Dear Thea,

My sales reps have a frustrating habit of pursuing existing customers for additional business without giving me a heads-up. I have told them repeatedly that I wish they would have checked with me first. Now we have an order and the customer doesn't have the credit line to support it. How can I convince them to come to me first? Wishing in Wisconsin

Dear Wishing,

Ever hear the expression "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride?" Wishing isn't going to get it done. Neither will yelling, mocking (a personal favorite of mine), or tattling. If you are really going to effect change and get the sales reps’ buy in, then you need to take a different approach.

In theory, it sounds so easy: Take existing customers and increase your sales to them. They are already buying from you, so it should be relatively easy to increase the volume of current purchases and/or add additional items. Unfortunately, it is not.

Credit people support sales growth while protecting the company's money. Sales reps are wired differently. So if you have been wishing to end your current frustrations, you need to switch to an approach that will work with that group.

When you deal with reps, think cookie, not stick (I know the phrase uses carrot, but let's face it, who really gets excited about a carrot?). Make it easy for them. Run a partial customer list for each rep. Throw into a spreadsheet all the rep’s customers who fit one of these three categories:

  1. Existing customers with unused credit lines (because they’ve made little or no purchases or else sales has yet to sell them).
  2. Existing customers who purchase well under their credit availability (i.e., they buy, but could buy way more with no push back from me)
  3. Existing customers who have some play, but need some additional care.

Don't include the "stay away from this account" list. That is like catnip to sales; they can't help themselves. You, by contrast, are keeping it positive.
Give the list to your sales rep, then have a conversation about it. "Hey Sales Dude,” I might say, “I was thinking about how we could capitalize on your efforts and thought this might be a tool that would help you".

Ask them if they have a list of customers they are targeting, chances are they will start rattling a list off while you are talking to them. Write the names down! If you wait for them to compose and send you one, it may never happen. I have gone on enough sales ride-a-longs to know they often lack the time to work with the credit department, even if their intentions are good.

Credit does not generate revenue, we exist in part to support sales. So up your game. Don't stand on the side wringing your hands.

Depending on how you are set up, consider regular one-on-one meetings with your sales reps. If that is logistically challenging, try crashing the sales meetings. They are awesome: You get a ton of information on what the focus is, if any special promotions are going on, insight into how they are going to market, and the like.

During the individual or group meetings you should seek (or grab) the opportunity to share trends in payments you are seeing, concerns, questions, etc. with the team. Sales folks are relationship people. They have to know and trust you. Pretty soon you will be a regular on the invite list. It isn't that sales doesn't value credit, they just don't think of it until they need it.  Change that. Make them think of you as part of their team.

Don't get the idea that this is a free pass to sales. My question for sales is: “Don’t you ever get tired of this dance? Then start asking for help with prequalifiying information. Tell your credit manager exactly what you need to be successful together. We don't mind doing the extra work if we know you are going to do something with it. Be realistic; if you’re asking for $100k for a company, credit wouldn't give you 10 jelly beans, because you are setting everyone up to fail.”

If you do this before making any overtures to the customer, you avoid embarrassing situations in which the customer wants to buy your stuff but it turns out that the customer can't get the expanded credit from the company to purchase the goods.

Not to mention the ugly scene with your credit department.