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The Green Sheet Online Edition

October 11, 2021 • Issue 21:10:01

Street SmartsSM

Listen and mirror your way to sales

By Jeff Fortney
Signature Payments

It's no secret that I value a well-placed aphorism, which is a brief saying or phrase that expresses an opinion or shares wisdom without flowery language. Here are a few examples you'll recognize: The early bird catches the worm. Time and tide stop for no man. Honesty is the best policy.

I've often leveraged pithy sayings like these when training merchant level salespeople (MLSs). In my last column, I discussed my sales tenet that most resembles an aphorism: If your competition is doing something, you stop doing it. This speaks mainly to sales philosophy. Previously, I explained the first tenet: Identify your targets.

The two tenets I'll discuss in this article can be summed up in one word apiece: mirror and listen. While they are separate and require distinct action steps, both address another of my favorite sayings: People buy for personal and compelling reasons; they decide subjectively, but they justify objectively. Many people have tried to convince me that these statements do not apply to the payments industry. They argue that businesses can't be successful if they allow personal feelings to affect their decisions, and we are selling to businesses, right?

The problem with that argument is twofold. First, big businesses (that we would think make only objective decisions) are managed by people who do not always make purely objective decisions. No matter how well written a request for proposal is or how well it addresses all of a prospect's needs, a poor face-to-face presentation or lack of bonding by the parties will torpedo an opportunity quickly.

Second, how many large companies are we selling merchant services to anyway? An MLS rarely sells to a merchant processing $1 million a year let alone one that processes $1 million in a month. Even when we're presented with an opportunity of significant size, the companies involved typically have one or two individuals who make or influence the decision. And that decision is made through their eyes, not through some impartial lense. There is always a subjective component in every sales decision.

Focusing on costs is a trap

If that is the case, why do we so often insist on selling purely based on objective facts? Some MLSs aren't even aware they are selling this way. For example, if you sell cost savings early in a presentation, no matter how you structure the overall presentation, you are selling purely objectively. That is what holds the merchant's attention. Even if it isn't your primary approach, once you raise the topic, they default to the objective aspect of the sale.

When you accept that we all buy emotionally, it becomes easier to see that making cost the last part of the conversation makes sense. Cost will be a part of a decision most of the time—but not the driving force. Besides, if you can sign a merchant at the same price they are paying a competitor today, wouldn't that normally be a win? That brings me back to the two tenets Mirror and Listen. Mirroring does not involve mocking anyone. It is recognizing that people are more comfortable with others who are like them. They relax around people who talk the same and have similar interests and opinions. Act professionally, but remember that people doing business together have to build rapport, and that comes from mirroring.

Even though people buy for emotional reasons, they also want to buy from someone they trust and respect. Someone like themselves. Mirroring is the first step toward getting them to tell you their pains with processing, and that is what will literally lead to the sale.

Mirroring leads to success

My father is my best example of mirroring. He worked 37 years for the Caterpillar dealer in the central valley of California. His role was to go to the loggers, ranchers and farmers in the foothills and help them address their equipment needs. From when I was 11 until I was a teenager, I rode along with him a few days each summer as he made his calls. It was fun to spend time with my dad, but I also learned (indirectly) what made him successful. And I can see how he influenced my mirroring tenet. Mirroring wasn't even something he tried to do. It was just natural for him.

He could cuss like a sailor (which he had been in WWII) or be as pious as a nun. He avoided anything political or controversial by using an action I later found out is called "redirecting." He dressed not to impress but to mirror his clients. He was never seen as polarizing. He avoided industry talk unless it was about a customer's industry. And he did his best to build rapport with each individual. As a result, he was well liked by his clients, and that led to ongoing success.

In today's polarized world, it can seem difficult to mirror. One example is the uproar over wearing masks. If you see a sign at your prospect's indicating they encourage, require or expect all to wear a mask, wear a mask—even if you otherwise never wear a mask. If you see a store with no mask references, and you are comfortable in an establishment only if you're wearing a mask, learn this word: immunocompromised. You may even lead with it in stores that are obviously opposed to mask requirements. For example, you could say, "I wish I didn't have to wear this mask. But I don't have a choice." You will only need this option for times when you recognize the store is anti-mask.

Remember, your goal is to make a sale—and to mirror the customer. Even if the customer holds different opinions than you do, their money is still green. Then, if you master the art of mirroring, you must also find a way to identify your prospect's pains. This leads to the other tenet of focus in this article: listen.

Listening takes thought

Listening may be one of the hardest tenets to implement. You need to control the conversation, not by dominating it, but by asking open-ended questions. If an answer is too specific, ask your customer to tell you more. Today's new normal provides an excellent conversation starter. You could say something like, "It is good to meet you. For me, it's great to be able to talk to merchants again. The COVID lockdown was very hard on all of us. How did you handle it?"

Listening doesn't only involve letting your customers talk. It means truly hearing what they say to you. Pay attention to any key words that can help you direct the conversation to their pain. You are listening for pain, and even if you find only one area, keep probing. In my next article, I'll wrap up discussion of the tenets, exploring ways to probe deeper and to stop chasing those maybes. end of article

Jeff Fortney is vice president ISO relations for Signature Payments. A long-time payments industry executive and mentor, Jeff is focused on strengthening and developing partnerships and evaluating new business opportunities. He can be reached at 214-458-1379.

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