7 Steps For Marketing Agencies to Handle Customers Who Delay Payment (Including Script)


The basis of this advice came from the negotiating book “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss. In the book Chris recants personal experiences of hostage negotiations and bank robberies where he personally negotiated to save lives, money, etc.


Of all the tips and examples he gave throughout the book I thought the topic of getting paid would hit home for a lot of Marketing Agencies or Small businesses in general so I wanted to share his advice.


Before I get into the script there is one common misconception about negotiating that I was previously subscribed to and Chris thoroughly debunks. This is the idea that you need people to say “YES” as early and as often as possible.


Voss makes the argument that there are actually three different kinds of Yes and the one you’re likely getting he calls “counterfeit”. What you really want to hear is “that’s right”. These are the so called “magic words” of negotiating. It’s also a good sign that you are deploying some empathy which is a fundamental theme of Chris’ strategy.


Late Payment Script

In this example, your client missed their payment deadline and they haven’t replied to your last email.

Step 1: Send a brief “no” orientated email.

Chris talks about how no can at times be more powerful than yes, especially when it means avoiding an unwanted label.

eg. “Have you given up on settling this amicably?”


Step 2: In your next interaction make a statement that leaves only a “that’s right” response to form a dynamic of agreement.

By the way, starting with “it seems” is very intentional, you’re avoiding an accusation, yet still being direct.

eg. “It seems you feel my bill is not justified?”


Step 3: Next add what Voss calls a “calibrated question”.

These are questions that start with either “how or “what”. The goal being to get your client to reveal their pattern of thinking.

eg. “How does this bill violate our agreement?”


Step 4: Remove any unspoken barriers.

You want to give them an opportunity to voice any objections they may have.

eg. “Are you saying I mislead you” or “Are you saying we didn’t do as you asked?”

Step 5: If you are faced with any other option than full payment respond with another calibrated question.

eg. “How am I supposed to accept that?”


Step 6: If none of this gets you closer to full payment try another label.

eg. “it seems like you are the type of person that prides herself on the way she does business, rightfully so.”

Pause here as long as possible.


 Step 7: Following Voss’ suggestion add a final label.

eg. “Do you want to be known as someone who doesn’t fulfill agreements?”


He claims that with his clients who have followed this script word for word AND have stayed rational they have over a 90% success rate. It hopefully goes without saying but if you do find yourself under verbal attack do not respond with impulse. Keep falling back to the calibrated questions starting with how or what. Lastly, one of Chris’ fundamental points is that the person listening is in control of the conversation, so resist the urge to word vomit.


I’d highly recommend diving further into this book to learn other practical negotiation strategies and scripts for situations like buying a car or how to get a free upgrade on a flight.