By Jeff Fortney
The Strawhecker Group
I was conversing with a merchant level salesperson (MLS) recently about the state of his sales efforts. After about 10 minutes, I asked what he would do if he were king of the world. This is a question I ask often. I've referenced it in many prior articles. I find it gains information and helps move sales. Individuals have responded that they'd make people listen better, create world peace and everything in-between.
The answer I received in the recent conversation surprised me. "I can't answer that, because even the king of the world can't make people change," the MLS said. I continued the conversation, but the response is one I had to ponder. I thought of the first time I'd heard the question used. It was in a creative writing class in 11th grade. Several students (like me) enjoyed writing and wanted to learn the nuances needed to write creatively.
At the time, I was the sports editor of the high school newspaper, which taught me how to approach who, what, when, where and why. But it strongly discouraged creativity. This class did the opposite. We were told that those who could tell a story would do well.
Early in the term we were assigned a paper that answered the question of what we'd do if we were king of the world. The actions had to be things that could be done, even if very hard. The paper also had to provide the steps to make it happen and could not be a generic answer like end all war. We had one week to turn in a minimum of 400 words.
My answer, I thought, was something that would make everything fair. In essence, fairness would be the driving factor in all things. When she returned our papers, our instructor announced there was only one A and only one C. She also made notes to explain why we received our grades. I didn't receive the A or C; I was in the group that received B's. I'd followed the rules, shared the steps I would take to accomplish my objectives and exceeded the minimum word count.
Yet her reasoning for the grade had nothing to do with the structure or the minor grammatical corrections she made. "This is not possible," she wrote on my paper. "Fairness is an emotion." These words frustrated me. I rarely questioned grades, but this time I did. "How is fairness an emotion?" I asked. "Don't we all understand that fairness means everyone should receive a fair opportunity?"
Her response surprised me. "We all understand the definition of fairness, but in truth, fairness is in the eye of the beholder. Is it fair that someone is more popular? Not if you aren't the popular one. We can have equality, but not everyone will get what they feel is a fair shake. Think about it. You are saying it's not fair you got a B, but everyone but two of you got B's. Isn't how you feel emotional?" She was right. The assignment's rules included an unspoken truth: the answer would affect everyone and had to consider that.
Two decades later, at one of many sales courses my employers required, someone said that no matter what we did, there was always an emotional basis for a decision. In prior courses we'd been taught to eliminate emotion and give reasons why, logically, our offering was the solution they needed. Now someone said we had to address emotion, too, and state upfront that an emotional decision on any financial need ultimately will cost money.
I remembered the exchange with my creative writing teacher and thought the king-of-the-world question could be useful in converting emotion to logical, objective reasoning. But I couldn't see how to use it. I kept coming back to my belief that emotions had to play a role in the answer. Years later, I found the answer in one statement: People buy for personal, compelling reasons. They buy subjectively, but justify objectivity.
This statement became the foundation of my sales philosophy and sales training. It made price a minor consideration and illuminated the obvious: If we don't consider pain, a competitor will walk in and sign them away. You have to steer toward identifying pain. The king-of-the-world question leverages emotions, helping to identify prospects' personal and compelling reasons, and close sales.
Since I began sharing my thoughts and training others on payment sales, use of the king-of-the-world question has generated the most questions. Mentees often understand the idea, but not the purpose or how to use answers. I respond that the purpose is to let prospects expose the emotional side of their business needs. It helps drive the emotions that will lead to a sale.
Timing is important. I ask the question when it seems the conversation is going too far away from a merchant's personal situation. For example, the prospect may oppose or support a mask mandate, but how is an opinion on that going to help their business?
The question can be worded differently. One variation is to ask, If you were king of the world, what would you do to address your business needs? If you're uncomfortable with this wording try something like, If you had the power to do one thing to help increase your sales or help your business grow, what would you do? Remember, you're driving the emotional side so that you can address that emotional pain. In doing so, you have virtually eliminated pure savings as the reason a merchant partners with you.
If a prospect offers a global response, draw the conversation back to the present environment. If, for example, they raise generic, politically charged concern, ask them to be more specific. Take the mask mandate issue. You can't just add a mask mandate or end a mask mandate to see results in sales. The answer must address what they would do to improve their plight and increase their sales.
The purpose is to have merchants volunteer solutions or provide the biggest complaints they have about low sales and high expenses. I would bet their responses have nothing to do with the cost of their payment processing. From my experience, it's process issues and time loss that are most common—indirect areas we can help them address.
The king-of-the-world question is an important part (but not the only part) of a successful sale. In following articles I'll concentrate on how emotions have driven success for others— and how using emotions can work for you. Until then, I'll leave you with this: If you were king of the processing world, what would you do?
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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