When I was promoted to my first job as a credit manager it was entirely by accident. I was fresh out of college and had planned to be a writer. Necessity and a small town caused me to take a job as credit analyst at a very small manufacturing company. After two short weeks on the job our CFO fired the current credit manager and told me I was smart, educated and in charge! I took my new role seriously and found a mentor, joined some credit trade organizations and went back to school to learn accounting basics. And so began my journey…
Back in those days credit managers were black and white in their thoughts. Customers were either on credit hold or off. The Sales department was the enemy and a customer’s worth was only valued by their timely payments. I recall taking pride in the fact that I and my team were referred to as the “sales prevention department”. As the years went by and the landscape started to change, so did I. I can’t say that my epiphany happened overnight, but when things finally became clear my career began its upward trajectory.
I learned that the key to success for any credit professional requires four things.
1. Act as if you are an extension of the sales force
It is important to build relationships with your sales teams and their customers. Attend sales meetings and be viewed as a go-to source for customer information. When possible visit their customers with them. Don’t just talk about past due invoices, but thank them for timely payments and wins you’ve shared together. Try and put yourself in the salesperson’s shoes. This does not mean taking unnecessary risks, but it does require building long term relationships with your customers. Get to know them. Understand their business cycles and spend time with the key players. These relationships will pay off tenfold. You will be aware of issues earlier and can address them proactively. Management will view you as a leader and team player.
2. There is always a way to make a sale happen
Sales are the life blood of a growing company. To help generate revenue and growth it is sometimes necessary to take risks. Always approach a new customer or a new sale with the idea that “no” is not an option. Perhaps you can take a small risk and have them pay half in advance? Possibly a letter of credit or stand-by letter of credit would work for the situation? Understand the needs of your business. Is the sale about moving product or about revenue for the period? Perhaps you can ship the product and defer the revenue if your company is in need of lower inventory volumes? My point is that there is always a way to make the sale happen, so be open minded to possibilities. Risk levels do not have to be compromised to achieve the corporate goals.
3. Be a proactive leader within the CFO’s organization
When I look back at my lengthy career I realize that my true career growth came as the result of having the ear of the CFO’s I worked for. I developed a reputation as a leader and someone who always had the company as my priority. My communications were proactive and came with a plan of action rather than complaints.
4. Embrace technology and stay ahead
I saw the importance of technology and process improvements. Seeking out operational improvements to reduce cost, improve efficiency and increase customer satisfaction have always been priorities. Ironically, it is my drive for improved technology and process improvements that lead me to my current role as Director and Practice Lead for an order to cash analytics company. As the subject matter expert I am showing my customer’s how to make operational improvements with a low cost and high ROI. I am teaching them how to gain the ear of their finance leadership and become thought leaders in their organizations. Things have come full circle.
Success as a credit professional is neither difficult nor unattainable. It simply requires vision, leadership and good communication skills.