SalespersonThis was posed to me as a topic recently and it raised my eyebrows after I had my initial knee-jerk reaction of wondering why anyone would want a non-professional involved in the collection process. However, deeper thought about it made me realize the sales force indeed has a role in ensuring delinquent accounts are paid and they should be enlisted as valuable team members in the process. The team is comprised of sales, the credit manager, and the debt collection professional/lawyer.

Debt Collection Impact on Commissions

First let’s consider how the sales team is paid for their good work. Most are on some commission basis and of those, they can either be paid when the sale is made or when the funds are collected. My personal preference is to defer payment of commissions until the funds for the sale are safely in your bank account. Otherwise, you may be put in the unenviable position of needing to charge back the commission for the sake of the delinquency. However, I recognize the basis for payment of commissions may be a factor of the type of industry you are in.

Regardless, the sales team must know there is no “free lunch” involved when it comes to commissions – either they’ll get paid when you get paid or they’ll suffer a chargeback if you don’t get paid. Make certain they understand that policy by signing off on it in your HR policy manual and then if a commission is denied or charged back, make certain a written explanation is provided to them. The take-away here is ensuring your sales team understands they have a vested interest in making sure the receivable is paid. This approach should also help reduce the possibility of sales personnel submitting unqualified orders.

Past Due Collections Process

As soon as an account is aged 30 days beyond terms the sales team should be alerted and asked to contact the customer as a matter of a customer relations gesture – just to make sure everything’s OK. However, they must be cautioned not to overtly ask if there is any complaint. My point is simply to avoid putting the notion in the customer’s temptation path to fabricate a dispute if none exists. Questioning should be casual and professional and then at the end of the conversation “Do you think you can have your payment issued on this so we can clear this on our end?” should be injected. Notes should be taken of the conversation and then given to Accounts Receivable and the credit manager. Bottom line here: Conversations should be documented and shared with the appropriate people in your organization.

But what happens later on after an account escalates to you and then on to your professional legal team? At this point, the sales team must be cautioned to avoid any contact with the customer, regardless of their commission situation. Any contact initiated by the customer must be deferred to the legal team, lest Sales renders Legal’s efforts impotent. Obliviously, a delinquent debtor must be made to understand they can in no way circumvent Legal by appealing to Sales or other managerial staff. Additionally, there are times where if Sales simply says the wrong thing, they may cause your case to become uncollectible. Once that decision to take a case Legal is made, everyone else must keep to a strict “hands-off” policy.

That said, if a case does come to a lawsuit as the only solution, Sales may be called upon for testimony about their conversations and dealings with the customer in moving the case to the point of sale. That testimony is critical to success and I have explored that topic in a downloadable pamphlet, Why Must We Send A Witness.

As it goes with many topics submitted to me, the ultimate answer to the question of whether or not Sales should be involved in the collection of receivables is – “yes”, but it must be a guided approach, supervised, documented and they must stay within the bounds of your HR policy manual.

Dave Greenberg began his career in commercial collections with Dun and Bradstreet in Seattle, Washington. After spending 8 years with D&B, Dave took a position with ABC-Amega Inc. Over a 32-year span, he vastly expanded their international department and became an industry leader in the commercial-international niche sector. He was a Past President of the California Commercial Collectors Association, on the panel of commercial arbitrators for the American Arbitration Association, and the Council of Better Business Bureaus, while also remaining active in the US Air Force Reserve.

He is a co-author for both FCIB and ICTF for their online credentialing courses for international credit management offered through Michigan State University and Thunderbird School of Global Management. Over the decades, Dave traveled the world, providing speaking engagements to credit grantors from Cyprus to Germany to China. He currently serves as Legal Liaison with the Law Offices of Gary A. Bemis.

Dave is also an author of children’s books and, along with his wife, recently moved to California to be closer to their grandson.

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