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The Green Sheet Online Edition

March 14, 2022 • Issue 22:03:01

Street SmartsSM

The many benefits of transparency

By Jeff Fortney
The Strawhecker Group

My wife likes to say that I lack "the filter." She defines it as the spot between your brain and your mouth that acts as a delay, letting you consider what you want to say before you say it. Don't tell her I said this, but I realized she was right long ago.

As a child, sometimes I said things that got me in trouble. When I was six years old a friend of my mom's told her, "Your hair looks great." A normal youngster probably wouldn't comment on a remark like that, but me? I said, "It should. I had to sit for four hours at the beauty place." The look my mom gave me could have frozen the Sahara.

I've never wanted to say hurtful things. But at times I've let my guard down when I've found something humorous and maybe said things I shouldn't have. Then my wife would either give me the look or repeat the filter comment to remind me. I still need reminding occasionally.

I recently shared this story with an agent when we were talking about my strong belief in transparency and the need to tell merchants the good, bad and ugly. He asked me if this transparency would mean telling a merchant they were missing a button on their shirt. Although I imagined my lack of a filter could lead me to do that, I advised the agent that calling attention to a missing button wasn't the kind of thing I mean by transparency.

When I discuss the importance of transparency, I often hear, "But doesn't it result in a lost sale you could have signed?" When I hear that, I don't believe the questioner wants to deceive merchants. It's just that there's a prevailing belief that transparency can cost you sales.

An unfortunate scenario

If you've been in merchant services for a while, you've inevitably encountered more than one merchant whose needs can't be fully met by the solutions you offer. Perhaps you can meet all but one need and think you can do a workaround to satisfy it. Rather than be transparent and explain what your workaround plan is, you simply say it looks like you and the merchant are a great match, and the merchant signs the agreement.

Unfortunately, the solution addresses most of the merchant's needs, but the one not addressed turns out to be the most important issue the merchant needed to handle. This is something you would have found out had you chosen to be transparent during the sales process. Instead, you and the merchant now go back and forth for a month, trying to get the workaround to function the way the merchant needs. Ultimately, you are unable to meet this most important need. This is the deal breaker. The merchant is upset. Nothing you can do or say will keep them from canceling.

You'll never know how many potential referrals could have come from the merchant. Maybe none. Maybe two, three or more. And these referrals could have remained in play if you'd been transparent about that one issue when it first arose instead of dancing around it. And, remember, when merchants feel wronged they tell others.

A pathway to partnerships

Being transparent wouldn't have required you to say definitively that you couldn't support the solution they needed. It would have required you to admit that you had what you thought would work, but you couldn't guarantee that it would. And it would have required you to ask the merchant to explain the need again so you could fully understand it and ask how their current provider is handling it.

Simply put, being transparent leads to more meaningful conversations. You can ask additional questions to determine the importance of the need in question. When you admit you don't support exactly what the merchant is asking for, you can clarify the merchant's purpose for it, as well as determine its true importance. It also keeps the conversation open. You may discover what the merchant claims to need isn't necessary or required any longer. Or, by clarifying, you may discover you have another solution that would be a better fit.

You may find that the merchant's need can't be addressed by any of your solutions. If so, rather than force the issue, you can agree to part as friends—but also ask for the names of merchants they know nearby who might benefit from your offerings. When you admit you don't fit their needs, your transparency stands out and can lead to referrals that are a better fit.

Transparency also keeps you from trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, saving you time you can spend finding merchants who are not only a good fit for you, but also ones who can become long-term partners.

For me, transparency is not just an action; it is foundational in my approach to our industry. And over my several decades in the business, the importance of transparency in others has taken on greater importance. I've found that rather than being just one of many important aspects of merchant sales efforts, transparency is one of the two or three aspects that will lead to success.

Whether you are new to the business or someone with years of experience, incorporating transparency into your efforts should be a top priority. Here are a few do's and don'ts for doing that:

  • Don't lead a discussion by saying, “I am sure I can save you money.” Instead, say, “These past couple years have been rough on all of us. I've been spending time with my merchant partners helping them overcome the challenges. Has your current payments processor provided any assistance or direction?”
  • Don't say, "Let me tell you how much I can help you." Instead, ask, "What challenges do you face with your current processing solution? How are those affecting your success? What would you change about it if you could?"
  • Don't say, "I want to be your payments provider." Instead, say, "I want to be your payments partner, helping you build your business. My goal is to ensure that we fit well and that I can benefit you."

See a theme? It's not about you; it's about them. Good business people know they need partners to help them succeed. Merchants are experts in what they sell, but they aren't experts in payment processing. It's your job to advise them on things that improve their processes (and maybe save them money).

Transparency builds trust. Merchants will see it as a sign that you are honest and not solely looking out for your interests. When a merchant reaches that conclusion, the next time a merchant level salesperson walks in, the merchant will be transparent in saying, "I am not interested. I have a partner now." end of article

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.

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

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