Dear Thea: I’m tired of being told what my competitors do. How do you respond to the constant barrage of requests for me to do something because “no one else” has credit policies like mine?  —Fed up in Fargo

Dear FUIF:
I’m with you on this one! Nothing is as frustrating as a sales rep or a customer praising your competitor’s credit practices and policies. “No one else asks for financials,” they’ll say, or “No one else is so picky about paying on time,”or “No one else ...”  You get the idea.

Who are these mysterious phantom entities that grant large lines of credit with no supporting financial documentation? Who are the “no ones” who are OK with the customer paying whenever they’d like, taking unlimited unearned discounts, refusing to pay service charges, and generally running the show?

Next time someone says, “No one else,” just remember what your mama used to tell you: “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” Why should you care what they do?   Buck up, little camper, and stop pandering to these statements.  

Sales reps are generally easy to deal with in these situations. A simple, “I don’t know why they do any of those things—because I work here” usually stops them in their tracks. My other favorite is, “If you know the policies so well and it’s so great over there, maybe you should work there.” 

These responses usually do not earn me the favorite credit manager of the day award. Most of the time, the rep leaves my office mumbling about how they are just trying to help me out and let me know what our competitors are doing. I appreciate that, but the fact remains that these statements are rumored actions, or inactions, not supported by anything other than hearsay—just like any other fairy tale. Every credit manager I have ever dealt with scoffs at the “no one else” tales.  

Customers are tougher. Although I have used the “I don’t know, I work here line” on occasion, witty one-liners often irritate the recipient. Your customers will tell you about how they have unlimited credit with other vendors and about how no one but you ever calls them for payment. This is frustrating because nine times out of ten, it’s not accurate.

The best advice I can give is not revolutionary, but simple: Customers aren’t always right, but they are always the customer. Listen to them, acknowledge what they have to say, and then use your experience to turn the situation around. Ask them how they would like to see you handle the issues. Ask them how they handle them at their company. Ask them about their policies. How do they handle past due accounts, service charges, etc.? Getting them to talk about how they handle specific situations usually steers the conversation in a much more productive direction and eventually helps both parties find common ground.

Just about everyone has something valuable to say about how they operate. Often, these competing policies are at least worth examining. By simply acknowledging what customers are saying and asking for their input, you can defuse the situation and help create a bond.

Try it! I know you will be successful.

Got a credit management question? Send it to Thea c/o ProSales editor Craig Webb.