Entrepreneur Payment terms: re-examining customer-supplier relationships

Payment terms: re-examining customer-supplier relationships

100 billion euros of public money will be committed, until 2022, as part of the recovery plan. The objectives are the modernization of the industry, the development of its competitiveness, the relocation… If it goes in the right direction, the plan leaves aside an essential point, which cannot be solved by the punctual injection of public money : that of trust.

Since 2019, disputes concerning abusive breaches of contract and late payments have however exploded. More than half of invoices are paid late in France! These disputes most often affect SMEs in relation to large groups and have disastrous effects.

Thus, late payments increase the probability of failure by a third and the resulting failures are the cause of 50,000 job losses each year. When 1 day of payment in advance of invoices represents 1 billion euros, the recovery plan should focus on building a vision of a common and confident future within the industrial sectors in France.

Foster collaborative ecosystems

The value of the French ecosystem lies in the strength of the links between its stakeholders and in the ability of SMEs to be able to trust their customers and suppliers. Trust involves being able to rely on your business partner to act honestly, even when there is an excuse for not doing so. It is on this basis that it is possible to invest, to hire, to develop.

In 2011, the Retailleau report pointed out that France lacked a fabric of trust promoting collaborative ecosystems and regulating bad behavior in public procurement and large companies. Since then, incentives have been put in place. A business mediation service is organized by Bercy to find solutions to conflict situations.

A charter and then a Responsible Supplier Relations and Purchasing label have been created. In twelve years, the charter has been signed by more than 2,200 companies and major public services, and 67 have been certified. But among these, there are only 10 CAC 40 companies, 1 ministry, 1 region and 1 department.

Increased penalties for bad payers

Coercive measures are also deployed. Bad payers are covered by the Sapin II law, which enshrines the principle of “name and shame”. Their names are published by the DGCCRF as well as the amounts of the fines imposed on them. Since January 2022, if they are among the 3,000 companies best rated by the Banque de France, their rating has been downgraded.

The state must go further. By systematically engaging in relationships of trust with its suppliers and those of the companies in which it is a shareholder and director. By enforcing the law and by auditing and sanctioning more harshly. By promoting on a large scale the logic of common interests rather than particular ones. By applying the theory of common goods to recovery plans for the sectors supported through associated and shared governance.

The most important work concerns “living together at work”. It requires an entrepreneurial posture of humility and empathy, and respect for the word given. This will not happen without re-examining our business models and customer-supplier relationships. All the regulation of interpersonal relations is then at stake through trust, a real “pivot” of the business world, rather than the monitoring of deviant behaviors produced by distrust. We must stop aiming for the least bad for everyone and dare to seek the best for everyone!

Arnaud Lacan is a professor at the Kedge school and a researcher at the AMSE (Aix-Marseille school of economics).
Romaric Servajean-Hilst is a professor at the Kedge school and a researcher at i3-CRG (Ecole polytechnique).

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