No one ever plans to end up in the field of credit management, at least no one I have ever met. Nor do people understand what I do: My dad told people I was a bounty hunter, my son told his class that his mom yelled at people all day, and my daughter just said that her mom sued people.
Sales reps ought to know better, but over the years I’ve found many are nearly as clueless about what I’m paid to do. Or at least their comments make me think that’s the case, because salesmen have provided me endless hours of entertainment just by doing their job. They’re eternal optimists who see every company as the next potential big customer, the next million-dollar account. I wish it were so, but my payment records show how often a sales rep can be fooled.
So take this advice: If a sales rep comes to you, Mr. Owner, or you, Ms. Credit Manager, and gives these reasons for why a prospect deserves a generous credit line, beware. Here are some of my favorites and my replies.
“He can buy this product anywhere, but he really likes us.”
No, honey, he really likes you. He likes you because you are talking to him about product and lower pricing and heck, maybe you are the only person talking to him about selling him anything. So although he could buy anywhere—paying at the time of purchase—he likes your idea of credit best.
• “He’s a millionaire.” Sometimes they are not only a millionaire, but a millionaire many times over. Wow, that’s news. I had no idea there were so many millionaires out there—and ready to buy from us. Unfortunately, most sales reps and I seem to have a very different definition of what a millionaire is.
• “I bought a beagle from him.” I’m so glad it wasn’t a rottweiler.
• “He is a sure bet.”
• If the prospect doesn’t own land, then he has a “really huge house in a great neighborhood. He is doing really well for himself.”
• “Look at his new truck/boat/four wheelers/assorted toys. Those things should speak about how he pays his bills.”
• “He would rather starve than not pay his bills.” Don’t make me say how this guy is not missing any meals.
“He is a good, church-going man. He would never stick anyone.”
As horrible as this may sound, in my professional opinion, if there is a fish sticker on his truck, check, or logo, or if the message on the office phones advises me to have a “blessed day,” or if he in any way tries to bring Jesus or the Bible into his payment habits, it is a bad sign and you need to run. These are usually the accounts that leave me holding the bag.
• “He goes to my church.” See explanation above.
• “He doesn’t understand why you need a financial statement. No one else ever asks for it.” Yes, I am sure I am the revolutionary trailblazer that has decided financial statements are the wave of the future.
“I have known this guy for 30 years. I am so confident that he will pay the account, I will guarantee it.”
This works really well—until you call their bluff and tell them you will get the paperwork for them to guarantee the account. We can have the money deducted from your check automatically. That usually gets a fabulously nasty reaction.
• “This guy has had a ton of businesses. Can you use some references from his other previous businesses on how he pays his bills?” Ah, let me sum this up: NO.
• “He is really insulted that you are questioning his integrity by asking for additional references/financial statement.” Does any business person really need me to point out that your Mom is not a credit reference, nor is the utility company, or the bait shop? And his customers are not references.
• “If you keep asking questions, we are going to lose his business.”
• “This company is really disappointed in the credit line you extended them. They really need about $100,000 more.” Well, then they better go get some other company’s credit history or financial statements, cause it ain’t gonna happen for them here and now.
• “He has really hot wife.” I don’t even know where I am supposed to go with that.
And this classic: “He is a really good guy.” I am sure Kenneth Lay of Enron was a good guy to someone, and we all know how that ended. Often after I’ve said no, the sales rep turns to personal attacks:
• “Why are you such a hard ass?”
• “This guy thinks you just have it in for him.”
• “We might as well just shut the whole company down with the way you are doing things.”
• “I am going to have to go over your head.” So what exactly is different about today?
• “I don’t think you understand our business.” Hey, are you talking to some of the customers?
• “Are you going on vacation anytime soon? You really sound like you need one.” Why? Do you think I am going to leave someone gullible and slow-witted in charge?
• And my all-time favorite: “He thinks you’re a real bitch.” On what planet does anyone believe sharing that bit of information will help?
One piece of advice that really stuck with me over the years was from a boss who told me: “Thea, it is the salesperson’s job to sell the material. It is your job to figure out how to make that happen.” I try to remember it is just as hard for our salespeople as it is for me.
The other piece of credit wisdom I received from a boss was “This is not Monopoly money. It is real. Don’t play games with it.” So let’s get one thing straight: This is my money just as much as the owner or shareholders. If you don’t pay for goods received, you lied and stole from me.
That’s my attitude on deadbeats, but it’s definitely not how I feel about good customers, good co-workers, and especially good sales reps. I always look at the bright side. Who says credit has no sense of humor?
-Thea Dudley has been an LBM credit manager for more than 25 years, most recently with Guardian Building Products. This is excerpted from a memoir she has started and hopes to publish one day.