By Jeff Fortney
When I was growing up, my mother had a way of saying something that implied one thing, but clearly meant another. She often used this tactic when I would ask for a treat or when we were arguing.
Her two most common phrases were, "We'll see" and "Let me think about it." The latter was used when we were in a store, and I would ask for a candy bar or a toy. "We'll see" was her response when I asked if we could go to Disneyland or even the movies. Usually the topic would mysteriously change after her response, and again I often would forget my original request.
When I was six or seven years old, I thought I had a chance when my mom said such things, but in reality, she was hoping I would forget and we would leave the store without having to purchase something that was not on our list.
One of my mother's favorite conversation stoppers was, "Let's talk about it with Dad." When she spoke those words, I realized that no matter how right I was, the votes were against me. By the time I was eight, I knew all such phrases meant no. She just worded her answers to avoid arguments. It was a way to defer a decision, hoping my attention would become diverted, which was normally the case.
In the ISO world, we face similar phrases every day from merchants. The most common include variations of "Let me think about it," "Can you come back later" and "Can you leave some information that I can review?" All of these phrases imply maybe.
We have all been there. You see an opportunity with what appears to be a motivated merchant. The prospect seems interested and is involved in the conversation. The time is right to move to close the deal, and the individual responds with some variation of maybe. Since we see opportunity, this type of statement doesn't dampen our enthusiasm; we think it's just part of the merchant's buying process.
Maybe the retailer wants to consider the offer and will ask for something in writing. You leave a proposal and tell the merchant you will call tomorrow. Maybe the prospect said he or she needs to talk to a partner and asked you to call back. You are sure the deal will close, and you leave happy. After all, it's clear the merchant is interested, right? Wrong.
The next day you call, and the merchant is either busy or unavailable. You call again the following day, and there is no answer, or perhaps a staff member puts you on hold and comes back a few minutes later only to tell you the prospect is gone for the day.
You decide to stop by the business, and the merchant avoids you or puts you off by saying he or she hasn't had a chance to review the numbers or that the other partner in the business hasn't been in. Two weeks pass. You are still calling, following up or stopping by. And still, no progress. Ultimately, you put the merchant on the back burner, but you have invested a significant amount of time chasing a maybe.
Sound familiar? Even the best salesperson has chased a few maybes in his or her time. However, accomplished agents know that chasing maybes costs time that could be spent on real deals. They realize that maybe really means no.
You can learn a few lessons from their experiences that will help you avoid and even eliminate maybes. When a merchant responds with a maybe statement, rather than agree immediately to the request for delay, give the prospect permission to say no.
For example, perhaps a merchant asks you to leave a proposal or written information. Try saying, "You must be a very nice person. I say that because whenever I hear a request like yours, what I am really hearing is that either I have misspoken on something, or you don't see a reason to sign with me. If that's the case, I want you to know that you can tell me no. It won't hurt my feelings."
A statement in this form both complements and clarifies your understanding of the situation. The merchant has two choices: to agree with your statement and tell you he or she is not interested (and why) or to affirm interest in doing business with you.
If the merchant is not interested, it is essential to find out why. Perhaps the prospect simply misunderstood something you said, or it may be that the merchant doesn't want to switch service providers.
To help garner an answer, one approach is to take it off the record. You could say something like, "I understand. Off the record, could you please tell me what I may have said, or perhaps what I didn't say, that caused you to feel this way? It will help me in the future."
Most prospects will share their reasoning, and if there was a misunderstanding, it will give you a chance to salvage the deal. However, if not, you will have learned a critical lesson that you can use going forward.
If the merchant truly is on the fence, it is imperative that you probe to obtain a yes or a no as swiftly as possible. The retailer's reservations could stem from something as simple as wanting to see paperwork before moving toward a commitment.
If you believe a merchant is, in fact, interested in doing business with you, determine a specific time when you can visit or call to follow up. Then close with a "greatest fear" statement such as, "May I share one of my biggest concerns? Do you know of anything that could arise between now and then that would cause you to change your mind? I don't want to waste your time."
This tactic won't always result in a deal, but by giving the merchant permission to say no, you are no longer chasing smoke and mirrors. Remember, your time is limited, so don't spend it chasing maybes.
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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