Have you ever visited one of your customers? If the answer is “No” you’re not using one of the most valuable tools a Credit Executive has. There is no doubt that distance and travel expense are mitigating factors for many but if you have a local customer base, or a few local customers from a more distant customer list, you should take the opportunity to visit.
What is there to be learned from a customer visit? Customer visits can give you a view of your customer that you never had before. The obvious first benefit is that you put a face with a name. Rarely do people appear as they sound on the phone and a new impression of the customer is almost always immediately derived from the first in-person encounter. A visit, usually in the company of the Salesperson, provides an up-close view of the customer and their business.
A customer visit can serve many purposes and an agenda should be determined in advance. This is especially true if you don’t normally visit customers because it’s a good bet your customer is asking “Why are they coming here?” If you’re visiting a slow paying customer to try to find out the reasons for the delinquencies, Sales should understand that there will be sensitive conversations taking place. It might be best if Sales sits in on the introductory part of the visit and any tour of the facilities but not the financial aspect. The customer is the person who may make the decision for you.
If the purpose of the visit is to meet a customer who is a growth target of Sales, the Salesperson is someone who can guide the conversation. This is not only your opportunity to help grow your company’s business, it’s a chance to make an ally of your Salesperson as they see how a professional Credit Executive understands all facets of the business and helps to increase volume while protecting one of your company’s largest assets.
For those customers who are part of a large organization, visiting Accounts Payable may be the way to learn their system, have them understand yours and resolve unpaid items and deductions.
And how many of you have considered visiting a prompt-paying customer to thank them for their business and their quick payments? Probably not many. But if you want to make a positive impression on a customer, that’s a good way to do it. How often does Credit, by any communications means, thank customers for paying promptly? To do it in person is something the customer won’t soon forget.
Here are some questions a visit can answer:
- Is your customer busy?
- Are the phones ringing?
- Are there trucks loading at the docks to ship out their customers’ orders?
- Are there empty desks of former employees who haven’t been replaced in cost-cutting measures?
- Are the warehouse shelves bare except for some old, dead inventory?
- Are the warehouse shelves too full, an indication of too much or slow moving inventory?
- Does your customer look you in the eye when you discuss finances?
These are a few of the possible subjects a visit can answer. For privately held customers who won’t share their financials with you long distance, this may be the opportunity to view them in private. Taking a customer out to lunch can take the formality out of the meeting and offer the opportunity for you to learn more about them and their business.
For those of you who attend trade shows or NACM Industry Trade Group meetings (still the single best source of customer information anywhere), tie in customer visits. If you’re already traveling for your company, add an extra day in the field, it will pay for itself over the course of time. We’ve made numerous credit decisions that have been based, at least in part, on the information gained during customer visits. Those decisions have both helped avoid bad debts and increase sales.
Customer visits are an excellent means of improving payments, growing sales and building relationships.
BY: Dave Feigenbaum, CCE