There’s nothing quite like signing a new contract with a client. Your enthusiasm drops, however, when the client buys something but doesn’t pay on time. Some salespeople try at all costs to recover the amount due, often without effect. Others, for fear of losing both the client and their reputation, take no action.

Neither aggression nor submission are desirable in any area of life. In business, such behaviors are considered unprofessional. Aggression towards the client (blackmail, threats, screaming, mockery, etc.) leads to conflict. This course of action also involves imposing your reasoning on others. That means disregarding the client’s feelings, thoughts, needs and opinions (‘I’m okay, you are not okay’). Such behavior damages interpersonal relationships.

The opposite of aggression is submissiveness, that is, putting others’ reasoning above your own in order to avoid conflict (‘You’re okay, I’m not’). Submissive people have low self-esteem, neglect their needs, and don’t believe in their own abilities. People with such attitude often feel fear, insecurity, or regret. Such behavior brings temporary benefits. As a consequence, it opens the door for clients to manipulate salespeople. It’s extremely difficult to demand payment in such situations.

If we don’t recommend either arguing or avoiding the problem, how should you behave in order to convince someone to pay? The opposite of aggression and submission is an assertive attitude, that is, asserting your feelings, thoughts, and emotions without harming others. It’s a firm but subtle behavior. An assertive person has respect for both the interlocutor and himself - they care about their own opinion and others’ opinions. They’re not afraid of confronting the problem, and they usually try to solve it without using aggression. An assertive person sets their limits and is friendly to those around them. The basis for such behavior is awareness of one’s emotions, actions, strengths, and weaknesses. Assertive people take responsibility for their choices and don’t blame others for the consequences of their actions.

How can we be assertive when the client avoids paying? How can you convince them to pay without damaging the relationship?


Description of the situation

Mark is a sales representative at a company that distributes clothing to local boutiques. In his opinion, the most important thing in sales is maintaining good client relations, which just happens to be easy for him. He says that’s due to his personality - he’s a go-getter, he’s direct, he has a great sense of humour, and he easily makes new friends. Many clients think he’s ‘chatty’ and ideally suited to his work. Mark trusts his clients a great deal, which recently contributed to a stressful situation for him.

Some time ago, before meeting a client, he spontaneously visited a new clothing store. He hoped that the owner would be interested in working with him in the future. He presented his offer, which the owner quite unexpectedly accepted. At first, the owner placed a small order and said he’d pay for the goods by bank transfer. Wanting to finish the transaction quickly, Mark trusted the client and agreed to his terms (he postponed signing the contract, as he was in a hurry for the next meeting). Days passed, and the payment for the goods didn’t arrive. Mark tried to reach the client several times, and when he didn’t answer, Mark decided to send him a blunt message expressing his anger:

‘Carl, you’re feckless! I trusted you, and you took advantage of me! If you don’t pay for the goods, I’ll report the matter to the police! I’ll also write you negative reviews on the internet. I give you two days to pay the invoice!’

When Mark found a free moment, he went to the debtor’s shop, but Carl wasn’t there. Clients were being served by Carl’s wife. After a short conversation, it turned out that she was replacing her husband in the shop because he had been taken to hospital suddenly. The woman was happy to see Mark, because she was finally able to settle the outstanding debt. She gave him money for the goods, explaining that she had problems logging into Carl’s email, so she couldn’t find the invoice. Mark felt stupid that he’d sent a rude message instead of explaining the situation personally.



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