By Jeff Fortney
How do you talk to a merchant? I don't mean the words you say about payment processing or the script you use (either read over the phone or memorized). I mean, how do you hold a conversation with a merchant?
In our industry, merchant level salespeople (MLSs) are trained on how to understand payment processing. Some are told to just ask merchants for statements to review. Others may be given questions to ask to gain more information on the merchant's processing.
As they gain experience, MLSs may start asking questions about the merchant's process in handling payments, the POS system, and even special needs for processing – all valuable information for structuring an offering.
Yet even some of the best can't answer when I ask them how they talk to a merchant. Being able to truly talk with a merchant may be the most important factor in determining whether you just sign a merchant or keep them long term.
Talking to a merchant does not mean you are selling to them. It means you are talking in terms they understand; you are showing an interest in their business and an interest in their success.
Before having a conversation with any merchant, you must be able to speak their language. I'm not talking about their native tongue. I'm talking their business language. And every business has a language.
In the payments world, our language consists of basis points and interchange. We talk POS, EMV, mag stripe, authorizations, chargebacks, and so on. I am confident that if we talked our language to small merchants, their eyes would glaze over. Many agents tell stories about making a pitch to a merchant, and once they paused, the only response was, "How much will you save me."
To identify a small business's language, you only need to look at their business type. A retail owner speaks in terms of inventory, staffing, item prices and cost management. They likely have a full understanding of the product they sell, its manufacturing process and rough wholesale costs.
A restaurant owner knows menus, recipes and costs of various foodstuffs. They talk in terms of turning tables, wait staff turnover and profit per ticket. Talking with a retail owner means you need to ask questions about their concerns and discuss their needs and processes. A restaurant owner will want to talk about cost control and ways to turn tables faster. Business types are numerous: business-to-business, service industries (like auto repair and HVAC) are just two examples. All talk in their own language.
It would seem overwhelming to learn each merchant's language, but certain topics are consistent across many industries and can be conversation openers. For example:
Notice that there is no reference in any of these questions to payment processing. With this approach, you are setting yourself apart from the others who sell payment processing. You are building the merchant's trust that your interest is more than just about what you want, but what helps them.
Additionally, you can use the information you garner when talking with the merchant. You can base your offering's structure on what they have said. If a restaurant owner says that they would love to find a way to turn tables quicker, ask further about what they have done to do so. If they don't mention pay at the table, that would be an ideal time to raise that option. By really talking with your merchant customers, you gain knowledge.
And the old adage that knowledge is power is still true when it comes to successful sales. We sell a confusing (at best) product that is often seen as a required nuisance. Why not gain the knowledge that will enable you to position your services as an asset and not a liability? It all begins with a conversation.
Jeff Fortney is senior vice president of business development and partnerships for TouchSuite LLC, a fintech company providing POS systems, payment processing, SEO solutions, working capital and marketing services to small and midsize businesses. A long-time payments industry professional and mentor, Jeff focuses on strengthening and developing corporate partnerships and evaluating new business to drive strategic growth. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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