By Jeff Fortney
I recently heard an interview with several well-known authors. Rather than discuss what they wrote or where their ideas came from, they talked about how they wrote – the processes they went through, what steps they found necessary and what sometimes got in the way.
Many mentioned the need for an outline so they would understand where they were headed and what the ultimate result would be. A few who used co-writers emphasized that the outline provided the co-writer the ability to flesh out the book while they could go on to the next one.
Others talked about knowing the desired ending, but preferring not to write based on that ending. In this way, they could adapt as the story flowed. For example, one said he had decided to kill off a character, but he realized as he wrote that the character was too important to the story's resolution, so the character was saved.
Although their writing processes varied, all agreed that a book has only one true "beginning." By this they meant a book's first line, first few paragraphs and first chapter made the difference between success and failure.
Many sales trainers and other sales professionals have described a successful sales program similarly to the way these writers described their writing process. Some recommend a formal sales plan that is followed to the very last detail, like an outline. Others recommend a flexible approach, allowing for fluid modifications. All emphasize keeping the end in mind at all times.
What many forget is that every sales plan and every salesperson must have that "beginning." Sure, they talk about scripting, elevator speeches and the like, but few think about that true beginning of the sales process: that first call. If you're a seasoned salesperson and assume this is about how to do better on the first call, let me first explain what I mean by "the first call." The obvious definition is when a new salesperson approaches his or her first potential client. However, the true definition of a first call isn't the first sales attempt. These instances can all be called first call situations:
Each of these situations represents a first call opportunity. They put even the most experienced salespeople in an uncomfortable position, just like that first-ever sales effort. Yet we tend to forget to apply those valuable lessons we learned from our first call.
It is human nature to believe that our experience will carry us through. However, without again examining the lessons we learned from our first call, as well as those lessons others have learned, we are likely to suffer through the same learning curve again. It is impossible to learn everything from a first call, of course. However, conversations with many about their first calls, reveal several common areas that warrant caution.
Our industry's streets are littered with failed merchant level salespeople (MLSs) who were told to "just go out, get a copy of the statement and bring it back. It's that easy." Most companies today understand that some training is necessary. Even so, it's still all too common for MLSs to be "encouraged" to hit the streets with too little information. Fellow GS Online MLS Forum member TWOTRING shared his experience. "I had a hard time making my first sale. I fumbled the sale when the merchant asked me what made my service better than what he was getting from his bank. I sold service, as instructed, but hadn't grasped what the competition provided and what made them different. I soon realized that I needed to understand the competition as much as my own offering.
"From this call I learned to research what banks locally offered in merchant services and who they used for their processing services. I carry it with me when I am calling on leads so I can show them they aren't really dealing with their bank but rather with an out-of-state company."
An MLS must have a product and industry knowledge-base before beginning to sell. These could be defined as a basic understanding of payment processing (in essence, what you sell), an understanding of the company being represented, and an understanding of the competition in the market. This will help a salesperson be successful as they continue to hone their trade.
Even by gaining this knowledge, a salesperson must also master the phrase, "I don't know, but I will find out." This simple sentence will come into play throughout a salesperson's career, as no representative knows everything about the industry. All that is needed is access to people who have the answers. This single sentence goes miles in gaining a merchant's respect and trust.
Trying to know everything is often a greater hurdle to success than a lack of knowledge. The term paralysis by analysis fits this condition well. We all know the new MLS who seems to have a need for all the answers for every situation. There are even sales trainers who claim that full knowledge is power. The result isn't failing at the first call; it's failing to even make the first call.
When a rep with this handicap finally makes that first call, he or she ends up spewing facts, figures and information about the industry that have limited or no use for the merchant prospect. The prospect quickly stops listening, and the sale is lost due to the merchant's disinterest.
It is critical to strike that fine line between over- and under-preparation. The simplest lesson to learn is that you need to know the basics of the industry and have a working knowledge slightly greater than your prospect's. Your knowledge will grow as you grow in the industry, but don't let a perceived need for too much knowledge preclude you from selling.
When I was five years old, I was given a bicycle. It had training wheels, and my teenage neighbor decided I was old enough to learn to ride without them. He attempted to teach me.
He would hold me up and get me peddling, and soon I'd be off and riding. To stop, though, I would ride by him and he would grab at me. If he missed, I usually ran into something and stopped. Yes, he taught me how to ride, but he didn't teach me how to start and stop.
Sales trainer Kelley Robertson told of a salesman who, after taking Robertson's training course shortly after he started in sales, felt he was ready to make his first telemarketing call. After the merchant answered the phone, the newly minted salesperson stumbled through his introduction so poorly that the prospect asked, "What are you selling?" The newbie told him, and the prospect said, "Not interested" and hung up.
Not to be caught unprepared again, he was ready with information and an introduction for his next call. He chose his first face-to-face presentation to roll it out. He was so prepared that he introduced himself, spent five minutes talking about his background, and 20 minutes about his product. His critical error? He didn't ask any questions and didn't even pause to allow the merchant to talk.
Both experiences taught him valuable lessons that he uses today to sell, but I find the key to his story is straightforward: know how to start talking, and know when to stop talking and start listening.
Often the first sales call fails because we know what we want to say, but forget it isn't about what we say. It's about what the merchant says. Like my bike riding, if you can't start by yourself you won't get far, and trust me, it's better to know how to stop than it is to run into a tree.
People buy for personal, compelling and emotional reasons. Merchants are no different. Emotions play a critical role in a successful sale. Leveraging a merchant's emotions can lead to even greater success.
On the flip side, our emotions can and do get in the way of our selling. Selling is a humbling business as we hear quite often how our self-worth can be damaged – if we let it. Yet with all first calls, we have a tendency to allow it.
Forum member KLINCKPHILIP wrote about his early experiences in the business. "My first call was a jewelry shop who quickly told me they were with Heartland and not changing," he said. "After about five cold calls, I thought that this was not a business and just some get rich quick scheme I had been sold on. I tried again and got a dress shop that made me about $50 a month. I was working full-time at a mattress store, so the extra $50 was great."
Others tell similar stories. Initial calls generate all types of emotions from fear to abject terror. When we get a no, we see that as a failure and ultimately see ourselves as failures.
When my son played high school football, he found his team losing by a significant margin. From the other side of the field came a mother's clear voice, "It's okay Plano. This ain't personal; it's business."
Selling is not personal; it's business. During a sales call you are on stage. Actors will tell you that their personality does come through in their roles, but the role is not who they truly are. When an actor hates a role or a film flops, the thespian move on. The same is true with sales. Don't allow your emotional response to one call affect the next one. Play the role in which you have been cast: that of a salesperson.
Every first call provides enduring learning opportunities. SCAINE recounted his first call. "As I dismounted my horse, I was very nervous," he wrote. "It was my first sales call, to the local general store on the Marietta, Ga., town square. I was so focused that I almost got run over by the horse-drawn carriage coming through.
"I entered the store and asked for the owner. Gus moseyed up to me and asked what I was selling. I described my new fangled product, a charge plate for him to accept the new payment cards being issued to bank customers. He had a hard time understanding the revolutionary concept, but eventually caught on. He agreed to try it.
"I nervously unrolled the agreement scroll and dipped the pen in the ink well for his signature. But he hesitated and asked more questions. Thankfully, he eventually signed. The rate was 4 percent for all transactions with a $9 per month lease on the plate and imprinter. My commission was $12. It was a big payday!
"I ran back to my horse and galloped all the way back to the sales office to turn in my first sale. Unfortunately, it took me a few days before I got another, but eventually things worked out."
Don't fall into the trap of saying "well the industry has changed." A first call is a first call, no matter how much the industry changes. Either by horse, wagon, car or plane, we all begin somewhere. If we just remember those beginnings, and all our future beginnings, we will find greater success and a happier sales cycle. The bottom line: it will work out if you remember these first-call lessons – even if you use a car.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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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