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If your trucking company hasn’t been purchased or doesn’t get purchased by TransForce, will it be in business in five years?  That is the question that came up in a recent discussion with a long time industry colleague.  The response I received was that he didn’t think his company would survive.  I was a bit surprised by the response and asked him for an explanation.  This led to an interesting discussion on what it is going to take to make it in the trucking industry in 2014 and beyond.

We both agreed that while the trucking industry has changed in some ways over the past decade (e.g. more use of technology, better cost controls after the Great Recession, LNG vehicles, greater use of 3PLs as customers), the industry is not that much different from ten years ago.  The slow economic turnaround since 2008 has created a challenging environment and there is little reason to expect a major improvement in the short term.  Rate increases are hard to come by, even with a tight driver situation.  Even more of a concern is the lack of innovation in the industry and the threat that such changes could wreak on so many complacent companies.

The warning signs are there.  As a Canadian, you don’t have to look much further than Nortel and Blackberry to see what can happen to industry leaders that were not able to keep up with changing consumer needs and quality competitors.  At the same time, one can observe what companies such as Amazon and Apple have been able to do to change the paradigm of some long established industries. 

Some of the large trucking industry players are making investments in technology and people.  They are integrating back offices and focusing on achieving economies of scale.  They are thoughtfully expanding their service portfolios and geographic footprints. 

Some of the small players are offering solutions that are very tailored to certain industry verticals and geographic areas.  Companies that are focused on same day delivery, refrigerated intermodal service, pooled LTL service, energy distribution and other emerging capabilities are creating a space for themselves in the industry.

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For the past week I have been reading with great interest the postings on the LinkedIn Sales Management Group.  As of the date of this blog posting, there have been over 40 responses to the question, “What advice would you give a new salesperson”?  The tips offered were so good that I thought I would share a “reader’s digest” version with the followers of this blog. 

As I read these suggestions on a daily basis, I see two sets of users for these tips.  First, new sales reps should study this list and make sure they take action on every item.  Second, sales managers should take this checklist and cross reference it with their current (and future reps) to ensure they maintain a winning team.  Here are my 21 favourite tips for the new rep.

  1. Achieve mastery of the services that you sell.
  2. Achieve mastery in sales skills.
  3. Seek out the top performers on your sales team and learn from them as to how they dress, their work ethic and their communication skills.
  4. Understand how your services compare with those of your competitors.  
  5. Be a great listener so you understand the needs of your prospects.  There is a good reason why we have two ears and one mouth.  Focus on understanding the needs of your customers so you can solve their problems. 
  6. Get to know your prospects before you turn them into customers.
  7. People buy from people, specifically people they like and trust.
  8. Prospect, prospect, prospect.
  9. Learn as much as possible about your customers.  The more due diligence you do up front, the easier it will be to close the sale at the end.
  10. Be persistent and consistent.  Success comes from a strong work ethic.
  11. Be passionate about your company and its services.
  12. Try to sell solutions rather than products or services.  Learn your company’s value proposition and where it fits best.  Sell the value of your solution, not price.
  13. Learn early on to distinguish buyers from non-buyers (i.e. lack of mutual fit/interest/resources, etc.).  This will go a long way towards increasing your income and your employer’s income while reducing customer acquisition costs.
  14. View yourself as a profit centre.  To be successful, time management is critical.  Spend your time, energy and resources on the most viable opportunities in your sales pipeline.
  15. Be ethical in all of your business.  Remember, you are selling your (and your company’s) credibility and integrity.  If you lose your integrity, you have nothing to sell.
  16. Invest in yourself.  Continually upgrade your product and business knowledge and your sales skills.
  17. At the end of the day, when all of the other sales reps have left the office, make one more call to a new prospect.
  18. Acquire a CRM tool and use it faithfully every day.
  19. If you are having difficulty in one or more areas of your sales pipeline, this is telling you that you have a weakness in specific areas (e.g. prospecting, obtaining appointments, asking for the sale). Take action to turn these weaknesses into strengths.
  20. While the sales job can seem very lonely at times, don’t forget sales is a team sport.  Work closely with your manager and the rest of your team (e.g. drivers, dispatchers) to achieve your goals.
  21. Always ask for the sale.  If you don’t ask, you may not get. 

I am sure there are many more tips that can be added to the list.  What advice would you give to new freight transportation sales rep?  I would love to hear from you.

 

This year’s Surface Transportation Summit will take place on October 16, 2013 at the Mississauga Convention Centre.   Please block out this date in your calendar.  We have some great speakers lined up for this year’s event.

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In reviewing the 11th annual shippers choice awards in the current issue of Canadian Transportation & Logistics, I noted with interest that of the hundreds of carriers rated in the survey, only 57 were able to surpass the Benchmark of Excellence.  The magazine presents a number of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and lists the scores of the top ranked carriers, by sector (e.g. LTL, truckload etc.), along with the Benchmark scores.  Unfortunately, too many trucking companies are viewed as commodities and don’t measure up.  Being less positively viewed by shippers can make it difficult to achieve satisfactory pricing levels and as a by-product, satisfactory operating ratios.  The data highlights the importance of customer engagement, of being superior at meeting shippers’ needs.

Many companies bring their leadership and management teams together on a quarterly or annual basis to craft/update their budgets, strategies and business plans for the coming year.  In a recent McKinsey Quarterly report, prepared by consultants Tom French, Laura LaBerge and Paul Magill of McKinsey & Company, the writers suggest that many companies are fragmented in their approach to customer interaction and engagement.  The consultants offer a six step plan for superior customer engagement.

  1. Hold a Customer Engagement Summit

They suggest that the leadership teams in companies should hold a “customer engagement summit”.  They argue that senior managers, from all departments of the company, should look beyond the basic interactions that customers have with various departments.  The meeting should focus on developing strategies to motivate customers to invest in a continuing relationship with the company and its services.  In other words, companies should implement strategies that move shippers along the customer loyalty continuum.

      2. Focus on Three Factors

The writers outline three factors that should be addressed in formulating a customer engagement strategy.  First the company should construct a vision for how it wishes to build relationships with its customers.  Second, the company should craft an integrated and consistent strategy for interacting with customers across its various departments.  For a trucking company, the customer interactions with Sales, Customer Service, Dispatch and Claims should be in harmony.  Third there should be agreement on the components of the company’s customer engagement system that will be undertaken in-house or via its partners (e.g. beyond carriers, carrier partners, pick-up and delivery agents etc.).

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