Be Persistent and Follow Up

Persistence is crucial in many walks of life. Whether you are in sales, operations, accounting, or other business specialties, you learn the value and importance of following up. Your mode of operation has to be: Relentlessly pursue open issues until you reach a resolution.

In the area of sales, I once had a mentor advise me to come up with ways, in dealing with potential customers, to “force the go or no-go decision.” Get the prospect to commit rather than stringing you out perpetually.

In my day-to-day work as an accountant I find myself devoting large amounts of time to analyzing, in various contexts, what information is missing that should be included or what information is included that should be omitted. For example, customers do not need to know our cost information, so I must make sure to omit such information when I send documents such as invoices to the customers. (In other words, I want to send invoices with the price our customer expects to pay us rather than with the cost that we pay to our vendor, which we hope is significantly less. The way information and documents come through an accounting system, it can be all too easy for an inattentive accountant to make painful mistakes like sending cost information to end customers — thus, double-checking details is crucial).

On the other hand, customers can have exacting requirements regarding the type of information that must be included on invoices and other documents; omissions can create costly charge backs and make our cash cycle inefficient if the customer delays payment due to incomplete invoices.

Often, in the process of analyzing information and resolving discrepancies, I find myself asking questions of other parties and relying on the information provided by suppliers, coworkers, and others. I make a habit of working issues and pursuing resolution until I hit a dead-end (meaning, a point at which additional info is required and I must reach out to a vendor, customer, coworker, etc.).

Sometimes I have to await responses, so the number of “open” items can pile up dramatically. But rather than letting the “open” items sit until I receive an answer, I must continue to follow up — cordially, professionally, and certainly persistently. If I just assume that the other party will at some point provide the info requested, I might let an issue sit for quite some time and forget to finally reach a resolution. Persistence in this environment requires attention to detail and organization so that I can remember routine follow-up. At the end of the day, resolving the problem is my responsibility, and even though it is tempting to blame someone else, it is not possible to legitimately pass responsibility to another person who did not follow up. This is why I must be relentless to pursue resolution in matters subject to my oversight.

Another area of accounting in which persistence is vital is the accounts receivable function. Often, customers wait to pay until someone simply follows up. The customer might have the money, but either the customer’s system is poorly managed or the customer figures it can conserve cash by paying only those who follow up. Sometimes an email or phone call is all it takes to convert receivables into cash in the bank. This is an easy way to provide quick working capital and reduce the need for borrowing or risking the company’s credit standing by slow paying vendors.