Reasons Businesses Fail with Internal Collection Initiatives...
No formal policy
Staff lacks experience
Lack of manpower
Lack of Enforcement of Policy
The Customer is Always Right..."I Don't want to Lose Them as a Client" No Client tracking
Lack of credit reporting
Waiting too long to outsource problems
Lack of an outsourcing partner
When they don't know WHAT to do, they do NOTHING!
In a recent study performed by Flagmen Research Center the primary concern of CEO's is that of their current cash flow process,"lacking”. It seems that businesses worldwide have identified this as a concern. But what are they actually doing about it?
This is the First of a Ten article series, I will be writing. Each article will discuss each one of the 10 reasons why Internal Collections Fail, and in retrospect why cash flow is plummeting. Let's start with the first reason of internal failure
LACK OF POLICY
Now folks, in order to do absolutely ANYTHING effectively in your life, there are steps you must take to do so. Can you drink a glass of water, if you have not filled the glass with water? Can you start your car if you have not put the key in the ignition? Would you begin putting your pants on, by first zipping your zipper? Would you begin watering your garden before you planted the seeds? These questions are of course very simple and common sense oriented. However, so is the cash flow process? Without policy, a written scheduled directive of the flow process for an internal receivables staff to execute, how can you possibly believe that your business will succeed?
Lets use accounting terminology to bring this point home...Would you send a final demand notice to a client whose invoice is not even due yet? Would you extend a credit line of $50,000 to a company who had dissolved 4 prior business ventures in the past 3 years and simply changed their company name to escape past creditors? If on your aging report you see a client who had a balance due in each bucket from current to 180 days , would you approve credit again on their next order? If a client called you and said YOU ARE NOT MY PRIORITY , I have other vendors that need the money I owe them more then you do, would you continue to act as their bank, just to say you have them as a customer?
Now for you these scenarios may seem silly. However in my line of business, they are facts. I have clients that before they came to me, there was no policy. I have clients that had taking the time to create a policy and send out a memo re the policy, but it was never executed or acted upon. I have clients that had created, and implemented and trained their staff, however it was never enforced. Each individual employee made exceptions to the rules...then I received phone calls from potential clients in desperate immediate need. From an extremely HIGH DSO, to hundreds of thousands of dollars collecting dust, rather then cash flow, sitting in their aging buckets, to clients with a desperate need to find their customers that were giving credit without any prior check up and suddenly they had disappeared. Sound familiar?
CREATE, DOCUMENT, DELEGATE, EXECUTE, ENFORCE, & MEASURE POLICY.
O.K. Now it is time to sit down and CREATE your cash flow policy. Consider all aspects along the flow process. From potential client screening, to data entry and follow through of credit applications, to the documents that should be included in your credit screening package ( ensure signatures are requested on all documents), to the criteria schedule of credit terms and conditions extended, "new client tracking ", annual current client "check ups", a strict schedule of the collections process, 1 courtesy call prior to due date, 2 calls post date, 2 late notices, 1 final demand and then submission to a third party agency. Also always ensure there is ONLY 1 employee with the authorization capability to extend payments arrangements and lift suspension of credit without payment. If everyone has the authority to make exceptions to YOUR policy, why are you creating it?
Now, Document your policy in writing for your accounting staff , sales staff, and customer service staff to review. You may say why would Sales or Customer Service need to review and understand MY receivables Policy. I’ll tell you why. When a salesperson is to the point where they are getting ready to close a sale, their heart is beating, their blood pressure is high, they are excited...they are going for THE CLOSE. Do you think that a credit application being incomplete is going to stop them from making that sale? Do you think that a Customer Service Rep who has been appeasing a client for 20 minutes into her lunch break is going to continue and try to gather all of the facts regarding the dispute, or are they going to tell the customer they will issue a credit so she can run to the break room and get the latest "water cooler" gossip? Can you walk properly if only one leg moves? Can you pick up something if only 2 fingers bend for grasp? Everyone involved directly, and indirectly should know what the policy consists of. From credit applicant screening, to criteria for credit terms and conditions, which documents are in need of signature and once you extend credit, who will be watching the new client for the first year, to ensure habits don't change. Every single step should be outlined as a directive in writing , and each person within your organization should know their part. This is important when writing your policy, ensure you DELEGATE responsibility for each item to a department head or specific title within your organization. using individual names if non productive, you don't want to have to change the document each time an employee comes or leaves. However using a title or department head shows who is responsible for each directive and they will be the ones to hold accountability. The salesperson should know they can NOT close that sale until that credit application is approved. The Customer Service Rep should know she can NOT offer a credit without all of the facts. Your collections team should know that after 3 phone calls, 2 voice messages, 2 late notices and a final demand letter 2 weeks ago, the account is immediately placed into collections BEFORE it rolls into the 90 day bucket. (these are just examples of collection schedules).
You have created your policy, you have documented it, and you have delegated the procedures and responsibilities. Now it is time for execution. Do not think that simply because YOU understand the process and procedures within your policy that your employees do as well. I am not saying that they are not as intelligent, nor am I saying that you do not know how to write effective policy, what I am saying is that EVERYONE should understand clearly, so to have as little trial and error proceeding forward. So, meet, speak, answer questions, explain, reiterate. ENSURE that each department, each manager, each employee knows their responsibility and that of the other departments. If a client calls and wants to place an order, does the customer service rep know who to contact for a credit application? If a sales person receives a call and their client requests an extension of credit terms, who should they contact? All of this is menial yet crucial!
You can breathe now. Believe it or not, the tough part is over. Now, with enforcement, this should be easy as long as you made your policy clear and concise with limited flexibility available. There will be trial and error, it is new and different. Not only internally but with your clients as well. No one is happy about change, until they see the benefits from that change."Through Change, Comes Growth". Take complaints, ridicule and whining in great stride. In the end, your cash flow will improve, your bonus will increase and your businesses reputation will by far be complemented.
Last but certainly not least is the CONSISTENT MEASURING OF THE POLICY. Do not be mislead when I said the hard part was over. There is ALWAYS room for improvement. On a monthly basis, you should review your financial reports. On a monthly basis assigned employees should monitor and measure the new clients who have been extended credit and ensure there are no red flag signals emerging. If there are, there should be IMMEDIATE measures taking to prevent loss. Annually, all clients, new, current and even long term customers should receive a financial "check up". Not many thought that Boscov's or KB Toys would file for Bankruptcy. One year EVERY salesperson on earth wanted to meet with their VP of Purchasing, the next year, they were in the process of dissolution. Do you think a salesperson today would want to meet with them? Of course not, there is no need, because the company filed BK. So the point is , YOU never know, but you can secure the amount of loss through regular checkups and research.
Each month, following your newly expedited policy, there should be improved on your receivables. Each quarter there should be improvement. Now when you get to a point that there is no improvement, don’t stop there. Revisit your policy and see what tweaks you can add to bring ongoing improvement.
Until the next article, I wish you continued success and Increased Cash Flow!
Director of New Client Portfolio Development
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