By Jeff Fortney
With summer now in full swing, I'm reflecting on this year's graduation season. I think of May and June as graduation months because I have attended at least one such educational milestone a year for many years, including this year. Among my children, their friends and my extended family, it's become a tradition to gather and celebrate these momentous events together.
One of my favorite parts of the graduation ceremony is the commencement address. Speakers range from comedians to successful businesspeople and even to the U.S. president. Some addresses are quickly forgotten; some are memorable either for their quality, or lack thereof. Versions of all types can be found on YouTube nowadays.
Recently, while I was listening to a commencement address, my mind began to drift as the speaker droned on about a topic that would likely be forgotten as soon as the ceremony was over. I found myself critiquing the speech and remembering the cardinal rule of Speech 101: to have a good speech you need to follow a basic outline.
In the following weeks, I began to realize that this basic outline directly affects us today and even has an impact in sales, because outlines are critical when we make that first call.
Some of the most well-written commencement addresses are lost due to poor presentation. The same is true with many merchant sales attempts. Saying all the right things is wise, but the way you say them can make the difference between moving to the next step and moving out the door. It is common knowledge that people hear subjectively. In both face-to-face efforts and in telemarketing efforts, tonality is important. It can even be said that your emotional tone is more important than your choice of words. You can have the best opening line or the best product opportunity ever, but if you sound scripted or rushed, people will stop listening to you.
The best speeches and the best sales calls are done by people who are comfortable with both the words and delivering them. And they adapt the words to their audience. They do this because they have developed the ability to relax in the most stressful situations. Even the least experienced reps can develop this skill if they practice.
The first step is to memorize the outline you wish to communicate, but not the specific words. It is too easy to worry too much about saying everything if you are word-specific. Don't let words get in the way of the message.
A common outline may be as simple as:
The outline can be more in-depth, but remember, keep if flexible.
Step two is to practice in front of a mirror. Pick a random merchant type and practice how you would execute your outline. The best speeches are practiced many times before they are made, just as your sales pitch should be practiced until it is second nature.
There is a fine line between becoming a trusted adviser who provides information and a pompous bore who talks down to people. Once someone feels inferior to you, he or she will stop listening.
Stay away from industry-specific words; they imply that the merchant understands them. Use generic words or words that are more specific to the merchant's type of business.
Also, do not rush to provide answers. It is better to clarify and determine the true nature of a merchant's concern before providing an answer that may seem abrupt, or worse, wrong. It never hurts to ask for an example of a situation or issue that a merchant reveals as concerning. This is the best way to clarify. It also provides time to structure a proper answer that addresses the real issue.
It is difficult to pause and listen when delivering a speech. But there are many pauses that can occur, based on the reaction of the audience. Pausing and listening is also critical to a successful sale. Maria Shriver, in her commencement speech to USC in 2012, made this statement, "I hope if you learn anything from me today, you learn and remember – the power of the pause. Pausing allows you to take a beat – to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite. Remember to pause and reflect."
We have all faced salespeople who talk too fast or don't pause long enough to allow for a response. Their goal seems to be to set a new speed-talking record, or to not allow you time to respond. When this happens to me, it wouldn't matter if the person were giving away free money. I still wouldn't be interested.
The same applies when you speak to a merchant. Speak deliberately. Purposefully pause to give the merchant time to interrupt. Learn to cherish these interruptions. They can help save you time in the long run.
So what's the best advice for someone giving a speech? Stand up, be brief, and sit down. There is no need to make a 30-minute speech. That's why they call a sales pitch an elevator speech or a 30-second commercial. If you leave a call and think you spoke more than you listened, you have failed.
The next time you are at a graduation ceremony listen to the commencement address and see if it follows these basic rules. If it does, I will bet it will be one that you remember. The same holds true for when you are talking to a prospective prospect. If you keep it brief and listen to the merchant's needs rather than forcing your own agenda, you'll be on your way to a successful sales call.
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 < a href='http://www.clearent.com' target="blank">www.clearent.com.
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