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November 07, 2021 • Issue 21:11:01

Street SmartsSM

Out with old questions in today's new normal

By Jeff Fortney
Signature Payments

I've watched every episode of the original Perry Mason TV series—all 271 episodes. I didn't see them in their original run. My first exposure was watching reruns when I was 11 years old. I wanted to grow up to be Perry Mason, not an attorney, but Perry.

Today, I still enjoy the show, even though it's more than 65 years old. Beyond entertainment, there are lessons to learn from that show. For example: you don't always win (contrary to popular belief, he lost three times) and things are not always what they appear.

I used to think certain lessons I learned in my early sales training were enduring, too. For example, early instructors emphasized the adage, never ask a question you don't already know the answer to. They also advised to ask only yes or no questions and begin questions with, "Don't you agree …" Well, in today's new normal, these old standbys are no longer applicable. In hindsight, my hunch is that they contributed to the pressure on revenues we see today, as merchants switch providers quickly or expect pricing that generates no revenue.

It was less about knowing your merchants and more about convincing them you were a better choice than their current provider. Sales were driven by cost savings, not by merchants' pain points—the subjective reasons for buying. As a result, their distinct processing pains continued to be passed on to each new processor—a vicious circle.

You have to get them talking

It's impossible to identify merchants' challenges and pains without asking open-ended questions and encouraging them to talk. This is contrary to how most of us were taught to sell, but the new normal all but dictates this change. Before you can start the process of gaining their business, you must first identify their biggest concern—their biggest pain.

Previously, we focused on cost, deposit issues, terminal/POS issues and so on. We addressed cost by reviewing the statement; we addressed deposit issues by offering next-day funding. Each was treated not as a pain, but as an objection—one of many objections we were trained to address.

Today, merchants are likely to raise the same concerns—primarily because they're used to doing so. The challenge is to get beyond rote answers. You can't allow merchants to default to generic responses if you want to unearth the real pain they're enduring today. And this requires overhauling your approach.

It starts with your first question. A 30-second commercial or elevator speech may have worked well pre-COVID, but unless you've already made adjustments, it doesn't address the new normal. To avoid pat responses, mention upfront that the world is different than it was before the pandemic's onset. You must drive emotion.

You can do this by saying something along these lines: "My name is X, and I work with Y. I've been talking to merchants just like you to identify the impacts the pandemic has had on their business and how I may be able to help address them. If you have just a minute, I would like to ask you a couple of questions and see if I can help you as well."

Before COVID, you were probably trained to get permission to proceed, but if you do that today, you'll invite all the old objections. So, before the merchant can object, ask an immediate question. It can be any open-ended question that's targeted to their merchant type.

For example, you could ask:

  • Can you tell me who you see as your biggest competitor today?
  • What have you done to address the demands for online sales and phone sales?
  • Has dining in started to return to normal, or is it still impacted by phone sales?

Advance research is a must

Questions should be driven by advance research. In the new normal, merchant type must be more nuanced than just retail or restaurant, too. Both restaurants and retailers likely have expanded their internet outreach (increasing the number of card-not-present transactions). Their marketing approach might put more emphasis on online or other new market opportunities. Restaurants also may be pushing options like pay at the table to avoid tip adjustments impacting interchange. All these differences can be identified by doing research before walking in the door.

You see, there is no reason today for a true cold call, which is a call made on a business where all you know is that they sell items and likely accept cards. You must know something about the merchant before phoning or entering their storefront. Fortunately, you can identify the particulars you need during preliminary research, which can even be done in the parking lot with a simple Google search.

Examine a prospect's web page and look for options for ordering and paying online. Look for the names of the owner or owners. Check out the prices for items featured (this will help you when discussing pricing options).

And consider what all merchants went through during the lockdown. Ask at least one question about how they addressed lockdown challenges. You can use third-party examples of how some of your current partners (who are similar to the prospect) have dealt with shutdowns. Don't be shy about sharing these struggles, as it may help your prospects open up about their own difficulties.

Done correctly, research should take only five to 10 minutes. Following are a couple of scenarios that show how you can leverage information you may generate in that time:

  • You call on a restaurant. The web page shows they allow online ordering, but only do pickup—no delivery. Their average item is $15 to $35. Your first question following your introduction may be something like, "I am visiting restaurants like yours because I have noticed your online efforts to generate sales. The businesses that have that presence survived and thrived during the shutdown. How are you addressing consumer buying habits today? What would you change?
  • You visit a retail merchant. You know they now have a web page, but do no sales through the page, nor do they have a delivery service. You lead with something like, "The lockdown seemed to be the hardest for retail merchants. How did you survive during that time? Did you go to delivery or pick-up options for items? What would you change in the future?

Getting prospects talking about how they faced lockdown challenges and how they are planning for their future is the first and most important part of finding their pain. But it's not the only step. In my next article, I'll discuss how to become the payments doctor who diagnoses their true pain and offers a cure. 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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