By Jeff Fortney
One of the better aspects of social media is the humorous pictures people share. Recently, one such picture made me laugh out loud. It was a billboard that read, “My three favorite things are eating my family and not using commas.” I forwarded it to my best friend, who replied with, “proof that words can kill.”
In thinking about his response, I realized it applied to our profession. Words can kill. They can kill a sale, kill an existing merchant partnership and kill long-term revenue. Even worse, they can kill silently, leaving no evidence.
Have you ever had a sale go so smoothly you left the meeting with firm confidence the merchant would sign, but shortly thereafter you received a call telling you the merchant was going elsewhere? And when you asked why were you met with hemming and hawing and then told the decision wasn’t price related? You probably hung up, disappointed, confused and wanting to know what happened.
The answer could be found in a word choice or comment made during your presentation. I was told about a sale that went bad in exactly this way. The sales rep was doing a 30-minute presentation to a merchant’s senior staff. The merchant processed over $25 million a year – a major opportunity. The presentation started tensely, but quickly loosened up with laughter and smiles. Everything was going very well, with many indicating the option presented was the preferred choice.
Then came the Q&A period. Each answer seemed to go over well. Then the CEO said, “I think I have a dumb question.” The rep said the common response: there are no dumb questions. The CEO asked his question, and the rep said, jokingly, “Well, maybe except one.” Everyone laughed, including the CEO.
The next day the call came: the deal was dead. The sales rep’s contact told her the CEO made the decision, and it was final. When she asked for more details, the contact said, confidentially, that the CEO was embarrassed by the rep’s response to his question. Even though he laughed, he felt she had given no respect to his position – even though he seemed OK with it at the time. One simple statement meant to be funny cost the rep a $25 million merchant signing.
Yes, words kill. But if properly managed, they can lead to success instead of failure. Management begins before sales efforts begin. Start by doing a self-evaluation. Ask yourself the following questions.
Use your answers to identify deal killers. There is nothing wrong with using common words or phrases – if they fit the conversation. A word such as “fit” is one example of a common word that doesn’t impact a sale – when used appropriately. Still, if a word is used too often, prospects don’t fully comprehend conversations; their attention gets stuck on the repeated word or phrase. Everything else that is said is lost to them, as is the sale.
The key to any sale is to build trust. That is a long process and can be derailed by using an absolute phrase like, “I guarantee we won’t be undersold” or “I never have one fail.” Both may be true today, but you can’t predict the future. Merchants know this. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t believe that …” or “I don’t anticipate …” but not absolutes – unless in writing. Guarantees, promises and other absolutes like “never” stand out to merchants, and do serious damage to trust that was developed, or would have grown.
A presentation is no place for sarcasm. There are ways to lighten the mood, such as telling third-party stories that can be self-deprecating, but they must be to the point and not change the tone of the meeting. If a comment might offend anyone for any reason, don’t say it.
Remember that people comprehend what they hear at different speeds. Some find faster talking individuals difficult to follow. As a result, they stop listening. The solution is simple: if it feels like you are rushing to get everything out, you are going way to fast. Pause intentionally during conversations. This alone will slow your pace. Sales fail for many reasons, most of which are out of your control. After all, you can’t make anyone sign an agreement. You can, however, control the words you use. Choose them carefully and with intent. Remember, words can kill.
Jeff Fortney is senior vice president of business development and partnerships for TouchSuite LLC, a fintech company providing POS systems, payment processing, SEO solutions, working capital and marketing services to small and midsize businesses. A long-time payments industry professional and mentor, Jeff focuses on strengthening and developing corporate partnerships and evaluating new business to drive strategic growth. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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