I’m currently spending time with an extremely diligent coaching student. Having never received any formal sales training, she reacts to new information and skills by using them immediately.
This is a lot of fun. Each week she arrives with great success stories and questions to ask. And she’s also using her new skills to improve her outcomes with accounts receivable, creating amazing results. This has inspired me to share some top tips for bravely collecting overdue invoices.
What sales skills are useful when calling about accounts receivable?
Which ones can help you recoup funds you were ready to write off?
- Money is not emotional. It’s numbers. It’s logical. When you have a conversation about money that is owed, you’re talking about facts. It is often your nervousness or dread that creates the emotion and contributes to procrastinating on making these calls. Keep the conversation logical. Stick to the facts. As my coaching client has experienced, you’ll see results very quickly.
- Conversations are much more effective than emails. Calling about accounts receivable allows you to learn more about the client’s situation, ask questions and move toward immediate results. Emails can go back and forth, and back and forth, extending the amount of time bills are overdue. And there’s a risk of being misinterpreted, resulting in emotion entering the conversation and getting out of control. Over the years, clients have shared dozens of stories with me of accounts receivable emails escalating into tremendous anger only to be clarified and resolved with one phone call.
- Tone of voice matters. Because this is not an emotional situation, you want to keep your voice pleasant and your tone neutral. If you start sounding annoyed or impatient or sarcastic, the payment delays will continue.
- Ask open-ended questions. You want to focus on gathering information. Sometimes there is a valid reason why payment is overdue and if this is the case, you want to hear about it. Try this: “Hi so-and-so. This is Mary Jane calling from The Phone Lady. I’m calling about invoice #XT67894 dated November 10, 2023. When can we expect payment?” There’s no emotion here. It is clear that the invoice is 90+ days overdue, and the open-ended question is a polite request for facts, not excuses.
- You’ll get excuses. My coaching client prepares ahead of time for her most common response which is, “Oh, I never got it.” And that’s certainly possible. Depending on a company’s processes, email invoices can go astray in cluttered inboxes. Being prepared, my client is able to say: “No problem, I’m sending a copy right now. I’ll stay on the line while you check and confirm it’s arrived.” This is followed by a discussion about payment. If possible an immediate payment with a credit card is ideal. Otherwise, you want to agree on when and how the payment will be received.
- Follow up, follow up, follow up. This has been my coaching client’s big win. Previously she’d never mentioned her next step. Since she’s started saying things like, “Okay, if your cheque isn’t here by Friday I’ll call again.” or “A credit card payment is perfect and I’ll call back this afternoon so we can make that happen.” She’s not only been able to finalize invoices that were 90 days overdue, she secured payment on an invoice that had been outstanding for over a year! This is the truth of the American proverb, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
- Embrace omnichannel communication. It’s always possible that you won’t reach anyone on the phone. And that they won’t respond to your voicemail. That’s okay. Don’t take it personally and don’t visualize that they are trying to avoid you. Understand that we no longer know who is checking what and when. Do they check their voicemail regularly? Are they reading all their emails? Are they responding to texts? In order to reach people today, we have to connect in multiple ways. Start with a phone call. If they don’t answer, leave a voicemail with your contact information and tell them, “I’ll also send you an email and a text, in case that’s easier for you.”
- Keep your word. Back to my client’s success, when she says she’ll call them back on a certain day or at a certain time, she does. She proves with her actions that she’s not going away and that this outstanding invoice will be paid.
What are your best tips for getting results on outstanding invoices? It would be great to add to this list. Share your ideas and experiences in the comment section below.