How to Negotiate with Delinquent Debtors
Many successful collections view every interaction with a customer as a negotiation. Successful negotiators not only know what they want and need to accomplish before beginning a negotiation. They are comfortable with the negotiation process. They are confident that they have accurate information about the status of the account, and that they understand their employer's expectations and requirements. They are certain they know the limits of their authority to negotiate with the debtor. Becoming a better negotiator involves the skill and patience required to understand your customer's needs, and to find solutions that are mutually beneficial.
Negotiations can be stressful. The customer may feel stress because they feel they are on the defensive when a collector calls for payment. The collector may be stressed because he or she is under pressure to produce specific collection results. The credit manager may be stressed because he or she made a bad decision when the order was released. No one relishes the debt collection process. It is a necessary job. and it is far more than that.
It is necessary that the credit department staff be proficient as collectors and as negotiators. Why? Because customers allocate payments between and among creditors. The better the collector is at payment negotiations, the more money the creditor company will be paid and the sooner the payment(s) will be made. These are some steps that should be taken in negotiations with delinquent debtors:
- Ask what caused the delay in payment.
- Ask how serious the problem is and what the customer is doing to resolve the problem.
- Always ask for immediate payment in full.
- Know what is the least you will accept from the debtor/customer before making the collection call.
- Ask the debtor to acknowledge the debt in writing.
- Request a substantial, immediate payment as an indication of the customer's good faith.
- Propose an aggressive repayment plan, and then ask for the debtor's comments about your proposal.
- If the customer agrees to your proposal, arrange for them to confirm it to you in writing - even if it only an e-mail.
- Do not accept any counter offer immediately. Think it over carefully.
- If the customer's proposal is below your minimum acceptable level, reject it immediately. Doing so sends a message that you are serious about the negotiation process, and are not about to be "low-balled" by the debtor.
- Remember that a delinquent customer's first offer is a "sucker" deal intended for inexperienced or unprepared trade creditors.
- Consider asking the debtor to return inventory to clear part of the debt if and only if the inventory has kept its value, and assuming you believe there is little or no chance that the debtor will file bankruptcy within 90 days of returning the product.
- Ask them to acknowledge the debt in writing.
- Ask your customer to provide security or collateral in exchange for extended time to pay the debt.
- Approach negotiations as equals. If you do not act and speak as an equal, you will be at a serious disadvantage.
- Ask the customer for additional information that would help you to understand the scope and extent of their financial problems.
- If the customer rejects your payment plan, ask that they make a counter offer.
- Effective negotiators do not make immediate counterproposals. Instead, they ask questions about the debtor's proposal to try to fully understand the debtor's offer. They introduce a counter offer for discussion only after they fully understand the debtor's offer and the rationale for it.
Unfortunately, some collectors prefer not to actively engage delinquent debtors. Instead, they tend to ask for the status of payment and then do little more than take notes about payment commitments offered by the customer. The role and the goal of collectors is to negotiate for faster payment. It is the credit manager's responsibility to make certain that every collector is negotiating for the best payment commitment the debtor can offer.
© 2012. Michael C. Dennis. All Rights Reserved. Michael is a business consultant with more than ten years experience helping companies improve their effectiveness in collections.