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The Green Sheet Online Edition

July 28, 2008 • Issue 08:07:02

Street SmartsSM

Passing the so-what test

By Jason Felts
Advanced Merchant Services

I believe when merchant level salespeople (MLSs) pitch their products and services to merchants, they are all too often doing the equivalent of hunting with BB guns when they could be firing .44 Magnums. We all know that in sales you truly have seconds, not minutes, to capture the interest of your prospect. With that in mind, what do you say to capture the ear of the retailers you speak with?

How does your service truly benefit your prospects?

Specifically, what are you doing in the first 20 seconds of a sales encounter to pass the so-what test?

Here is a recent experience that exemplifies how the so-what test works:

I spoke with one of our sales partners the other day. He was frustrated after spending the entire day cold calling. He said merchants had been nothing but rude, curt and too busy to bother with him. After listening for a minute, I asked him to describe what he does when he walks in a merchant's door.

He told me he greets the merchant, introduces himself and follows with this opener:

"I work with Advanced Merchant Services. We are a credit card processing company that handles point of sale equipment and services, and I just wanted to review how you are currently processing to see if we can help."

"Let me be candid, but so what?" I responded. "I don't want to be rude or deflate you any more, but, honestly, that's a pretty lame introduction."

Then I explained that his merchant prospects are telling him he is not passing their so-what test. Merely mentioning that AMS is a credit card processing company that handles POS equipment wasn't cutting it with his prospects.

"Do you think a merchant cares that one more person in the credit card processing industry is stopping by and wants to handle their point of sale equipment?" I asked.

"That's hardly a feature and certainly not a benefit."

I then told him it's critical and absolutely imperative to develop a strategic approach that captures the interest of prospects immediately.

"They are not interested in knowing you are in the industry, or whether you are the biggest or best, the fastest or cheapest, and so on," I said. "They want to know very quickly: AYMAD - are you making a difference?"

Most every retailer this new MLS talked with was already accepting cards, and he - representing "just another" company that offered the service - really wasn't making a bit of difference to them. His mere existence didn't compel anyone to even listen, much less buy anything from him.

For the most part, because this MLS's introduction - his critical first impression - was so weak, he was shut down without further opportunity to explain what he was able to accomplish for potential merchant customers.

To remedy the situation, the MLS and I developed several compelling introductions that would speak to the ear of the prospect and generate immediate interest, as well as a request for more information. Here's one of them:

  • Old opener: We are a credit card processing company that handles point of sale equipment and services.

  • New opener: My company specializes in multiple services that are guaranteed to increase your cash flow; I need five minutes of your time.

A fitting analogy

Prospecting reminds me of fishing: To catch a fish, you need to present bait in a place fish can both see and consume it. Some people fish by throwing out a bunch of empty hooks. Does it work? Anyone can get lucky occasionally, but I strongly suggest using your best bait. When prospecting, you must do the same. Tout the intoxicating benefits and compelling reasons your product and services deserve your prospects' time and attention.

Ask yourself what your products or services do for merchants, specifically. What is the end result or benefit for merchants? What would capture the ear of the person you are speaking with? How can your product fill a need for them?

Speak to merchants' unique and personal interests. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what their days are like, the responsibilities they have, and the problems or pressures they face.

The end result

Here's another example of the so-what test in action. Recently, I was talking with a friend who works in the human resources industry, and I really had no understanding of what he did. I asked him to explain it.

"We have an online reporting system that automates your administrative duties," he said.

My first thought: So what? I asked him how well he was doing selling the system. He said he was "kind of struggling." So I asked if this was how he always described his offer to potential prospects. He confirmed that it was.

Stating that you have a solution that "automates administrative duties" does nothing to really capture the interest of a prospect in the critical first few seconds or even bring clarity to what you're offering.

I asked him, "What does it really mean to automate administrative duties? What are the advantages of this sort of automation?"

He told me that by automating administrative duties many clients can streamline their operations.

I said, "OK, share with me what the end result would be to a client who was able to streamline operations and become more efficient."

"They would be able to save a tremendous amount of time," he said.

I asked him how much time it would save. He replied that it would save three hours per day. Then I helped him create a new opening for this product. Here's what we came up with:

  • Old opening: We have an online reporting system that automates your administrative duties.

  • New opening: We have an automated system that will eliminate three hours of your workload every day, saving you 15 hours per week of unnecessary HR duties.

Now this passes the so-what test; it demonstrates the end result of the benefit. It is something prospects can realize, and it is compelling enough to grab their attention. Who wouldn't want to save 15 hours per week?

In sales, you have features, benefits and, most important, compelling reasons: the end result of the benefits. If the compelling reason is not adequately presented quickly and succinctly, you will likely find yourself wondering why prospects are less than interested in spending time with you.

The Forum weighs in

I asked members of GS Online's MLS Forum for perspectives on the all-important first few seconds MLSs have to impress a prospect. Here's what they had to say:

    I walk in and wait until they notice me, and ... will come out with some sarcasm or humor to break the ice. Then I will proceed to ask qualifying questions that indicate what I will lead with that day. Nine of 10 times you must improve the atmosphere before the pitch. Everyone wants to smile - just have to give them a reason. Simple and stupid, maybe, but personal ... you promise the service will be for them from you. - The DustMan

    You have to walk in with something different. Today's merchants are savvier about sales folks, as well as competition in our own industry. I have trained my agents to never walk in looking like a sales rep. Leave the portfolio, briefcase or laptop in the car. ... Just walk in with your smile, and carry the persona of a trusted adviser or valued consultant. When we walk in and let them know we work with businesses just like theirs to help protect and grow their profits, and that we have some valuable information we would like to share with them ... well, what are they going to say? They're not interested in protecting or increasing their profits? - Terence Van Horn, Wisdompower

    One of my recent cold calls was a target range/hunting supply store. I walked in, looked around while the owner was busy, and when I could talk to him, told him, 'I have been out today hunting new business, and you have now become my next target.' Humor, cheesy or not, is a great ice breaker.

    One of the last customers I signed told me he was not interested and had heard every pitch in the book.

    My answer was, 'You haven't heard mine yet, as I don't have one. I don't believe in pitches or scripts.' This led to an account signed, and what he liked was my 'no pitch, pitch.' Be yourself. - GMartin

    For us, we are all communicating over the phone, so I teach everyone how to get prospects to laugh or smile, make jokes, find some association you have with the merchant other than business that makes them feel comfortable with you. (It's important to show them how to take the merchant off that subject, though, or they may talk for hours.) - rbelcher

    I closed a good account this week. In the first few minutes of conversation, I learned what the merchant liked, what ticked him off and what his interests were. It turned into a very pleasant conversation. Further conversations slowly led to the merchant's business. I complimented his business and his business structure. Be passionate, have confidence and keep that smile. If you specialize in certain industries (such as restaurants, hair salons, shoe stores, schools, appliances, travel or hardware stores), it sure gives you the upper hand.

    If you have adequate knowledge, you have done your homework prior to the meeting and you click well with the merchant, there is no "so what." - alexpher

    The bottom line is to create an opening that will generate an immediate interest in your service and a request for more information for what you have to offer. I've developed numerous ways to do this and would be happy to share them, so don't be shy about getting in touch. And remember, in your day-to-day prospecting, make sure the merchants you meet never say to you, "So what?" end of article

    Jason A. Felts is the founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Florida-based Advanced Merchant Services Inc., a registered ISO/MSP with HSBC Bank. From its onset, AMS has placed top priority on supporting and servicing its sales partners. The company launched ISOPro Motion, its private-label training program, to provide state-of-the-art sales tools and actively promote the success and long-term development of its partners. For more information, visit www.amspartner.com, call 888-355-VISA (8472), ext. 211, or e-mail Felts at jasonf@gotoams.com.

    Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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