By Jeff Fortney
The Strawhecker Group
We are in the midst of winter, and for many, this winter has been trying indeed. As I write this, parts of the country are facing extraordinary blizzard conditions impacting transportation and power. Any outside activity has been all but impossible.
Although my area has been hit with intense cold, it's been nothing compared to what we experienced a year ago when we suffered the worst storm in many generations. Extreme cold led to freezes and power outages that affected everyone.
On a personal note, I slipped on ice in my driveway during last year's storm, which resulted in a moderate-to-severe concussion. I have few memories of the month when I suffered the concussion or of the following month. The concussion also resulted in post-concussion syndrome.
I would wish that condition on no one. It has abated, mostly, but I still get headaches occasionally, and blurred vision. It's not fun. I've always believed you should learn from everything you experience—good or bad. But other than gaining first-hand knowledge of the effects of falling and hitting your head, I didn't think there was anything of value to learn from this experience. Until the last few months.
When writing about the new normal recently, I realized I did learn one important lesson from the concussion: You must take care of yourself first if you want to succeed in anything. So, allow me to pause my continued story on how to succeed in the new normal and discuss how you can put self-care into action.
I believe you must look inward at least twice a year. And the goal of this reflection is to examine three key areas that, if not examined, can result in you damaging your sales efforts. It begins with the two letter word no. When you are meeting with a merchant there are three acceptable responses to your proposal: yes, a firm next step, or no.
If selling were easy, we wouldn't need salespeople. And sales in payments is far from easy. The most common response agents hear from merchants is no. And after you hear this repeatedly it can negatively affect your efforts. Recently, I even heard an agent say to a merchant, "You don't want to change your payment processing do you?" This tentative remark was surely the result of the agent allowing prior no answers to affect their state of mind.
No is an acceptable answer. Some merchant level salespeople understand this but still feel that they failed if they hear no. And that feeling of failure, if allowed to take hold, dampens confidence, which hinders the next few sales. The most successful agents today don't want to hear no, but they know it's better than hearing maybe. I have heard two sayings used to explain why a no answer is acceptable. The first is, "No means next." In other words, a no saves time, and allows you to move on and invest your time in the next merchant, who may say yes. The second is, "No means not now." This translates to not today. It's not a no. In this instance, the merchants are saying they expect to need your products or services later. You just need to calendar a visit for the future when the answer will be yes.
The second key area is related to how you respond when you hear a merchant say no, but it's more complex. It addresses how you define yourself? If your self-image is tied to success in business, and that success is building a large residual income or signing a record-breaking number of merchants, you are allowing outside factors to define you.
I work hard not to allow my level of success in business to be how I define myself. Whenever I feel that I am allowing work to impact how I define myself, I remember an experience my son had when playing high school football. He was playing against a team that was much bigger and faster than his. By the third quarter, my son's team was down by 40 points. After the last score, one of the moms of the other team yelled out, "Don't worry; it's not personal; it's business."
Her statement succinctly drew a clear line between the person and their business (or sports) performance. Business success or business failure—neither defines who you are. No one is 100 percent successful. Don't forget the quote from Thomas Edison when asked how it felt to fail so many times before inventing the lightbulb. He said, "I didn't fail. I invented 1,000 ways not to build a lightbulb."
If you find yourself allowing business to impinge on your definition of yourself, take time for yourself away from work. Whether it's a day or a week, use that time to recharge and refresh. And reset your definition of you. I define myself first and foremost as a husband, father and grandfather. I do what I do to help me be the best me. And I refuse to allow my professional life to define me differently.
The third step is one word: consistency. As you sell, your personal persona can't define your professional persona. It helps to remember a simple statement about buyers: People buy from people like themselves. Unless you know each merchant personally, you don't know whether a particular merchant is like you, or whether you're like them. You must have a professional persona that is absolutely neutral. No matter how political you are, or how loyal you are to your favorite sports team, you can't allow your personal feelings to permeate your conversations with merchants.
For example, if a conversation takes a political turn, avoid implying that you agree or disagree with a merchant's views. A statement like "I have heard that" doesn't imply you agree or disagree. It is open enough that it can be understood as an agreement or concurrence. Yet it is also neutral.
Taking care of yourself is essential. We all have to adapt to today's market. The changes we face are extremely challenging. Take time to look inward at least weekly. It will help you retain your positivity in this time of uncertainty.
Jeff Fortney, a senior associate at The Strawhecker Group, is a long-time payments industry executive and mentor. He is focused on sharing his industry knowledge and experience with others to help them grow their business. He can be reached at 214-458-1379.
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