Almost 7 years ago I started a sales job selling credit card processing services to small to medium size businesses in Portland, OR. If you aren’t familiar with the payment processing industry, it’s crowded with competition. There are only 10 or 11 credit card processing companies in U.S. that actually process the transactions for these businesses but there are probably 6-7k companies that operate as resellers calling on merchants. Because of this, merchants get 3 to 4 phone calls per week of someone soliciting their business.
The company I worked for was a great company but there was no CRM, no leads, and only very basic training. In fact, there wasn’t an official company training that I was invited to until after I had been with the company for a year or so. As you can imagine, the first 6 months were very difficult for me as it was difficult to distinguish how my employer was “better” than everyone else. I had tried to walk in spewing all the recommended verbiage that the company had given me but that felt really gross. I didn’t enjoy doing that, and the businesses I met with didn’t seem to appreciate that either. I decided to take a different approach that would, over the next 6 months, yield a 45% closing ratio and a 90% retention rate with businesses I approached with my services. As I think about the mental shift I made during that critical time, I am reminded of the 7 things I did to find success. In order for me to find success I needed to start:
Too often sales professionals go out to sell products and services they don’t believe in or care about, and often the people they try to persuade can sense that something isn’t quite right.
I remember listening to Dan Sullivan, a leading global business advisor, talk about the importance of selling yourself on your products and services long before you ever put yourself in a situation to try to persuade someone else to buy your wares. So that’s exactly what I did. I slowed down on trying to book as many appointments as possible and began studying my company and our competitors, crafting stories that would appeal to prospects, and taking the time to sell myself on why I chose this particular company to sell for.
Bottom Line: If you’re not totally sold on what you do, see if you can figure it out. If you can’t, find a new product or company to sell for.
The next thing I did was drop the verbiage that I didn’t identify with and immediately replaced it with my own personality and swagger. I started communicating in a way that was natural and authentic for me. I started sharing real stories with the people I wanted to do business with. When I was uncomfortable with something, I told them how I was feeling. I wanted to be as human as possible because my ultimate purpose was to truly connect, not to just sell a merchant services account and be down the road to the next business. What I found was that businesses were tired of working with inauthentic sales professionals, and they were looking for real and honest dialogue with the people they do business with.
Bottom Line: People buy from people whom have first buy from themselves.
The advice I received from my managers was to go walk into random offices and ask for the owner and try to get an appointment. This was a surefire way to get kicked out or punched cold calling in the wrong business park. And while it can be kind of exhilarating, I found that it was better to be prepared before I reached out to businesses to start a relationship with them. What I decided to do was to do research on the companies I wanted to do business with, as well as their industry, and competitors. This allowed me to familiarize myself with the challenges they may be facing and the problems they are
What I decided to do was research on the companies I wanted to do business with, as well as their industry, and competitors. This allowed me to familiarize myself with the challenges they may be facing and the problems they are likely look for solutions to. I also tried to find out something about the owners and partners that was personal that I might personally identify with. Were they former athletes? How did they get started in their business? What causes do they care about?
Bottom Line: One of the best ways to build trust and respect is to show up, PREPARED.
Be Curious & Inquisitive
I can’t tell you how good it felt to walking into my appointments with a spirit of curiosity and inquisitiveness instead of having commission breath. Being prepared allowed me to ask genuine questions about their business and industry that were crafted not scripted. Jerry Acuff, leading sales trainer for the pharmaceutical industry, says that in selling, “meaningful dialogue” is the foundation of long-term selling success and influence, something preparation allowed me to foster quickly. I started asking the questions that actually came to mind when I was in their office instead of being Mr. Credit Card Expert. I would ask, “I’m curious, who’s your favorite employee here? What do they do that you really appreciate?” or “If you could teach one class with all the life experience you have, what would you teach?”. What I found was that I developed real relationships that completely transcended the products and services I was selling.
The Bottom Line: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. (You can’t argue with Zig Ziglar.)
Then I got the phone call.
Ring…….Rinnnngggg……..Ringggggg. This is Keith.
Me: This is Keith!
Customer: Hey man the credit card terminal showed up but it’s not working! Help me out here!
I had signed a sports nutrition store and the terminal that got shipped to his store wasn’t working. But there was one problem, the customer lived in a town 4 hours away and my service team wasn’t having any success getting him up and running over the phone. So I just jumped in my car and drove to the store to make sure my customer got taken care of. It wasn’t a very lucrative decision, but it is one that I would do 100 times if I had the opportunity to do it again. I would because I see selling as an opportunity to watch my clients back and to be there when they really need me to come through for them. It’s akin to the role I played in college basketball when I was asked to take charges and bring energy to the weight room for team training. Coming through in the clutch for my clients became part of my identity as a professional and it was something my clients could resonate with as business owners are people who come through in the clutch when their families, partners, and teams need them to. This experience gave me so much power walking into meeting because I could sit across the table from a business owner and guarantee him that I would never abandon the commitments I made to him/her.
The Bottom Line: The quickest way to erode trust with your clients and potential clients is to be flaky after you sign the deal.
Be A Problem Solver
I quickly realized that business owners really didn’t care about the name of the company, how many employees we had, how many endorsements we had, or what our slogan was. What they wanted to know was, “Will I be in a better situation as a result of us working together?”. And so I chose to focus on delivering tangible solutions to the challenges they were facing. I also chose to shoulder much of the support upfront that most sales reps push off on the 800 number. I learned that nothing demonstrates your ability to listen like taking the time to create real solutions to the problems and challenges they are faced with. As a sales professional, being curious and inquisitive is pointless if you don’t follow through with solutions to the challenges your potential client has shared with you.
The Bottom Line: People don’t have time to care about your company. They barely have time for their problems. If you can solve their problems, they will make time for you.
Be In Touch
The final thing I learned along the journey on my path in one of the most difficult industries around is to stay in touch. As sales professionals, we are constantly reminded that 80% of sales are made between the 5th and 12th contact, but this doesn’t mean to follow up 5-12 times asking them to buy. Following up should be an opportunity to strengthen the relationship, not to ask them to buy. Customers usually don’t buy for a specific reason and calling them back to ask them if they are ready yet is a major turn off. I found that when I followed up in a genuine manner, with thoughtful questions, or valuable content that helped my potential client have a better life, we were able to build a genuine relationship. This allowed the walls to come down and share what their real concerns were that often led to them deciding to work with me. This had nothing to do with me being a great “closer”, it had to do with genuinely wanting to take care of people.
The Bottom Line: He who provides the most value over the longest sustained period of time, WINS. Being consistently in touch over a long period of time while doing your best to provide value to help your potential clients win, is a process that will consistently win.
Thank you for taking the time to read about ways to grow your business in 2021 and beyond. If I can be of any value to you or your organization, don’t hesitate to reach out.