I am a sales rep for a mid-size lumber company. My credit manager is really nice, but single-minded. Nothing is getting between her and her numbers. She is pleasantly aggressive and dogmatic in her approach with customers. When I try to talk to her about it she just repeats that her numbers are seen by the owner. I am not even sure what that means, as the owner sees my numbers, too. I am losing customers because of this. What can I do?
— Challenging the aggressor
Dear Aggressively Challenged,
Ever hear of the broken windows theory? Short version: visible signs of crime will encourage additional crime. While the metaphor was originally coined to describe inner city crime, it’s been applied to various aspects of business— take care of small issues to avoid larger ones in the future. Metaphor aside, apply this theory to your credit manager situation.
The small issue is your overzealous credit manager, which left unchecked will result in a larger problem of increasingly aggressive (albeit pleasant) behavior that has been validated by allowing it to continue. Your basic credit manager nightmare.
Is this person new to the company? If so, they may be trying to prove they can deliver results. If they aren’t new, how long has this behavior been going on? How long have your windows been broken, my friend? New occurrence or long-standing issue?
Whichever it is, the solution is the same: education. You are going to need to have someone— her boss, coach, or mentor—have a discussion about the numbers and life beyond them, what they actually mean, and their impact. Educate your credit manager to the story behind the numbers for the benefit of the company. This conversation will not be a “one and done.”
Right now, she is operating in a silo. I equate it to a horse with blinders. They are there to keep the horse focused on its task and free of distractions, but it also blocks out what is going on around it. Sound familiar? She is focused on one thing: her numbers. My guess is she doesn’t know another way. If she has experienced many “good kiddie” moments where she received praise for getting the money collected on time, she may now have on blinders that prevent her from seeing what else might be going on, regardless of cost.
Praise feels good. Everyone likes to be appreciated, recognized for a well-done job. What she is not recognizing—and no one is sharing with her—is the impact. Help a credit manager out! If you can’t get her manager or leader to have those coaching moments, invest in this process as well.
Invite her to ride along on a sales call. Conversations that come from spending some windshield time can be impactful and eye opening. She may not know how to develop a relationship with the customer, and as a result she is hitting it hard, albeit nicely. Spend some time seeing if you can help out with the relationship part.
If she isn’t taking your input and the “owner” won’t step up for the tough conversation, plant some flowers to shield the view of those broken windows. Recognize she may not be capable of being a credit manager and is more in line with a collector or customer service role.
I love when my numbers look good, but I understand we are more than our numbers. It takes business skills, a global view, and understanding. Not everyone is cut out for what the role takes, but we will save that bedtime story for another night.
With more than 30 years of credit management experience in the LBM industry, Thea Dudley consults with companies on a wide range of credit and financial management issues. Contact Thea at firstname.lastname@example.org