By Jeff Fortney
Burnout. It seems like a strange thing to talk about when so many in our industry find it difficult to do what they've done for years: sell. But it's the right word for what I've been hearing. You see, over recent months, I've conversed with many ISOs and merchant level salespeople. My goal has been to let them know I'm here and interested in what's happening to them and what they're doing while "doing" is so restricted.
I've heard a lot of concern and some frustration. I've shared different approaches to offering merchant services, historical lessons that remain applicable today and techniques they may not have considered. Mostly, I've been their sounding board.
In the past couple of weeks, I've heard more frustration, anger and exhaustion. People have even apologized for their tone and mood. When I've said they sound burned out, invariably they respond with statements like, "How can I be burned out when I can't be out? I can't even sell." They aren't burning the candle at both ends, taking no time to recover, thinking there's always one more thing that can be done, etc. They are frustrated by things out of their control.
What they are truly saying is they cannot sell the ways they've been selling and (for many) the ways that made them successful. They may try other techniques, but (like with all selling) you gain skill over time, and over that time, they will find many failures.
When I hear people say they can't sell, I pause and say, "Then stop selling." It's almost sacrilegious to tell people to stop selling. We are in the sales business. But we sell the way we were taught to sell, and we need to recognize that how we were taught may not work today. The act of selling today may be the cause of the failure.
Merchants are deeply frustrated, too. They either can't open or can only open partially due to situations out of their control. Even when they're open, business is slow. It's not just due to sheltering in place; it's the economy and the reduction in potential customers due to high unemployment.
When I'm frustrated, I get short tempered. The same goes for some merchants who snap at reps who call or come in to talk about payment processing. They need sales, not salespeople.
If you're cold calling in person, say something like this: I was talking to one of my merchant partners nearby about what's happening with them. Since I was nearby, I was hoping you had a minute to tell me how you're handling today's situation.
If you are on the phone, try this: I just spoke with a neighboring merchant partner and heard much of what's happening with them in today's situation. I thought it helpful to call merchants near them so that I could hear how they are handling it. Could you tell me how you are doing?
Ask, and then listen. Actively. Don't look for keys to sell. Many merchants need someone to talk to, to vent their concerns and to know the person is listening. Don't offer payment services yet. The best response is to thank them for telling you, acknowledge what you heard and emphasize that they're not alone. Explain that you hear similar concerns from your merchant partners and have tried to help them. Reiterate that they're not alone. Thank them for their time and ask if you can call on them again. The next call will be to discuss their current processor and what the processor has done to help them grow. You will be surprised by their willingness to talk with you.
As you can see, stop selling doesn't mean don't sell; it means sell differently. You'll find less frustration, but above all, you'll gain new knowledge about merchants. Isn't that worth it?
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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