Visits to customers are an essential practice for credit professionals who want to build stronger business relationships with them as well as learn more about how their business operates.
Credit is a relationship business, said Mark Zavras, CICP, director of credit for Sub-Zero Group, Inc. (Scottsdale, AZ). "When I go on customer visits, I try to learn and understand a little bit more about their business while addressing any issues we might have."
Growing connections with customers is an invaluable practice, and visits can address multiple priorities, said Kevin Chandler, CCE, director of financial services for Zachry Group (San Antonio, TX). Chandler visits customers to:
Start your visits with conversations that focus on how that individual is doing—not just business. Create two-way communication. Be prepared to receive questions about yourself and your family, he added. "You want to be a positive ambassador for your company, your industry and yourself."
Ask employees about how the business started or for general background of the company, Zavras said. Do your homework and gather information from your sales department to establish an agenda for the meeting. "Try to meet with the customer's internal AP staff because they generally are the ones who will be working directly with you."
Throughout your visit, pay attention to your customer's operation, Chandler said. "What are the conditions they're working under? What are their challenges?" Take mental notes on what you are seeing, he added. For example, observe whether the parking lot is full of cars. Is there a receptionist at the front desk and live plants in the office? If you return two years later and find major changes, question what happened, he continued.
Ask for a tour of your customer's operation, Zavras said. As the tour unfolds, ask yourself:
"You learn a lot from these visits from a visual perspective, as well as trying to establish or renew the relationship that you have," Zavras said. In addition, these visits ensure your company is establishing relationships with people outside of the sales process, Chandler said. "I'm dealing with the financial people, accounts payable departments, financial directors, VPs of finance and CFOs. Those people traditionally are not part of the sales cycle. However, if you establish relationships with them, you'll cover the waterfront of the order to cash operations for that particular company. This helps differentiate yourself in an industry where it's vital to stand out."
Protocols worldwide are different, Chandler warned. For instance, if you go to Egypt, the first 15 minutes is often spent talking about your trip, your family and your life to build rapport. Learn about the culture before you visit. As travel restrictions ease, more opportunities to renew connections and establish new ones will arise, Chandler said. These relationships will make it easier for you to speak with key personnel when problems surface and vice versa, Zavras noted.
-Bryan Mason, editorial associate