Need Your Delinquent Customers To ‘Get It’?
Not too long ago, I shared some lunch with Nancy, a relative newcomer to the speaking business. When we got to coffee, Nancy cleared her throat and asked me for some advice about one of her customers.
“It took me some time to land this customer,” she said. “Finally, he agreed to one of my proposals and I completed the assignment and dropped it off along with the invoice. The terms listed on the invoice were fifteen days. “
“I gather he hasn’t paid you,” I asked.
She shook her head. “No, and I’ve talked to him twice. I called him about day 30 and we talked about a number of things, but not the invoice. Around day 45, I called him again and just asked him straight out, “Did you get the invoice I left for you.”
He seemed a bit taken aback but said, “Yes, but in our business, the terms are 60 days.”
Being new to the speaking business and with no collection experience, Nancy accepted his statement and said she finally got paid about day 78.
“Well,” I said to her, “you did manage to get paid?”
“True, but he left me a message yesterday and I expect he wants to talk about another assignment. Other than the fact that he pays late, he’s a good client. What should I do?”
I told here that first of all, a good customer pays their bills on time, as agreed. Secondly, she should use the Cher approach. Her Farewell tour has been going on for a long time and shows no sign of stopping. (Was Sonny part of the tour when it started or is that just my imagination?)
When is it over? In opera they say it ain’t over until the fat lady sings. For Cher, it ain’t over until the thin lady stops singing. It’s her business – her terms.
Your customer wanted your service, I told Nancy, and that means he should be willing to accept your terms, but you need to be clear right from the start. Part of your business, a very important part, is to ensure all customers know your terms right from the start. “Mr. Customer, in our business, the standard terms are payment within 7 days. I presume that will not present a problem to you?” Practice this statement or one that will work a bit better for you. Be sure to cover this in any agreements and of course in the invoice.
All of us may deal with a 500 lb. gorilla from time to time. You may be willing to accept payment by ‘their terms’ – but you still ask for yours and if you accept theirs, do so reluctantly, but also with your eyes wide open. No surprises.
” You waited until we’re almost finished lunch before you brought up the topic of your customer who had been delinquent. I gather talking about past due bills is not one of your favorite topics,” I asked.
Nancy shook her head.
“Fortunately, it is mine and my recommendation is that you need to get better at bringing up the topic of talking finances in general and past-due bills in particular. You don’t have to like it, but you do need to get good at it.”
Even those of us who have been in business for a long time need to be reminded. Don’t let your customer think (or act) like it is just a ‘howdy’ or a customer service call. If they owe you money, be sure to ask for it. You can use your own style, Cher certainly does, but when it’s ‘over’, you’ll have a much better chance of saying, “I got you, babe!”