By Jeff Fortney
Hundreds of words in the English language are better left unsaid. Most of them are profane in nature, as you may have guessed. However, one word is so bad that if practiced, it could jeopardize everything you are working to accomplish. It has the ability to limit your revenues, hamper or even destroy your sales efforts, and ultimately cripple your business.
That word is "assume"; it is a dangerous concept. Salespeople can use it to talk themselves out of sales. For example, a merchant level salesperson (MLS) may assume a merchant knows why he or she is paying an extra fee. Therefore, the MLS doesn't see a need to explain it. Or the MLS might assume the merchant won't accept a given proposal, so the agent doesn't make the initial phone call.
Sometimes assumptions come into play when an ambiguous question is posed. Rather than asking for clarification of the question, the MLS might answer what is perceived to be the question. Since the question was not properly understood, the answer is likely to miss the mark. Moreover, the MLS is prone to another assumption: that the merchant understands the payments business.
The best sales reps know that assumptions place roadblocks before a successful sale, leading even to a failed sales attempt. They know how to avoid these roadblocks by following a simple mantra: never assume anything. As you can imagine, this is not easy to do. The first step is to eliminate the word from your vocabulary. By intentionally avoiding the word, you reduce the temptation to make an assumption.
The second step is to recognize words and actions that mask assumptions. For example, we often use knowledge of the industry to examine a statement or discuss a merchant's current relationship. That knowledge can lead to conclusions that may not be true. In essence, an assumption is based on what we know, not on fact.
You can avoid drawing the wrong conclusion by seeking clarification, even when you think you know the answer. If you see an ambiguous fee on a merchant's statement that you think is for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard compliance, say, "I see a monthly fee that has a unique name. Did you know this was here? Do you know what it's for?"
And when discussing a merchant's issues, you may assume you know your competitive advantages over the merchant's current processor. Instead of explaining these advantages, ask, "What do you think caused these problems with your current processor? How did he explain them?" In both cases, be specific and look for the facts from the merchant - not from your industry knowledge.
Even the best MLSs know they can fall into the assumption trap. But what you do next can free you from the trap and avoid the ill effects of assumptions. For example, in responding to a merchant's question, have you ever realized by the look on the merchant's face that you lost his or her attention?
When that happens, ask yourself if you made an assumption, and then apologize, assume responsibility and say, "I assumed that I understood your question, and obviously I didn't. Could you clarify it for me?" If you accept responsibility, the merchant will most likely give you another chance, allowing you to potentially salvage the sale.
The last step is often the most difficult. Before responding to a question, count to five. By not rushing into a response, you are less likely to fill in missing facts instead of asking for clarification. No matter how exciting you think your answer will be, pause and count to five before responding.
Also, when you do make an assumption, know that it's not the end of the world. It happens to all of us. The key, however, is how you handle it. Instead of moving on as if you had not made an inaccurate assumption, admit your error and ask for clarification.
It will be well worth the effort, and that is not an assumption; it's a fact.
Jeff Fortney is Vice President, ISO Channel Management with Clearent LLC. He has more than 17 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-618-7340. To learn about how Clearent can help you grow faster and go further, visit www.clearent.com.
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