After a rather heavy topic last week,
based on sheer stress of the job, I counseled a client the other day that made
me laugh. Both the situation and the imagery that came immediately to mind was
comical and almost brought me to tears. I’ve been counseling a personal client
and her sales team on how to improve receivables. The sales team have been haggling
with one client in particular that always has an excuse on why they haven’t
paid their invoice or why its late again.
First of all, being compensated by a
client is never a laughing matter, but sometimes the excuses become reason to pause
and chuckle. I’ve heard them all including the “dog ate my invoice” (not
kidding). And, in this case, my client began to read off the list of excuses
why they were not being paid by their client. Every excuse was made from the “didn’t
get the invoice” to “I thought we already paid you” to “sorry about that I will
drop the check off this afternoon” (only they never show and dodge your calls
for two more weeks). As they read their list out loud to me, I began to recite
a few that were on there, and I did not see the list prior to our meeting.
Comical to say the least.
I then pulled up a clip from an old 1985
(sort of cult) classic, Better Off Dead,
starring John Cusack. One famous line from Johnny the paperboy has been stuck
in my head for over thirty years, “I want
my two-dollars!”. As a career sales person, this is the ultimate
collections phrase, that is if you’re old enough to remember or even know this
movie. The Myers family has owed Johnny two-dollars for paper delivery for some
time, but he cannot get paid. Throughout the movie Johnny shows up in every other
scene screaming for his two-dollars. This catch phrase has become synonymous with
collections for years, not necessarily in a funny comical way, but in a
comedically frustrating way. How often are you yelling out (figure of speech
here), “I want my two-dollars”?
Repeating the comment above, being owed
money by a client is never a laughing matter, but is an issue that businesses,
Accounts Receivable departments, and sales people face on a weekly basis. So,
what does a sales person do when they are owed money, and the excuses are
piling up? My answer is based solely on one fact: your firm is legitimately
owed this money without question.
Generally, I almost always make the sales
person a last resort in attempts to receive compensation, that is before being
turned over to collections or legal. In most cases I advise someone other than
the sales person, preferably in accounting, to make as many attempts as
possible to contact and gently nudge the client toward payment. Documenting each
and every step is a key to successfully being paid. But, this should not be a
full-time job. After 3, 4 or 5 attempts by a combination of phone calls and
emails, then the sales person should get involved.
The sales person has a unique
relationship with the client, one that should be treated as fragile almost,
because when the sales person gets involved in collections, it may never be the
same relationship again. The sales person needs to lean on their personal
relationship with the client. An explanation of why their lack of payment is a
detriment to the relationship if not addressed. I’ve even witnessed sales people
go so far as to explain how the lack of payment is causing them personal issues
with their employer.
Sales is all about relationships.
Typically, sales is talked about in terms of closed deals, won business, signed
contracts, etc. Sales doesn’t end with a signature or PO#, sales is ongoing,
and the sales person can be an effective tool in business-client relations
beyond taking an order. Collections too, at times, is a part of the sales
process. Sales people should never be afraid to say, “I want my two-dollars”.