Building and managing relationships is one of the most important skills that a credit manager can possess. You need to manage relationships with your boss, coworkers, customers, and clients. But one of the most important — and most difficult — is the credit manager’s relationship with the sales team.
Credit people can feel like they’re always at loggerheads with sales, and vice versa. To get some perspective on this, I spoke with Jackie Hoelting, CCE — a credit manager with over 20 years of experience and former board member of the National Association of Credit Management (NACM).
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The biggest issue between credit and sales
According to Jackie, the tension between credit and sales teams is one of the biggest challenges in construction, or any industry.
“I frequently hear complaints from my sales friends that their credit manager isn’t listening, or doesn’t understand the big picture,” Jackie says.
This is a complaint that I’ve also heard more than once over my 16 years in credit. It has been driven into sales departments that credit isn’t on their side, and that they ruin sales for them. Jackie and I both believe this misunderstanding is a result of poor communication from the credit manager.
6 tried-and-tested rules to build the credit-sales relationship
Over the years, Jackie and I have observed that some credit managers — especially less-seasoned ones — are somewhat ego-driven in their decision-making process. However, simple small differences in mindset and communication style can make a big difference.
“As a credit manager, I have built many treasured and lasting relationships with sales teams at different companies for which I have worked by following a few tried-and-tested, self-imposed ‘rules’,” Jackie commented.
1. Show the salesperson respect
Do not talk down to your salespeople. It serves absolutely no purpose and only causes further stress. No matter what the salesperson may have said or done in their past, they did their job at least well enough to get a customer in the door. Your goal is to help them make the sale while minimizing your company’s risk.
“I was once in a sales position and I experienced it firsthand,” Jackie added. “I have never forgotten the experience, and often refer to that long-ago time when trying to work with the sales department.”
This goes with everyone you work with, from your CEO to your customer’s janitor. Respect is a two-way street.
2. Remove your ego
You can’t always be right.
“If you think you are always right, I promise you are not, and you are missing a lot of learning opportunities,” Jackie said.
Even when you are right, pointing this out will not do anything to improve your relationship. (Just ask my husband!) Approach sales conversations from a position of curiosity rather than debate. “What am I going to learn today?” is a helpful mantra.
Credit managers can actually learn a lot from the sales team.
3. Ask probing and intelligent questions
Ask in-depth and helpful questions whenever possible, such as “What is the profit margin on this deal?” or “Why do you believe so strongly that this will be a successful customer for our company?”
These insights are helpful for everyone — because you are on the same team, you know!
“I cannot tell you how many times I looked at a credit application and thought ‘this person has no experience in our industry,’” says Jackie.
“It takes a simple call to the salesperson or the customer to ask if they have industry experience to find out ‘Oh! You have 20 other stores?’ You have to dig to find treasure!”
Learn more: How to prequalify a General Contractor
4. Show them you’re on the same team
Make sure you say and demonstrate that you understand that you are both on the same team. You’re not enemies or at odds, you’re both on the same side: that of your company. Everyone wants to make the sale happen — and get paid for it.
Do this by showing them you’re thinking big picture: What does the potential customer do for your company in the long run? Are they going to be a net gain for your business — or a net drain?
“I found that once I had a meeting with the sales department and not only told, but showed them how I am on their side, a lightbulb goes on,” Jackie says, “and relationships mend and move forward,” Jackie says.
5. Do what you say you will do
If you say you’re going to do something, follow through. Keeping even the most simple of promises helps build and foster trust — even when the salesperson doesn’t like the outcome.
“If you truly are unable to approve a sale, please, do yourself a favor and explain to the salesperson why, without divulging any private information,” says Jackie. “Or you can offer to talk to the customer yourself.”
6. Don’t be black-and-white
Credit is gray. You must analyze more than numbers, and you must take some credit risks to grow sales — and everyone wants that, right?
Credit applications only show a black-and-white picture of the customer. Visit your customers. Dig into industry group references. Ask for financial statements and personal guarantees. Talk with potential customers about their past, current situation, and future plans. These will show you a true picture, and help you make better decisions.
Build a trusting relationship with your sales team
rules suggestions are not only important, but adjusting your communication strategy is necessary if you want to build a trusting relationship with your sales team. A good relationship will benefit both sides — and your company’s bottom line.