By Jeff Fortney
In merchant processing sales, you typically find that most people subscribe to a particular approach or way of closing deals and building a portfolio. Two distinct approaches fall on opposite ends of the spectrum.
One eliminates all emotion and is strictly about the numbers. The other emphasizes emotion and is about building trust, finding the right fit and growing relationships. When I talk with merchant level salespeople (MLSs) and independent sales agents, I hear examples of these approaches daily.
There is a sales philosophy that I like to call the Numbers Game. The basic premise is that the more customers you talk with, sell to and ultimately get decisions from – regardless of whether it's a yes, no or maybe later – the more sales you will make.
Your enemy with this approach is time. The more time you spend in front of one customer pushing for a decision the less time you have to meet with new customers. Therefore, you must push each and every merchant you meet to make a decision.
Getting to a yes or no quickly is the key. Get a yes, and the sale is made. Get a no or maybe later, and you should thank the merchant for his or her time and move on, at least for the time being.
Most MLSs I talk with who subscribe to this approach usually aim to speak to 30 or more merchants a day. Since time is a critical component, the approach is based almost solely on cost savings.
I like to call the sales philosophy on the other end of the spectrum the Relationship Game. With this approach, you spend time asking the merchant questions rather than making a presentation. Your goal is to determine if the merchant is a suitable candidate before you attempt to sell anything.
With this approach your goal is to speak to the right customers. You're more concerned about identifying prospects by asking a series of probing questions, listening and identifying pain points that will lead the merchant to buy from you.
The belief is that you can sign bigger merchants, at a higher profit, by building rapport and earning trust. They stay longer, and have a longer revenue earning capacity.
It is relatively easy to identify which approach an MLS favors. The person will say things like, "If I can't save them money, they won't sign with me" or "I don't sign a lot of merchants, but those I sign are very loyal and stay with me longer."
So you might ask which approach is best. My answer is always neither. That's because neither approach in a vacuum will guarantee your success. In fact, I believe that adopting one over the other can hamper your success.
There is a third approach, a hybrid, if you will, that can help you sign stickier, more profitable merchants. This approach is gaining popularity among very experienced agents, as well as among those who are relatively new to the industry.
A consistency in this approach can be found in four basic tenets.
Time is a precious commodity. It has to be used effectively; it is a non-renewable asset. How you use your time is what is important.
Yes, getting the merchant to talk and share pain points is key. You have to listen carefully, and your goal is to gain the information you need to develop the best solution for the merchant.
This process can't be rushed, but it must be focused. Listen for pain points, and once identified ask questions to dig deeper into key topics. This doesn't mean you immediately provide a solution to a surface-level problem. Rather, it means you have to quickly identify the issue, with sufficient detail, so you can structure your solution to the merchant's needs.
Don't get lost in the clutter of the conversation. Do take the time necessary to build a relationship. It can be done ‒ if you focus.
Merchants care about the cost of their services, no matter how great the rapport or how good the solution. The hybrid approach acknowledges the importance of price but doesn't discuss it until all other factors have been identified, such as need, fit and true current cost. The latter is becoming more and more important because most merchants don't really know how much they are paying. They see the basic fees but are blind to the true costs.
It is all too common to find fees that are defined as pass-through fees marked up over the actual cost. This practice of padding fees increases the cost to the merchant and the revenue to the processor, all while implying that the merchant is paying less.
This is critical because many sales reps do not know whether their partners pad fees. Before you can use this hybrid approach, make sure your partner believes in full transparency ‒ and does not pad fees.
The true cost of processing is what really matters. In many cases, you can offer merchants the exact same cost they believe they are paying now and save them money just by eliminating the padded fees. (In some cases you can even raise their perceived price and still save them money.)
But the important thing to remember in all cases is that it's the true underlying cost that matters, not the price.
MLSs forget this simple statement all too often when talking with merchants. Yes, you want profitable merchants, but you also need merchants who aren't going to sign with the next person who promises them cost savings. By remembering you are there to support your merchant customers, you will find higher profits and longer retention.
It's not the number of merchant prospects you meet that's important. It's the number you spur to make decisions. Keep in mind that no is an acceptable result. The worst situation is where you waste your time chasing a maybe.
This does not mean you should rush to close the deal. Identify the need or pain, explain the identified cost along with any padded fees, offer a solution and ask for a decision. Don't hesitate to push for a decision quickly. The merchant's time is valuable too.
No sales approach or philosophy is easy. Sales, in general, is a very hard profession and can easily lead to frustration. However, by following this hybrid approach, you will find less frustration and more success. All it takes is recognizing these four key points and finding an ISO partner who supports your efforts.
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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