I must get 10 calls a month from prospective clients who ask me for collection help on a past-due account, and when I ask if they have sent a final demand letter, 75 percent of them will tell me they have not. Now, I do appreciate that everyone thinks of me when they have a collection problem, and I do not like to turn down business, but I will tell you what I tell them.
I first ask: “Has your debtor told you he is not going to pay?” It does not matter why – it could be he does not have the money, he disputes he ever agreed to your services, or someone has stolen your candidate or temp. If that is the case, then I do not recommend sending out a final demand because it would be a waste of time. But these cases are the exception. My best guesstimate is that only about 10 percent of your collection issues will fall in that category. The vast majority of your past-due clients would benefit from a final demand letter from your company before you turn over the account to me for collection.
The fact is that 50 percent of your debtors probably will pay after your final demand letter. Think about that. You could save many thousands of dollars every year in collection fees by simply sending one more letter. But like most things in life, you have to do it the right way. So, let me share with you a few things you can do to help ensure the success of your final demand letter.
All successful final demand letters have five key ingredients that work together and make the letter more effective.
Ingredient one: Your demand letter must have an exact date for payment. Do not say something like “the balance needs to be paid within 10 days of this letter.” This could be confusing; does it need to be paid 10 days from the date of the letter or 10 days from receipt of the letter? Does the payment need to be mailed within 10 days or does it need to be received then? You need to eliminate any confusion, so your letter must be very direct and specific. For example, it should say something like: “I must have payment in my office by or before May 20, 2010.”
Ingredient two: You must state what will happen if you do not receive payment, but on this issue, you should be less direct. The fear of the unknown will work far better than specifics on this issue. I would recommend saying something like, “if payment is not received, then we will move forward with all legal means necessary.” Another reason I recommend that you do not give specifics is that different debtors have different hot buttons. Some debtors are very concerned about their credit; others do not care. Some are scared of being sued; others welcome a lawsuit because it buys them up to 12 months to pay up. They may think: “Good, now I can pay them in full on the courthouse steps when or if this ever goes to trial.”
Ingredient three: Note that you’re sending a copy to me or your attorney. This plays back to the fear of the unknown. Your debtor may think that you have done this to lay the groundwork for any additional action you may consider in the future. It also sets up either me or your attorney if they fail to pay you. We get to borrow from your credibility.
Ingredient four: Send them a U.S. mail certified return receipt request. The cost of a certified letter is about $6.50. But the bang for the buck is huge. A certified letter triggers human fears and emotions – the fear of the unknown and the fear that you may be documenting the issue to bolster your case. You kick in a little embarrassment as well when the debtor has to sign for the letter in front of the letter carrier and his/her employees.
Ingredient five Really is a lack of an ingredient. That is, do not follow up with a phone call or e-mail to see if the letter was received. Do not send another demand letter. The best comparison I can make is what any rookie salesperson learns during sales training 101. When you ask a closing question, SHUT UP. He who talks next will lose every time. Once you have sent your final demand, you have made your closing question, and if the debtor does not buy it, then you need to send in someone else to close the sale – in this case, convincing the debtor it is better to pay the debt than not to.
Keep in mind what I said at the beginning of this article, and that is you will collect 50 percent of the accounts to whom you send a final demand letter. For those who do not pay, the best that you can do is set up either your attorney or me for success. The fact is that you asked your debtor to pay and said clearly what you would do if payment wasn’t made then, when I call, I can leverage your credibility and walk the debtor down the path of events of what will happen if payment isn’t made.
The fact is if you do your job as I outlined, you will need me a lot less in the future. But in the event that your debtor does not pay after your final demand letter, the worst case is that you have set it up so I can be much more successful for you in the collection process.
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