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B2B businesses need a cohesive strategy for collections

May 9, 2024

If your company operates in the business-to-business (B2B) marketplace, you’ve probably experienced some collections challenges.

Every company, whether buyer or seller, is trying to manage cash flow. That means customers will often push off payments as long as possible to retain those dollars. Meanwhile, your business, as the seller, needs the money to meet its revenue and cash flow goals.

There’s no easy solution, of course. But you can “grease the wheels,” so to speak, by strategically devising and continuously improving a methodical collections process.

Payment terms

Getting paid promptly depends, at least in part, on the terms you set forth and customers agree to. Be sure payment terms for your company’s products or services are written in unambiguous language that includes specific due dates, payment methods and late-payment penalties. To the extent feasible, use contracts or signed payment agreements to ensure both parties understand their obligations.

If your business operates on a project basis, try to negotiate installment payments for completion of specific stages of the work. This approach may not be necessary for shorter jobs but, for longer ones, it helps assure you’ll at least receive some revenue if the customer runs into financial trouble or a dispute arises before completion.

Effective invoicing

Invoice promptly and accurately. This may seem obvious, but invoicing procedures can break down gradually over time, or even suddenly, when a company gets very busy or goes through staffing changes. Monitor relevant metrics such as days sales outstanding, revenue leakage and average days delinquent. Act immediately when collections fall below acceptable levels.

Also, don’t let the essential details of invoicing fall by the wayside. Ensure that you’re sending invoices to the right people at the right addresses. If a customer requires a purchase order number to issue payment, be sure that this requirement is built into your invoicing process.

In today’s world of high-tech money transfers, offering multiple payment options on invoices is critical as well. Customers may pay more quickly when they can use their optimal method.

Reminders and follow-ups

Once you’ve sent an invoice, your company should have a step-by-step process for reminders and follow-ups. A simple “Thank you for your business!” email sent before payment is due can reiterate the due date with customers. From there, automated reminders sent via accounts receivable (AR) or customer relationship management (CRM) software can be helpful.

If you notice that a payment is late, contact the customer right away. Again, you can now automate this to begin with texts or emails or even prerecorded phone calls. Should the problem persist, the next logical step would be a call from someone on your staff. If that person is unable to get a satisfactory response, elevate the matter to a manager.

These steps should all occur according to an established timeline. What’s more, each step should be documented in your AR or CRM software so you can measure and improve your company’s late-payment collections efforts.

Typically, the absolute last step is to send an outstanding invoice to a collection agency or a law firm that handles debt collection. However, doing so will usually lower the amount you’re able to collect and typically ends the business relationship. So, it’s best viewed as a last resort.

What works for you

If your B2B company has been operational for a while, you no doubt know that collections aren’t always as simple as “send invoice, receive payment.” It often involves interpersonal relationships with customers and being able to exercise flexibility at times and assertiveness at others. For help analyzing your collections process, identifying key metrics and measuring all the costs involved, contact us.

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