It is clear from the results of the Credit Management Benchmark and from a review of various LinkedIn groups, that there is often conflict between sales and credit teams. Sales must have a laser-like focus on achieving their sales targets, and a task like credit screening is seen as a distraction. Even worse, declining to open a credit account for a customer can be seen by sales as the credit function creating barriers to their work.
The objective of the credit function is to protect the business and ensure that there is an adequate flow of cash to keep the business moving forward. This can lead to frustration when dealing with the sales team, especially when the credit team spends more time chasing sales reps for answers to customer queries than it does actually managing debtors!
I have therefore devised the following 5 tips to improve the relationship between sales and credit.
1. Reduce/Eliminate Paperwork
We all know that some paperwork is required to open an account with a customer, but is the sales team really the best people to ensure that this is done? There are a number of options that may help:
- Put your account opening form online so that customers can complete it themselves. This has advantages in that data can be validated as it is being input to avoid missing or incorrect data.
- Give sales reps a tablet or even smartphone app that will help ensure that the correct data is captured.
- Have you ever considered offering to handle all of the account opening work for the sales team? After all, the credit team has a vested interest in ensuring that the information available to open an account is comprehensive and accurate. It may front-load some of your work but will save work in the long run because there will be less queries and more accurate billing. It also provides an opportunity for you to engage with the people who will ultimately be paying your invoices and you can establish a good relationship with them from the outset to get you uppermost in their minds when it comes to deciding when and who to pay!
2. Identify New Sales Opportunities
Within many organisations, the credit team has more interaction with customers than almost anyone else. Consider making it a part of your engagements with customers to gather intelligence on potential sales opportunities.
Keep up to speed on the products/services offered by your business to customers – perhaps even invite the sales team to present to the credit team once a month, or ask for invitations to sales briefings.
Don’t try to sell your products or services, but when engaging customers in discussions about their accounts, be alert to signs that there may be sales opportunties such as discussions of new tenders being submitted by customers, and then have a formal process for passing these onto the sales team.
3. Perform Credit Assessments on Prospects
Save the sales team considerable wasted effort by screening prospects for creditworthiness before they are even engaged by the sales team. Armed with this knowledge, the sales team can tailor their approach to prospects. For example, elements of pre-payments, deposits or other forms of security might be adopted that will minimise risk while achieving successful sales outcomes.
4. Generate ‘True’ Margin Reports for Sales Managers
Typical margin reports used by sales managers show a cost price for a product or service and a sales price. Subtracting the cost price from the sales price gives the margin. However, this does not take into account the costs of delayed payments or even defaults.
Create your own margin reports that take the cost of funds, cost of chasing debt and the cost of write offs into account. This should be done in consultation with the sales manager(s) as it is also of benefit to them. After all, if margin is hit by collection costs or bad debts, the sales team will have to sell more and have higher targets to make up the difference.
5. Provide Visibility to Sales Reps
Provide the sales team with visibility into their accounts. Many businesses use CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools to track prospects and opportunities. Some even provide access to ‘invoiced’ values but often the information is limited to providing reps with details to chase payment.
There is so much more information that could be provided to sales reps, including:
- Account statements listing invoices, credits and payments.
- Drill down from statements to view invoices and in particular invoice lines.
- Drill down further to view delivery confirmation documentation so that sales reps have visibility of what was delivered.
- Link from invoices to sales orders to see what has been billed so that they can easily check outstanding orders.
- Access account queries that customers have raised with the credit team. It is even better if sales reps can participate in resolving queries that have been raised electronically.
- Educating the sales reps, particularly during their induction phase but also at regular sales meetings can help them extract more value from the information available so that they can sell more!
Sales and Credit should be working towards the same goal – success and prosperity for the business. However often this is not the case because of the conflicting priorities of both teams. However by engaging with sales at all levels, it is possible to devise ways to work together more closely while delivering benefit all around.
Why not consider benchmarking your credit function to see what initiatives you could undertake to enhance your credit function.
It simply requires you to complete an online assessment that takes about 20 minutes, and you will receive a comprehensive report that shows how you compare against other businesses and against best practice.
An action plan can then be drawn up and the benchmark process used to measure progress against achieving the plan.