Do You Think (and Act) Like a Salesman When Visiting Customers?

A Rather Unusual Approach When Visiting Customers

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional, a CMA Partner. Click here for Special CMA Member $10 Trial!

On his visits to customer organizations, experienced international credit exec and now consultant Eddy Sumar (ERS Consulting Services) makes it a point to meet as many people as he can — everyone from the receptionist to the president.

“The receptionist, for example, will be my first contact anytime I call that customer,” he explains. “I want her to remember me, so she can facilitate my connection to the right person.”

Sumar also recommends spending time with everyone in the accounts payable process: the person who receives and processes the invoice, the person who signs the check, the person who authorizes release of the check, and so on. “You want to make all of them feel important,” he emphasizes.

As a former accounts payable person himself, Sumar understands what payables people experience. “I always remember wondering why salespeople visited the purchasing people, gave them gifts, and took them to lunch, but never paid attention to us,” he recalls. Sumar feels credit execs should makes it a point to give small gifts of introduction and appreciation to payables people, such as pens or key chains with your company logo, or to take them out to lunch. He has received a number of calls from these people thanking him for these gestures, he says.

More important than the appreciation he receives, however, are the results.

Three Big Benefits

Sumar has also found that personal visits can clear up misunderstandings that might have occurred over the phone. Once, for example, he had the opportunity to visit a customer whose payables person had been very difficult to deal with in the past. “When I visited, we seemed to hit it off almost immediately,” he reports. Following that, she did not default on even one payment, he related.

Another benefit: Many customers, when they are experiencing cash-flow problems, will be much more prone to initiate contact with you if you have taken the time to visit and discuss your problems before they become serious, allowing you to work out appropriate arrangements.

An unexpected benefit is also improved relationships with the sales department. “When salespeople see the value you can provide to an account, it often pays dividends,” he says. “Once, for example, a customer was so impressed with some of the things I was saying that he asked if I’d conduct a seminar for his employees. When the salesperson heard about this, it really strengthened our relationship.” Whether or not you take all the steps Sumar does, it always makes sense to think strategically about how to get the most out of your customer visits – and not to forget anyone involved in the payment process. They’re ALL important.

This article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional.
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What to Say When Applicants Don’t Meet Your Credit Standards

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional, a CMA Partner. Click here for Special CMA Member $10 Trial!

Telling a new customer that they can’t get the credit they’d like is one of the most difficult — and important — things that a credit exec is called upon to do.

“Unfortunately,” says Bruce Diamond, formerly a credit manager at Horizon, “I do not think there is ever a win in trying to explain to a customer with poor credit why you will not extend credit. The explanation leads to a dialog that just goes in circles, and from my experience, usually ends with no better result than if you stick with your mantra. Mine is: According to the credit information that is available, you do not currently qualify for an open line of credit.”

By keeping your explanation very straightforward and to the point, you reduce the chance of getting into a deteriorating debate with the applicant.

The prospective customer will respond that he gets credit from others. Be ready for that. The simple reply to give is this: everyone has their own standards and unfortunately you do not meet ours.

Then stop talking and try to say goodbye.

This article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional.
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Boosting Credit Staff Effectiveness With Formal Performance Measurements

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional, a CMA Partner. Click here for Special CMA Member $10 Trial!

“It’s essential for every member of our associate family first to understand the limitations of our resources and then to be able to show how and why their function is important to the organization and how we can contribute to its profitability and growth,” declares David J. Carere, CCE, CPA, CIA, director of credit risk management for Rich Products Corp. (Buffalo, N.Y.). “Formal performance measurements help us demonstrate this. For example, we can show the total number of dollars in the receivables portfolio and the benefits the organization gets from timely collection of those accounts.”

Benefits of formal performance measures for associates include:

  • Clearly established expectations.
  • Alignment in pursuing goals and directions that are important.
  • Creation of a stable environment and a sense of certainty for the associates. “They know what is important and why,” explains Carere.

In setting targets, Carere realized that he needed to take several factors into account:

  • Targets must be consistent with and support the overall departmental mission and objectives.
  • Targets must be limited to a small number of important ones. “If you create too many, you not only water down the importance of each, but it makes it very confusing and overwhelming for the associates to deal with so many,” he explains.
  • Targets must be achievable. “If targets are not achievable, it only sets associates up for failure,” notes Credit Manager Suzanne Gastle.
  • Targets must be set for both individuals and teams. “There are some measures that are good for individuals and some that are good for a team,” explains Carere. “When individuals are recognized and rewarded for excellent personal performance, and a sense of team is fostered, you get the best of both worlds.”

Associate Input

While Carere and the department managers could have created the performance measures in a vacuum, they elected to encourage and utilize associate input. “Associates need to know that the measures are fair and objective, and they need to understand why they are important,” notes Carere. “For example, they need to understand how much money the organization saves when they are able to reduce DSO by one day.”

Carere began discussing the performance measurement initiative at monthly departmental breakfast meetings. He also began soliciting associate feedback at these meetings. One result of this feedback was a decision not to set individual DSO goals as he had initially planned to do.

“They helped me see that there was a real lack of comparability with this approach, as well as some other potential problems,” he explains. Taking this feedback into account, Carere eventually changed the DSO component to a team goal. He also implemented a feature that measures DSO performance from year to year, taking extenuating circumstances into account.

Departmental Measures

In the Rich Products’ organizational structure, the credit and collection department handles credit extension and collection efforts, and the accounts receivable department applies payments, reconciles accounts on a daily basis, and initiates deduction resolution.

Measurements/targets for Credit and Collections are:

Team Goals:

  • Current year DSO compared to prior year DSO (adjusting computation for changes and new unusual factors, such as differences in the customer base).
  • Bad debt as a percentage of credit sales (comparing current year’s percentage to prior year).

Individual Goals:

  • Percentage of accounts assigned to a credit associate that have been properly followed up on.
  • Achievement of mutually established targets for slow-aging categories.

Measurements/targets for Accounts Receivable are:

Team Goal: Timely application of customer receipts by specific deadlines throughout the week.

Individual Goal: Accuracy of receipt applications, measured by monthly self-reporting errors.

Communication, Rewards and Recognition

Providing feedback to associates on a regular basis is important to the success of an initiative like this. “Associates see their progress on a monthly and quarterly basis,” explains Carere. He posts performance numbers each month, and when associates meet with their managers to review quarterly performance objectives they discuss performance measurements, too.

How are associates rewarded for improvements in performance? While many executives might arbitrarily create a blanket reward system, Carere realized that each person is unique and is motivated by different things. For this reason, he arranged for the department managers to meet with each associate and find out what they wanted (e.g., time off, gifts, cash, etc.).

Despite the challenges associated with this process, Carere continues to focus on what he considers to be the most important motivator of all–recognition. “It doesn’t put food on the table,” he admits, “but people really like to hear how much they are appreciated.”

People or Technology? Where will the improvements come from in the department? Carere believes that the associates have always been doing a good job. As such, he does not expect them to work a great deal harder.

Where he expects improvements to originate is with technology. “For example, we’re implementing a document management system in the cash receipts area to improve performance there,” he says.

On the surface, it may seem that expecting technology to make the improvements runs counter to a performance measurement system. After all, if it is technology that is making the improvements, why reward the associates? In addition, what motivation do the associates have to improve if the opportunity to improve is in the hands of technology?

Carere explains that, while technology is the basis for the improvement, associate involvement with the technology is critical to success. “We arrange for them to participate in the selection of the technology,” he says. “In addition, the performance measurement system provides the motivation for them to embrace the technology and utilize it to its fullest.”

While it’s too early to see any specific improvements as a result of the system, Gastle expects some benefits soon: “I think the measurement system will eliminate a lot of the subjectivity we’ve had to deal with in the past.”

This article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional.
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Nine Key Questions to Ask Yourself Before Putting Together an Improvement Plan

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional, a CMA Partner. Click here for Special CMA Member $10 Trial!

  1. How does the credit department fit into the bigger corporate picture?
  2. Why are customers calling you?
  3. What are your ideal service-level objectives?
  4. What does it cost to run your department for one hour?
  5. Are your employees happy?
  6. What does the future look like in 12 to 18 months?
  7. How does existing and new technology affect your department?
  8. What’s your disaster recovery plan?
  9. What are your three most important improvement initiatives?

This article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional.
Click here for Special CMA Member $10 Trial!

Survey: Thirty Percent of Credit Departments Are Understaffed

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional, a CMA Partner. Click here for Special CMA Member $10 Trial!

Thirty percent of today’s credit departments are understaffed, according to data from Credit Today’s soon-to-be-released Staff Benchmarking Survey. That is despite a significant ramping up of staff sizes in comparison with seven years ago, during the depths of the Great Recession.

Credit Today has been working diligently behind the scenes for some months now putting together its most comprehensive Staff Benchmarking Survey ever, and here’s the first unveiling of data from this significant industry survey.

Just How Short?

Of those departments that are understaffed, it would require, on average, 4.1 additional staffers to get them up to where they’d like to be. This is up markedly from 7 years ago, when the average shortfall was pegged at 1.7 staffers. Digging a little deeper, we find that consumer products manufacturing credit execs — in particular the larger firms — are facing the greatest staffing shortfall.

Understaffing Impact on DSO

The second big takeaway from this stat is a comparison of the DSO of those who are understaffed with those who are fully staffed. Companies whose credit departments are understaffed have a DSO 3.3 days higher than those describing themselves as adequately staffed.

We can’t say definitively whether the under-staffing is the cause of the higher DSO — certainly many variables come into play — but a staffing shortfall leaves credit departments unable to manage A/R as effectively as they could and DSO is certainly likely to suffer as a result.

Our belief has always been that at a well-run credit department, staffing is an investment that pays dividends and this statistic bears that out.

Top management — when considering the costs of staffing — ought certainly to also factor in the costs of DSO, as well as all the other profitability metrics associated with well-run receivables.

The following table breaks down the relationship by industry.

Stay tuned for the formal release of this survey — and much more in-depth data — soon!

This article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional.
Click here for Special CMA Member $10 Trial!

Coping With the Chronic Complaining Customer

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional, a CMA Partner. Click here for Special CMA Member $10 Trial!

Like it or not, handling complaints is part of the work that goes on in a credit department. And it’s a task that’s vital to your company’s success. How well you handle gripes from disgruntled customers can make the difference between getting paid and keeping the customers–or losing their business altogether.

You answer the phone, hear the voice on the other end of the line, and feel your blood pressure begin to rise. It’s one of your chronic complainers, credit customers that always have a problem. Much as you’d like to turn the call over to someone else, you’re the one of the firing line. How are you going to keep from losing your cool–and losing the customer? Here’s help.

  1. Listen actively. It’s important not to turn a deaf ear to the chronic complainer. To begin with, there is often a legitimate grievance of some kind. If you don’t take corrective steps, the problem could come back to haunt you.

    Key Point:
    Paraphrase the complainer’s main points. Say something like “Excuse me, but do I understand you to say that the package didn’t arrive, you’ve written twice and received no response, and that’s why you didn’t pay your bill?”

    Added point: Be sure to acknowledge the caller’s feelings. A big part of the chronic complainer’s problem is the sense of powerlessness that comes from feeling that nobody knows, cares, or even understands how he or she is suffering. Verbalizing what you take to be the customer’s emotional reaction to the situation helps to break the cycle of blame, ignore, blame-for-ignoring, etc.

  2. Establish the facts. A key feature of chronic complainers is their tendency to exaggerate facts and then to overgeneralize them. Thus, if a chronic complainer tried to call you three times during lunch hour, it becomes: “I tried calling you all day, but, as usual, you were trying to avoid me.”

    Key Point: Limit the scope of the complaint by asking questions that isolate the facts. Ask when, exactly, the customer’s unanswered calls were made, unanswered letters were written, or the problem was first noticed. Check your files or phone logs to verify these statements, and state your findings. Remember to keep the discussion on a factual level. Don’t comment on the implications of the facts because this will lead very naturally to responses like: “You see, I told you your department fouled up.”

  3. Resist the temptation to apologize. Although apologizing for some glitch may seem like the most natural thing in the world, it’s the wrong thing to do when you’re faced with an unhappy credit customer.
    Reason: Since the main thing the person is trying to do is fix blame–not solve problems–your apology will be seen as an open invitation for further blaming.

    Key Point: Ask problem-solving questions. For instance, ask “Would an extended warranty solve your problem?” or “Would a credit to your account be satisfactory?”

  4. Force the complainer to pose solutions. If the chronic complainer ignores your suggested solutions, evades the opportunity to help, and persists in trying to get you to admit what a poor company you work for, throw the ball back into the complainer’s court with this gambit:

    “I have to speak with someone else in 10 minutes. What sort of action plan can we work out in that time?”

    If the customer can’t come up with anything, he or she should at least recognize by this point that you alone can’t take all the blame for the impasse. And if the person does come up with a suggestion–no matter how impractical–you will have at least succeeded in getting him or her to stop complaining. Now your customer should be much more receptive to whatever reasonable compromises you come up with.

This article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional.
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Can the bank seize these goods, even though the creditor and supplier agreed they were on consignment?

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional, a CMA Partner. Click here for Special CMA Member $10 Trial!

“We just heard you’re going to be selling off inventory from Claire’s Concrete, Inc.,” said Florence Sherman of FirstRate Concrete.

“That’s right,” replied Joe Kaplan of WestEnd Bank. “We had a security interest in all of Claire’s inventory.”

“Well, a lot of the raw materials Claire’s had belonged to us,” Sherman said. “We sent them materials on consignment. If they didn’t sell, we could take them back. Or, if we needed material manufactured into specific forms, we had Claire’s do the work, and we paid for it. So, we’ll be taking those materials back.”

“I see no indication that those materials belonged to you,” Kaplan replied.

“Look on the inventory sheets. Some of the materials have ‘FR’ in front of them. That means they belong to us.”

“But I can’t tell by looking in the warehouse which material is which,” Kaplan complained. “You didn’t post a sign. I didn’t find any UCC filing that identified your interest in any of these materials.”

“We didn’t have to file under the UCC,” Sherman snapped. “Claire’s knew which goods were which, and we had a firm understanding that our goods were to be kept separate from theirs.”

“Do you have this agreement in writing?” Kaplan inquired.

“No, it was an understanding,” Sherman stressed.

“Well, if you wanted to protect your interest in your raw materials, you should have identified them,” Kaplan repeated. “As a secured creditor, I must be able to come in and decide what goods belong to whom. The way things look, it appears everything belongs in Claire’s inventory. We’re going on with the sale.”

Can WestEnd Bank sell all the raw materials?

Yes they can.

Under the UCC, if goods are “delivered to a person for sale and such person maintains a place of business at which he deals in goods of the kind involved, under a name other than the name of the person making the delivery, then with respect to claims of creditors of the person conducting the business the goods are deemed to be on sale or return.”

Therefore, when Sherman shipped raw materials to Claire’s, they became part of Claire’s inventory since Claire’s dealt in the same goods as the type Sherman shipped.

Had Sherman wanted to protect her company’s interest, she should have either posted a sign near those specific raw materials to evidence her company’s interest in the goods or she should have filed a security interest. Because she did not take either step, the court found the bank had priority, and ruled that all of the raw materials belonged to the bank.

This article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional.
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Talking Points For Speaking to Sales

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional, a CMA Partner. Click here for Special CMA Member $10 Trial!

 

Communicating With Sales Regularly – Formally or Informally – is Always Important

Do you speak to your sales reps about what you’re doing in credit?

If you don’t, you should.

One of the most important roles of a credit exec is to constantly communicate credit’s role in your organization and how it relates to sales.

In a recent Credit Today listserv discussion, a member asked for suggestions on what she might include in an upcoming presentation to her company’s sales team. A number of great responses were received.

Lisa Childress, Corporate Credit Manager at Bison Building Materials, recommended covering the following topics with sales:

  1. How company profits are diminished the longer an invoice remains unpaid.
  2. What the cost of money (borrowing) is for your company. Also, are bank covenants you must adhere to?
  3. What their commission structures are. For example, are they on a “paid-when-paid” commission structure or do their commissions diminish as the account ages?
  4. How they and credit can maintain customer relations.
  5. Why you in credit absolutely recognize the importance of continued sales.

Cheryl, Fischer, CCP, credit manager at Barber Glass Industries, advised that the way you make your presentation with sales can make a big difference. “You have to communicate to them on their level, she wrote. “And that is definitely not a slight!” she clarified.

Visuals are Key

She’s learned over the years that sales reps in general are visual people and suggested very brief overhead computer visuals. “Graphs are always very helpful. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point with pictures and I don’t think you will find their eyes glazing over.”

And Jeff Borgens, CBA, Corporate Credit & QMS Manager at Aiphone Corporation, offered up some great suggestions as well.

First, he suggested, emphasize the principals of business partnership and mutual expectations. “It’s a partnership and we look for quality partners (customers) we can count on.”

Sales should also understand that credit will do what it says it will do and that “ongoing payments equal ongoing shipments.”

Second, make sure you “talk their language” when communicating with sales people. This means emphasizing customer needs and how you strive to meet those within the policies you’ve established. Talk to them about how you will help make the sale, rather than stop a sale if at all possible. And cover some of the tools you have to make that happen, such as guarantees, credit cards, letters of credit, or other security agreements. Make sure they know you’re not “sales prevention,” but are there to facilitate the sale, he wrote.

Finally, he suggested reminding sales that we need to be aware of the role our customers play with our product.

If you sell to someone else who is depending on delivery of “your” product, and that customer ends up on credit hold and hence can’t get the goods down thru the channel, it potentially puts your firm a bad light. “We need to be conscientious of those that buy thru the channel by making sure our business partners are reliable,” he wrote.
This article originally appeared in Credit Today, the leading publication for the credit professional.

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