Credit guru Thea Dudley has spent more than 30 years in LBM credit management. Now she's here to answer your credit and collection questions. Got a question for her mailbag? Contact Thea at [email protected].

Dear Thea,

I am interested in knowing if I'm getting old or being old-fashioned, or just need to get on board with the current trends. So here it goes: Why does it bother me so much that companies have so many "rules" in order to sell them? Let me elaborate:

Purchase orders: The P.O. number has to have a letter, four numbers and a dash, then the job. Or the P.O. has to have today's date, followed by the employee number, then the P.O./job number. Or they need the job name and number, in the correct order. Each company has a rule or procedure for their P.O. series and it is MY company's responsibility to know each customer's P.O. formality and tell the customer representative that we won't sell them something if their P.O. is not right!

Why do I have to be the P.O. policeman in order to get paid? But that's not the end of it. The "requirements for payment" continue:

Items purchased: The company will pay for materials, but not tools. So now I have to decide if a caulking gun is a tool or part of materials. Same with a paint brush or drill bit.

Payments. Is it just me or are more and more credit managers seeing companies want to tell us how they are going to pay us, and some are not flexible at all? Some companies will only pay with an automated clearing house (ACH), while others want to pay with a credit card number that they insist on emailing to you, while taking discount and demanding rebates. One went as far as to send a notice that "We will take your company off our vendor list if you do not fill out this ACH form." What happened to the days of cash, check, or credit card by terms of the account?

We can only make so many notes on the customer's account for each of their "rule requests." We are only as good as our inside sales or counter people in putting the correct information required on invoices and the customer who walks in the door with P.O. information. We don't even know there is a problem until it gets to the customer's AP, who then drags their feet in paying us (or refuses completely to pay the invoice) because their "rules" were not followed 100% (there wasn't a dash after the date and employee number—are you kidding me?).

Are others seeing this same trend? Is it just a way for customers to delay payment? We have had to try and accommodate these rules by "over-managing" the account. For the customer who refuses to pay for products because P.O./job information is not correct, we only open their charging privileges via our accounting office/credit department after we have physically talked to their AP department and got the right P.O./job information for their invoices, then turn the account back to "hold" 'til their next visit.

YES—it is a HUGE hassle. But we are doing it so we can get paid. We are told if an employee of theirs comes in to order something and they don't have a P.O. or it is not on it, tell them NO. That does not go over well, and then the customer's employee gets ticked off. And that is if we can get our inside sales guys to say no in the first place.

For the customer who claims we don't have the right information on their invoice, I will ask for their employee's phone number and let them know I am calling THEIR employee for them to get the right information and then I will call back to share that information with them so they can pay my invoice. YES, again, a HUGE hassle. It is their employee they can't train correctly so they moved that responsibility to their supplier. NICE.

This all makes my head spin, but I was wondering if I am alone on this one.
Signed, So Not OK in Oklahoma

Dear Not OK,

GET OUTTA MY HEAD!!! This is exactly how I—and many other CMs—feel. It does seem the number of customers who are requiring more than the traditional expectation of getting their invoice in a timely manner with correct pricing is increasing. I am amazed how many now have their own portals that suppliers have to sign up for then submit as directed or not get paid. Who started this ball rolling and how has it become a trend? And if you don't do it, they Just take the business elsewhere and the sales team—who don't have to deal with it—has a fit.

I understand we are all trying to streamline processes and leverage technology to our advantage, but imagine telling anyone YOU purchase from they need to log into your portal and follow the directions or they won't get paid. Oh, and did I mention you have a certain time frame to submit or I won't pay you either?

While I, too, am "intrigued" that this is the new expectation in order to get paid and despite my initial irritation, I understand that nothing stays the same. Technology changes, business needs change, how we do business changes and moves forward, hopefully becoming better and more efficient. So instead of fighting it, I find myself looking for ways to make this new world order work for me. How can I leverage this request and make it work to my company's advantage? Can I develop reporting to track the orders/invoices, catching the issues before they go out, putting a "one rule per account because that is all our system can take" conversation with a customer's AP manager into play, taking the time to develop a relationship with the customer of many needs, but, mostly, challenging myself to embrace change. After all, time and progress wait for no credit manager.