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Commentary: The Business

Jeff Unger: We Need To Talk…

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Payment due? Don’t make Jeff Unger come looking for you!

IF YOU’RE A FAN of Looney Tunes, you know the cartoon with Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf.  
Together, they head to work each morning, greeting each other pleasantly – “Good morning, Sam”, “Good morning Ralph”. But, after clocking in, they instantly become adversaries. As Sam watches over the flock, Ralph tries to eat it.  
This is the same scene played everyday in the collection departments across our industry. Our sales reps write the orders and become friends with their customers. However, when a bill is overdue, it’s up the collection department to walk a very thin line – getting paid, while not upsetting the customer and losing an account.  

Let’s be honest, we’ve all received calls from collections departments for overdue bills. And almost always, our reaction is to get upset at the caller.  

Why? I understand mistakes occur in daily company activity, but let’s face facts, friends, if you’re paying bills slowly because of an economic problem or just because you’re a horrible bookkeeper, you know you’re slow.  

Then why is it that so many retailers get upset with a collections call? Says Larry Unger: “It’s human nature to become agitated when confronted with a money issue”. Larry has been in the collection business for 20 years (working for credit-card and vehicle-lending companies, and yep, he’s my brother). He’s heard it all.  
“People hate to be reminded of their problems and that’s what we do when we remind them that they’re behind on their payments,” he says. 

As for the collector’s perspective, says Larry, “He who calls first usually gets paid first.” 
How many times has a vendor called to collect a bill and told you: “Hey, it’s not personal, it’s business”?  
That’s BS! It is personal. Sales are a relationship business. We can’t sell without creating relationships with our customers. But when it comes to collections, sometimes good relationships can go bad as quickly as the one between Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf.  

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Does anyone know the one word that’s key to defusing confrontations between retailers and vendors? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?  

That’s right – it’s communications.  

For the retailer, that means being proactive. Take the lead in your accounts payable. If you’re having a slow month, call the vendor before he calls you. There isn’t a vendor I know who would not appreciate a retailer making that call. I’d give a retailer the world if only they call my company first. (OK, maybe not the world. But I’d certainly work with them to help solve their problems.)  

If you find a vendor who’s not willing to help you after you’ve been proactive, find a new vendor. After all, what can a vendor do if you’re proactively trying to handle an overdue bill? Nothing! They can either work with you or ask you to return their inventory and close your account. And, believe me, no vendor wants to close an account unless absolutely necessary. 

But the key is communication. Don’t expect that warm, fuzzy feeling if you run from the phone when it rings, don’t return calls, and then, when you’re finally cornered, tell lies about your aunt, uncle, cousin, or mother’s dog dying.  
Vendors and retailers can’t exist without each other. Communicat-ing honestly can help us avoid becoming Sam and Ralph.

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