Companies are always looking to streamline operations and cut costs. This often leads to employees wearing many hats – but where do you draw the line?
Whether sales should get involved in collections largely depends on your company: its culture, the industry, your customers, and a host of other concrete facts that need to be carefully evaluated. The issue needs to be approached with an open mind by objectively weighing the various pros and cons.
Pros of Involving Sales in Collections:
Let’s begin with the potential upsides.
Salespeople are typically a client’s first point of contact. Salespeople regularly visit customers to present products or services and they often handle the follow-up to make sure customers are happy. As a result, at most companies it’s the sales representatives that have a close working relationship with the customer. The sales person essentially becomes the face of the company – so who better to discuss overdue invoices?
This close working relationship with the customer can also mean that he or she knows the right person or department to contact when it comes to clearing up an overdue payment. The best person may not be in Accounts Payable, it could be the office manager or the owner. Leveraging the personal relationships and potential sense of loyalty can be a powerful force. The customer may be more compelled to pay, if it’s the salesperson asking. Also, the customer may feel more comfortable opening up to their salesperson about their situation and the factors delaying payment.
If the sales force is tasked with collecting payments they will need to understand the credit risk of each customer. This would require regularly providing sales with a monthly summary of aging invoices. This also helps sales understand the overall credit risk and account status of the customers. A responsible salesperson will come to realize that a sale is not really a sale until the company is paid.
Cons of Involving Sales in Collections:
The arguments previously outlined may sound irrefutable, but before jumping to a decision, carefully weigh the potential downsides.
Salespeople tasked with collections are not solely focused on sales. Perhaps the most common argument made for not involving sales in collections is it can distract it the sales team from the all-important task of selling. This alone can threaten the company’s potential for success.
In addition, salespeople don’t feel comfortable asking for payment. Salespeople will often insist on staying out of anything involving the collecting of payments. Salespeople prefer to remain engaged only in “positive” interactions and dialog with customers in order to promote goodwill.
Is There a Middle Ground?
Successful companies will put a hierarchy of actions into effect when an account is overdue. This might involve bringing the outside sales rep into the picture only as a last resort. When efforts on the part of the collector fail, the sales person may be contacted to help.
This approach is likely to encounter a good deal less resistance from salespeople. They are also more likely to willingly contact the customer regarding late payment if it is only when the collections staff has already made every possible effort. Sales also has a vested interest in pushing the issue, since there’s now a risk that the account could be lost as a result of nonpayment.
Making the Call
The best approach primarily depends a firm’s internal structure and company culture. An organization that sells to many small customers is in a different position than one that sells to one or two “big box” retailers.
There is no right or wrong answer to what level of involvement sales should have with the collection process. It comes down to considering the pros and cons and evaluating the company’s situation to determine the best approach for getting invoices paid.