how to get clients to pay

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how to get clients to pay

how to get clients to payThis is one way to get clients to pay when you really need them to pay. In October one year, one of our Sydney clients, John Smith, contacted me. He was in trouble. He had a very successful coffee bean importing business. Only a few customers. About 25. But … each customer spent between $15,000 to over $100,000 with him. Every month!! John’s business turned over around 10–15 Million Dollars a year. The debt we’re talking about here was $90,000.

The trouble was, ABC was a very valuable customer. At $90,000 a month, or over one million dollars each year from this customer alone, John naturally didn’t want to upset them but he did want to, no, he had to get this customer to pay up very quickly. He had to, because his supplier, an overseas company, insisted that their bill to John was paid on time. If not, they’d simply cut off his supply. (John’s monthly bill from them at this time was around one million dollars)

* ABC was an international company and didn’t have to buy the raw coffee beans from John. They could get them elsewhere if John became ‘heavy’ with them when chasing his monthly account up for payment.
* The Accounts Payable person, Mary, at ABC wasn’t really concerned about paying John promptly – she had a “do what I can, when I can and if I feel like it” attitude.
* John simply didn’t believe her. (On previous occasions when ABC had been late, John had to almost beg Mary to pay his account so that he could meet his own, much larger, monthly commitment. She had paid each time before, just in time, but was now becoming impervious to his pleas.)

When John called me, his thoughts were to phone Mary and start begging again. If that didn’t work, to phone ABC’s owner. But he knew that he wouldn’t be comfortable speaking to the owner as the owner wasn’t an easy guy to talk to. He just wasn’t a very approachable guy. It’d probably develop into an argument. After all, John was genuinely upset that he was in this position. It wasn’t his fault. And besides that, John didn’t feel that ‘begging’ was the right way to go about it. It wasn’t. So I’ll tell you what we did do in a moment.

The truth is, John didn’t really know what to do. It was a Thursday and he had to have the money – the full $90,000 by Tuesday morning. He was desperate.

The Usual Option
Most people in this situation believe that a show of strength is the only option to take. A “heavy”, don’t you mess with me phone call to someone or
– a threatening letter from the boss,
– a Debt Collection Company or
– a Lawyer.

A personal visit wasn’t an option in this case (with ABC being in Melbourne and John in Sydney) and, anyway, that’d be a very confrontational approach. It would be out of the ordinary and, as such, embarrassing for all around. So … what would YOU do? Think about it for a moment. Once you know what you would do, read on.

We got John to go for the “Can you help me” approach. He wrote to the Owner of ABC. An email. A letter would take too long and a fax would be too ‘open’ for such a sensitive matter. (Anyone in ABC’s office might be able to read it – not desirable). This is the email that was sent on Thursday afternoon. It collected the $90,000 in 3 days!!

Dear (first name of ABC’s owner),
I’m sending you this email as our overseas suppliers recently reminded us that payment of their account must be made by the due date.
You are a very valuable customer of ours so I wouldn’t normally bother you about this but this reminder could have a very negative impact on
* our own cashflow and, ultimately,
* (if they insist on those terms) on product supply
if your account to us ever falls well over our trading terms.
At present, your latest account to us for $90,000 has fallen some xx days past the due date for payment and I’m unclear when we may expect settlement.
Can you help? I’d greatly appreciate any assistance at all.
Thanks, John Smith.

At 11.00am on Monday morning, John called me. A Direct Deposit of $90,000 had been made to his bank account that morning. Pleased? You betcha!
* No phone calls were made.
* Nothing else had to be done.
* The “Can you help me” approach had worked.
It normally does in these situations.

So, WHY did it work?
This is why it worked so well. Please note the principles involved.
1: It’s friendly and chatty and written by the owner of the creditors business to the owner of the debtors business,
2: It pumps up the ABC bosses ego,
3: It blames someone else (the overseas supplier) for having to chase the account,
4: It contains a very veiled implication (not a threat), and,
5: It doesn’t ask for payment anywhere – it asks for help.

So, Dear Reader, as Mary Poppins once sang ….
A lark! A spree! It’s very clear to see – that a
Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

By | 2017-09-20T10:38:56+00:00 August 24th, 2011|case studies|7 Comments

About the Author:

Have you ever wondered why a client does business with you and then ignores your invoice like they had no intention of paying it in the first place or they treat you like their own personal line of credit, leaving YOU dangling, waiting months for their payment? Unfortunately this situation is all too common and can even be puzzling for the most experienced business owner. If you’ve ever had to handle outstanding accounts or you are just so over non-payers, then we can help. Real-world skills, solutions, tips & strategies to get more accounts paid on time, and, most importantly, how to maintain customer goodwill while keeping YOUR cash flow in the positive. You will find the blog posts helpful but to get real results, contact us by using any of the forms on this site, by email or by phone. I’ve been involved in the management of accounts for over 30 years, heard every excuse in the book, can spot a non-payer at 20 paces. Finance Companies in the 70s (systematic, tough), professional firms in the 80s (no systems, too gentle) and, since then, just about every other sort of business you can think of. I’ve written books on the topic, spoken all over the place about it and the blog in this website is my way of “giving back”. I hope you find it helpful.


  1. Peter Holmes August 24, 2011 at 8:37 am - Reply

    My company is a major Australian plant and machinery auctioneer selling on auction day on consignment from someone who is often a court appointed inspolvency firm. Auction conditions require the payment to us by mid day the day after the auction.

    Sometimes the auction is at third party premises (& often we have only a few days use of the site after auction). OR, if at our own premises, another batch of goods is due in and we need the space!

    Occasionally a buyer will not have paid by mid day and to keep on (our) schedule we ‘phone the buyer to get him to pay (& collect). However, we don’t ask for/demand payment (so that collection can happen) we ENQUIRE – “what arrangements have you made for collection of the goods”? The obvious answer from the buyer is “I’ve not paid yet, but I’ll be in at XXX time to pay & collect”. In this manner we have achieved both payment AND removal from the site!

    If the buyer gives a less than suitable answer we are then able to apply a bit more pressure and then ask for the buyer’s HELP because we a) need the space & b) need to make our payment to the court in a very few days!

    Works a treat!
    Peter Holmes = DMS Davlan (Auctioneers & Valuers)Perth Western Australia & interstate.

  2. Anonymous August 24, 2011 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Michael, Sooooo true. It’s called “buy-in” where I work. You have to get the customer (internal or external) to want to be part of the solution and that doesn’t happen by putting them on the defensive. As soon as you let them know that they are the best possible source for the solution, they want to help you, especially if it is peer to peer communication.

  3. michael todd August 25, 2011 at 7:27 am - Reply

    Several people have come back with a question along these lines ….
    Q: “Any tips for small business owners like myself where we are service providers so cannot fall back on blaming a supplier?”
    A: Try this post from the blog – – same principle applies. 🙂

  4. Anonymous January 16, 2013 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    I have my assistant to write/email asking the debtor to tell when and to what account they have paid the invoice. [The copy of the invoice is sent as an attachment]. This gets results.

  5. Anonymous January 17, 2013 at 1:17 am - Reply

    This is on time for me.Great job.

  6. Anonymous January 18, 2013 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    Thanks for confirming my belief in using a pleasant, information gathering effort.

    Ask the questions first and bring up ‘consequences’ only IF there is no response.

  7. Anonymous January 22, 2013 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    It is so true, and works to me most of the time. I always tell the customers that paying their accounts would be great help for us as payments and receipts are important parts of the supply chain. That is, you pay us then I can pay them. In return, they supply us, then I can supply you. Even when things turned worse, customers seemed more understandable why we withheld their orders and became more co-operated.

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