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September 10, 2012 • Issue 12:09:01

Street SmartsSM

Perry Mason and the post mortem

By Jeff Fortney
Clearent LLC

Like any child in the 1960s, I had my favorite television shows. But one show stood out for me, even though it could only be seen in reruns. That show was "Perry Mason." Watching an episode of the show recently, I realized the key to the success of the title character, an L.A. defense attorney played by Raymond Burr, was the post mortem.

Like crime dramas today, usually a murder was committed in a "Perry Mason" episode. And Perry's client was arrested, although he or she did not commit the crime. Perry had to find out who the real perpetrator was.

The main difference between today's crime thrillers and "Perry Mason," though, is stark. In the earlier days of television, crime stories centered on finding the criminal through the piecing together of small clues that led to the killer, rather than the application of whiz-bang forensics technology, although fingerprints did play a role.

The post mortem

One common theme exists between "Perry Mason" and the crime dramas on TV today: each performs some type of post mortem. A post mortem has two primary definitions.

  1. An examination and dissection of a corpse to determine the cause of death or the changes produced by disease.
  2. The discussion of an event after it occurred.

In today's courtroom dramas, both definitions apply, but with emphasis on the former. When you look closely at the older shows, though, the primary focus was on the latter; they focused on reviewing events and gathering information.

When Perry conducted the post mortem, he collected information from various sources, listening to what was said, and examining the suspects' actions. This process easily translates to every industry, including ours, as we have very specific instances where a post mortem is needed.

The reason for a post mortem is simple, to learn from our actions. If we do not learn from history then we are likely to repeat it. Still many in our industry disagree, such as GS Online MLS Forum member MAKETELINC, who wrote, "I have learned in business, and for that matter life in general, that the best thing one can do is move on. Look forward not backward. Focus on new customers, and stop trying to work the ones you didn't get or that left you."

Although this strategy helps your mental approach to sales, it ignores the benefits found in a post mortem. Most sales training programs today have moved away from the old mantra of "no means next" and have begun to teach the proper way to conduct a post mortem.

Before you start, you should define what a post mortem is, and what it is not. First and foremost, a post mortem is not an effort to assign blame or fault. It is not an effort to ridicule or to denigrate. It is not a tool to measure failure, and it should not be an emotional process.

Rather it is an effort to identify areas of improvement, to track the effectiveness of different sales approaches, and to learn what should be repeated as well as what should be avoided.

In our industry there are three specific instances where a post mortem is useful:

  1. When a prospect says no
  2. When a customer leaves
  3. When a customer says yes

Each instance should be handled differently.

1. When a prospect says no

Conducting a post mortem is always a wise step when a merchant says no. Make sure you start the process before you walk out the door, otherwise you will miss the opportunity to learn from this experience.

Start by asking the merchant for honest feedback. For example, say: Mr. Customer, off the record, could you give me a little input on my approach that will help me in the future? What did I say, or not say, that led you to your decision?

Most individuals are interested in helping others and will be free with their input. There are times when the merchant may have heard something you didn't intend for him or her to hear, and you can correct it and save the sale.

Other times, it may be an impression left by a previous merchant level salesperson (MLS) and have nothing to do with you. If it's the latter, that impression may be corrected, or at least understood, so it does not affect your next call.

REXD uses a similar approach. "I call the merchant and do a simple survey to find out why he chose not to do business with me and the company I represent," he posted. "What I have found in these many years is that most of the time the customer will be straightforward and provide you with a wealth of information that can assist you down the road in your sales endeavors."

So ask the prospect who turned you down a simple question: Could you please help me out? Do you mind me asking why you choose not to do business with me?

The second step in this post mortem is self-examination. This should not take more than a few minutes. Answer these basic questions:

  • Did I first identify if the merchant was a good fit or if he or she needed my services?
  • Was there a point at which the tone changed? Did the merchant first seem interested but later backed off?
  • In hindsight, did I miss a closing opportunity or a pain point?
  • Was my approach the correct one for this merchant?

Don't spend too much time on each answer, and don't beat yourself up, as that can negatively affect your next call. Remember, you can't make a person say yes. You can only help someone make a decision.

"Personally, I review just about every call for at least a minute or two," said MBRUNO. "For me, this simple review helps greatly. If I'm trying out a new sales tactic, then I'll usually write down the answers to those questions so I can do a larger review after I've contacted enough merchants."

In addition to the questions above, here are others MBRUNO likes to ask:

  • What products or services did I feel would benefit the merchant (that is, what was my pitch)?
  • How did the merchant respond when I provided the solution (that is, the products and services)?
  • If rejected, was it a soft or hard rejection (that is, come back later or get out)?
  • If successful, what was the tipping point? Why did the merchant choose my services?
  • Was there anything in the conversation that could have gone better? What was it? How and why could it have gone better?

The questions you ask may be those just provided, or they may be specific to how you market and who you market to. You might also find out that no means not now.

2. When a customer leaves

Everyone recognizes the need to reduce attrition. Closing the back door is just as important as adding new merchants. If you leave the back door wide open, all of your work to build a portfolio will be in vain. Although the importance of this concept is widely understood, rarely do we research why a merchant leaves.

The first step of a lost merchant post mortem is to determine the "why." For example, if a merchant sold or closed the business, the post mortem is easy because the business no longer exists.

However, if the merchant left for another processor, call and ask why. Make sure you get the merchant's permission first and make it clear that this is to help you improve your sales skills, not an attempt to try to get them to come back. Ask the merchant to be blunt. You are looking for the actual reason, not a general answer.

Ask specific questions such as:

  • What didn't you like about our services and offerings?
  • What didn't we do or provide that was important to you?

Listen closely for the real reasons, and not platitudes. Ask follow-up questions on anything that is confusing or seems vague.

Some companies even have retention teams whose sole task is to contact merchants who leave and try to get them back. It's a noble effort, but it should be said the best retention effort occurs before the merchant leaves.

After talking with the merchant, examine how you related to him or her, and how you relate to the rest of your portfolio. Did this merchant fall through the cracks? Are you in regular contact with your merchants? What tools do you have, if any, to identify merchants at risk?

Use this examination to adapt your current retention efforts, and in so doing, reduce or eliminate the need for this type of post mortem in the future.

3. When a customer says yes

It would seem that a yes should always be celebrated, and that is true. But if you ignore the post mortem you may miss out on future successes. In this post mortem, the review is centered on what you did and what you heard that led to a signed application.

  • Did I do anything differently with this merchant call than the previous one?
  • What key point or pain did I recognize? How did I address it?
  • Did I miss any other pain points?
  • Did I miss other opportunities to close?
  • Did I miss any cross selling opportunities? Why?

These are not all celebratory questions. The intent is to identify areas for improvement, and even though the merchant signed, there is likely room for improvement in your sales process. If the merchant signed based on cost savings alone, you may find that he or she is at risk; the merchant could sign with the next MLS who walks through the door and promises big savings.

If the merchant signed because he or she was angry with the previous processor, the merchant could also be at risk. If the anger subsides before you complete the download, you could lose the opportunity.

Maybe the merchant signed because you offered a solution to a pain point. What are you going to do to ensure that the solution fully meets the client's needs? What happens if it doesn't?

Make sure you don't over promise and under deliver. If you missed closing opportunities, you lost time that could have been spent on a future sale. What's worse is that if this happens in the future, you could lose out on additional sales.

As you know, a signed contract isn't the end of the process. It's the beginning. If you don't do a post mortem, you might miss a step that could help start the relationship off on a positive note. Even though a post mortem takes less time than the other steps in the sales cycle, it's just as important.

If you're new to the business, don't hesitate to involve your professional mentor in any and all post mortems. In fact, it's wise to have your mentor participate in a post mortem at least once per month. Encourage your mentor to be honest in assessing you and to ask questions. Voice your areas of concern and encourage your mentor to be blunt. In turn, you must take time to honestly answer all questions.

No matter what the answers, the purpose of using a mentor in a post mortem is to learn, not to place blame. As I said before, blame has no place in a post mortem, as it can do significant damage to your future sales efforts.

Remember the importance of a post mortem and weave it into your everyday sales activities. As you do, I bet you'll see less attrition and will be able to watch your portfolio grow at the pace that Perry Mason solved crimes. end of article

Jeff Fortney is Vice President, ISO Channel Management with Clearent LLC. He has more than 17 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at jeff@clearent.com or 972-618-7340. To learn about how Clearent can help you grow faster and go further, visit www.clearent.com.

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