In yesterday’s post, that said don’t take late payments lying down, we noted that big customers are trying to push payment terms to ridiculous extremes and that their fantasy should not be your reality. We referenced a good article over on CFO.com that gave some advice on what do to when your big customer wants to pay late and concluded that if none of those tips help you out, then you should do what Pete Loughlin suggests on Purchasing Insight and name and shame them publicly. No one should ever think that 200+ day payment terms are fair. EVER!
Hopefully you’ll be one of the lucky ones and not find yourself in this situation, but, to be frank, that is not likely unless you take steps to avoid being in the situation. To that end, a recent piece in Inbound Logistics that offered some advice from Scott Pezza, a research analyst at the Aberdeen Group, had some good suggestions that you should always keep in mind.
- Conduct Pre-Sales Credit & Risk Analysis
You want to identify problem payers before you sign the contract. One method to do this is the credit bureaus. Another is quick calls to other suppliers. Accountants, believe it or not, are people too and, speaking the same language, they like to talk to each other. They have skills that go beyond the general ledger that your organization should be making maximum use of. Basically, if the customer always pays six months late, then you probably don’t want to turn away the business, because a paying customer is a paying customer, but you’re going to want to adjust your terms accordingly. This may mean jacking the price up (and offering early payment discounts) or forcing the customer to agree to interest and penalties. But if the customer has a history of trying to evade payments that will require significant and costly collection efforts, you probably want to turn that customer away.
- Follow the Finances
Don’t just use the credit bureaus to assess pre-sale credit risk, keep on top of their financials. Subscribe to a credit monitoring service that gives you quarterly updates, or a news monitoring service that tracks major stories, and get a grip on when their financial situation may be going south fast so you can get paid, or get out, before you have a situation where the relationship is not worth it.
- Standardize Receivable, Collection, and Resolution Processes
Always send out complete and accurate invoices, have a common approach to collection efforts, and standardize resolution processes that involve multiple parties to make it simple for the customer to understand your concerns, share theirs, and reach a resolution in a clear and concise process.
- Make Getting Paid Easy
Send invoices in customer’s preferred formats and, if you can, accept whatever payment method the customer wants to use – be it purchasing card, wire, ACH, or old-fashioned cheque.
- Be willing to Negotiate Payment Terms on a Customer by Customer Basis
Scott actually suggests to tailor collections to individual customers, but it’s better to tailor contract and payment terms and to be willing to renegotiate if the customer needs to (provided the customer really does have restricted cash-flow and is willing to make best efforts to pay on a reasonable schedule — don’t renegotiate just because they don’t want to touch the 10 Million reserve in the bank).
Hopefully these tips will help you avoid the late payment fiasco and having to name and shame your customer.