - if - you first trust and respect yourself. If you show respect, trust can be earned. If you are prepared to walk away as friends because there is no fit, and that is clear, then you are on an equal footing. That breeds respect and trust."

Being real

JDECKARD pointed out that insincere efforts to win trust make it more difficult for all of us. "What do the neighbors always say when they catch a serial killer," JDECKARD posted. "'He was such a nice guy!' It's not like the scumbags show up wearing a black cape and a mask.

"Merchants believe the [lie] because they want to believe it, and they convince themselves that the person they are listening to is trustworthy. This is where you go all Ronald Reagan and say, 'Trust, but verify.' I earn my merchants' trust over time; I get my sales with cold hard facts."

AGENT shared a lesson from a recent seminar. "The teacher [repeated] the old adage, 'People don't care how much you know until you show how much you care,'" AGENT wrote. "Listening works wonders. ... I had a partner once who only called me on his way home at the end of the week or month, and many times, I got dropped when another call coming in was more important.

"Then he got in the habit of calling me 'boy,' as in, 'How are we doing, boy,' or 'Hey, boy.' ... Just an example of showing how much you care affects trust. Who on this board would say to any of their employees, 'Come over here, boy'? What kind of trust would you gain, and what kind would you expect?"

Communicating honestly

Next, I posted the following, "Some folks give money away if they can't meet or beat a competitor's pricing: $50, $100, $200 or whatever. The problem with this approach is that even if you get the merchant by giving away the cash, they are not going to trust you.

"They only signed with you because of the cash, and after you have given it to them, they are going to be looking and watching to see how you are going to earn it back from them. ... Yeah, earning trust is hard, but it's profitable."

MTY MSI disagreed, stating, "You simply can't be serious. ... Based on my experience, there's no way you can make a generalized statement like that about all merchants - a select few but certainly not very many. If you honestly feel that way about merchants in general, that may be why you think it's so difficult to establish trust.

"You're automatically assuming a merchant boarded by lower rates doesn't trust you and thinks you're going to try to make up for the savings. You're starting from a point where it's a given the merchant doesn't trust you. I completely disagree with that position.

"The fact of the matter is most merchants don't even read or understand their statements. If they're looking at anything on the statement it's the deposits, not trying to figure out how you're attempting to gain their savings back."

STEVE NORELL's response reflected the wisdom of a veteran when he shared an approach that has worked for him. "After the presentation and the merchant is still a bit uncommunicative or unresponsive, you tend to say, 'Thanks. Are there any questions?' or 'What else can I suggest to get your business?' And still, no response one way or the other.

"So you are walking out the door, and just as you are about to exit, you say, 'Listen, Mr. M, I made my pitch and you listened. Now we are, so to speak, off the record. Tell me what you really thought.'

"For some strange reason, the merchant feels like the pressure is off, and he tells you what he was really feeling. I find that once you do that, you have started to earn their trust since they don't feel they are on the clock or under the gun."

I think the strategy to speak "off the record" is brilliant. After any sale, my ending comments to the merchant are, "Thank you for your trust." At this point, merchants have entrusted me with their personal information and cash flow. They would not do that if I had not earned their trust. Trust is what I believe I am selling.

Knowing when to walk away

It seems fitting to end the discussion with reflections shared by forum member JOHN GALT?. "We can't assume that all merchants are little angels looking for an honest deal," he wrote. "If there is darkness in their heart, they'll see nothing but darkness in others. This is when you have to ask, 'Do I really want this guy in my portfolio?' So, getting to know the prospect is a critical part of gaining his or her trust.

"If they are upright people, they'll appreciate that you take an effort to know as much about them and their business as possible. But if they resist answering questions and want to keep secrets, red alert! Remember that the ISO/processor has a lot more liability in this relationship than the merchant does. Sometimes it's better to walk away than have to fight night and day."

When in doubt, sell something. end of article

Ken Musante is President of Eureka Payments LLC. Contact him by phone at 707-476-0573 or by email at kenm@eurekapayments.com. For more information, visit www.eurekapayments.com.

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