What we’ve learned over the past three years helping carriers and brokers sell directly to shippers.
What we’ve learned over the past three years helping carriers and brokers sell directly to shippers.
What we’ve learned helping hundreds of freight brokerages sell to shippers
Written By The Marketing Team At FreightPath And Edited By Terrence Wang
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Moving outside your comfort zone and selling your trucking services to distributors and shippers is no easy task - it requires a completely different set of skills than you’re probably used to, and can seem daunting at first. However, it’s an absolutely crucial step for you to grow your trucking company. In this guide, we’ll show you how you can transform your company and reach new heights by selling your trucking services to shippers.
How did we gather the information for this book? Well, we’ve had years of experience here at FreightPath and our prior roles at the enterprise level selling to the biggest distributors and shippers in the United States and Canada.
As our founder and CEO Gwenaël says, “enterprise sales is a whole new beast” - it’s important to revamp your sales, marketing, and customer service to reflect this shift in customer size. We’ll take you through the entire process - from decoding your ICP or ideal customer profile all the way to closing the deal. Ready? Let's get started!
What’s an ICP? An ICP is your Ideal Customer Profile - the archetype, goal, or target for what your customers should look like. This is the first, and most important aspect of selling to any new audience or target market.
This is because understanding your buyer’s likely goals, challenges, and day-to-day responsibilities informs what you can do to help them overcome obstacles and simplify their workflow. In doing this, it also helps you develop empathy, which is a powerful driving force to get your customers to take action.
The more we draw the attention of your target audience to the solutions for their problems, the more high-quality prospective customers, or leads, we will be able to generate.
So, what does an ideal customer profile look like for most shippers? Well, this depends heavily on the size and industry that these shippers play in. Are they a huge enterprise that has hundreds of global warehouses? Or are they a small regional distributor of goods with as few as one warehouse in your local municipality? These are important questions to consider as you investigate where to aim when growing your business.
We found from our experience that as a small to medium size business, it’s easiest to go for the smaller regional shippers - since it's easier to find key decision-makers and reach them.
These shippers are generally defined by a few key characteristics: they have anywhere from 10 to 50 employees, generally have between $50,000 to $5,000,000 in annual revenue, and have 1-2 warehouses and offices. That’s a lot of information! Let’s break that down into what it means for you as a seller and them as a buyer of your services.
Since their management teams are often still small (oftentimes a family business), you’ll find that they often make their purchasing decisions by committee. This committee can consist of the C-Suite (think CEO, chairman, president, owner, etc.), a logistics or operations manager, and possibly a dedicated warehouse manager. Your ability to sell to these companies will therefore depend on you being able to commit a majority of these key decision-makers.
This also means that the sales cycle, or the time it takes to close these deals, will be far longer than you’re probably used to. With multiple decision makers, it will take longer for the budget to be approved and the deal closed.
As a final note about the behaviour of these customers, it’s important to consider their level of technical knowledge. Many of these companies are on the forefront of the freight tech movement, and are tech savvy. This means that they understand the benefits that a tech-enabled transportation service can bring to them, and understands that tech-enabled carriers, even if they are more expensive, are valuable in their ability to improve employee morale, retain key staff, improve customer service, track shipments, increase revenue, and decrease overhead costs.
That’s the ICP! With the knowledge of who your customer is, what their buying behaviours are like, and what their daily pains and obstacles are, you can make a far greater impact in your sales and marketing communications and ultimately close more deals. So, now that we know who we’re selling to, what’s the next step?
A quick side note: it’s important to commit to an ideal customer profile instead of rapidly pivoting, or changing your goal, since sales by its nature can be unpredictable. It often takes two to three months for a predictable sales pattern to develop, and only then should you decide whether or not to pivot your strategy. Keep this in mind when developing your ideal customer profile - do it well the first time and you’ll have a much easier time going forwards!
This is probably one of the first things you thought about when you started building out your ideal customer profile. And you’re not wrong to think about it! This is another pillar of sales and marketing - what platforms and places are my customers already going to, and how can I leverage those to close deals?
You’re probably already familiar with most of the big ones - email, phone, trade conferences, and social media. At this macro lens from 50,000 feet, it’s simple. When you dive in and go into the nitty-gritty though, it gets a little more complicated.
While email, phone, and trade conferences are all pretty good options (in fact, we wrote an entire book on cold calling for truckers! Check it out at our Resources page!), we’ve found that they’re either expensive (e.g. traveling to trade conferences gets pricey) or is fairly industry standard (e.g. how many marketing emails do you get in your inbox?). That leaves one fantastic option outstanding - social media!
You’re probably already on social media - in fact, you’re probably pretty good at using it to promote your business. Not only is the trucking and logistics industry one of the most active on Facebook, the amount of groups, discussions, and specialized pages for trucking companies and truckers is truly amazing. No, I’m talking about LinkedIn - where most of the big shippers are. This is a whole new beast - you’ve got to leverage what you already know about social media and combine it with a whole new group of skills to truly build a presence.
You could easily write a whole book on how to maximize and grow your audience on LinkedIn - it’s truly an art (and a science). However, the basics are pretty simple. All it takes is a little work and a lot of perseverance (sound familiar?). The key things to do here are actually pretty simple: setup a personal and company profile, invite friends and colleagues to like and share your page, and reach out to potential customers by messaging them. Easy, right?
The first step is to set up your personal profile. Make sure that you fill out as many details as possible, including attaching a professional-looking portrait of yourself to use as your profile photo. Remember - this is how your clients will know you! Make sure to use professional language, and to explain your strengths and experience. For your bio, write a paragraph or two detailing yourself - what you do, why you do it, and what your goals are. At FreightPath, we use the following little bio template:
Gwenael works with North American Carriers and 3PLs to bring state-of-the-art technology and automate the full shipping cycle, bringing automation, advanced visibility and collaboration to their entire logistic network.
Gwenael and the FreightPath team have built a solution that connects North American transportation companies regardless of their technological maturity. This brings our clients with a unified experience to deal with all their transportation operations. As a result, we help de-risk supply chain operations, increase profitability, promote your brand and help you develop stickier business with the partners you serve.
Translating this into a bio for a trucking company, it could look something like the following:
Anthony works to bring exceptional trucking services to Distributors and Shippers in the Northwest United States.
Anthony and his team at Anthony’s Trucking Company have built an all-inclusive service that handles FTL and LTL transportation for a variety of industrial applications. We utilize state-of-the-art technology to de-risk supply chain operations, provide advanced visibility to our clients, and deliver your goods faster and more securely.
Contact us for a free consultation at [email]
Not only does this bio introduce you (in this case, “Anthony”), it also introduces your company, your goals, and your value proposition for any visitors. This will help establish your legitimacy and make your profile more powerful in the sea of other transportation and trucking companies.
Building a company page is a similar process - make sure to be clear, concise, and informative with your statements, keeping in mind to include any value propositions your company specializes in. For example, one of our customers, Tretan Inc, specializes in providing mining-specific transportation services. This is where you can highlight your “special sauce” and really provide exceptional value to your clients.
With the tech-savviness of many of the shippers and distributors on LinkedIn, we like to highlight the advantages that carriers can provide with tech-enabled transportation from a TMS like FreightPath. Not only are you providing a fast and affordable trucking service at that point, you’re providing a digital experience where your customers can track their shipments in real time. This can be a major selling point for shippers who want to de-risk their projects and monitor their shipments on a 24/7 basis.
While your competitors might have to provide tracking details manually through email or a clunky and expensive ELD system, you can gain the upper hand by highlighting the ease of use that a system like FreightPath entails. For example, we’ve seen customers achieve great success by highlighting the ability to use real-time tracking to lower risk and increase planning efficiency.
Using our tech-enabled trucking services, you will be able to track your shipments in real time. Not only is this incredible for high level management, it lets you plan your receiving and operations and lowers the risks of late or delayed shipments. All this is done through our easy to use customer portal, and can be accessed 24/7, as long as you have an internet connection.
This type of messaging can be used in posts that anyone can see, or in specific messaging to individual clients. LinkedIn is a powerful sales tool that you can leverage to reach bigger customers, more clients, and ultimately more business. The best part is, it’s free to sign up!
Of course, reaching your customers is only half of the process. The other half involves closing the deal, as well as supporting your new clients. This is where you’ll need to take the time to develop a formal sales process. One of the most common mistakes that people make is trying to rush the sales process by moving a prospective customer to the consultation far too quickly.
This is a flawed way of thinking - your goal should not be to close the deal at the early stages of the sales process, but instead to move the deal through the sales process systematically.
So, what is a sales process? A sales process is just a repeatable series of steps that allows a salesperson to take a prospect from a lead to a closed deal. The key word here is repeatable, because that’s what will make your sales process predictable and scalable.
This process also works very efficiently - the goal of the process is to simply move prospects from one gradual step to the next. For each step, it’s important to define a single sales objective (SSO) for that particular stage. These objectives should be specific and should be decided upon before you jump into calls or conversations with your clients.
A quick note before we continue: not every prospect will move to the next stage—and not every prospect should. Deals that successfully move to the later stages of the sales process should have a higher likelihood of closing. As your company grows, your salespeople (including you) will be spending more time on these deals, making it extremely important that they don’t waste time spinning their wheels on opportunities that aren’t actually real.
At FreightPath, we recommend that your sales process be no more than seven stages, even though each step might itself span several activities. More than seven steps will be too complex and will become hard to track in a CRM or customer relationship management tool. Got it? Onto the sales process!
The single sales objective (SSO) of this stage is to build a pipeline (i.e. list) of customers that fit our ideal customer profile (ICP)
The first step of a winning sales process is to define and find the right targets - and we’ve already done that! To summarize, we’ll take the right leads, utilizing inbound and outbound marketing techniques (we talked about email marketing, cold calling, and LinkedIn messaging to target shippers and distributors) and focus on specific industries, companies, and then potential decision-makers within those companies.
For example, this could mean the COOs and logistics managers at shippers in North America that have 10-100 employees and have significant over-the-road transportation needs (e.g. a furniture distributor or reseller). We can get the information for these leads online by looking for their email and phone number on their LinkedIn profile (and of course messaging them on LinkedIn).
The SSO of this stage is to determine whether or not this prospect is a qualified opportunity by having one of more phone calls. Oftentimes we will get 75% of what we need to learn on the first discovery call, but sometimes we may need a few followup questions to learn all the information we need.
The key thing to ask for in the discovery is BANT - budget, authority, need, and timeline. This means that we’re making sure that our prospects have the budget to afford your services, the authority to make buying decisions for trucking services, a real need for your services, and an appropriate timeline. Without all four - the full BANT - we shouldn’t close the sale. Why not? Even if we’re paid and all goes well during the sales process, the customers without a full BANT are the most likely to feel unhappy about their purchase or feel disappointed, because they either didn’t need, or shouldn’t have purchased your services. As we always say at FreightPath - selling to the wrong customers will kill your business!
To close off the discovery call, you should think about two things. One: did I thoroughly identify all of my prospect’s pain points? Two: did I agree upon and schedule concrete next steps? As long as you remember to complete both of these steps, you’re well on your way towards great discovery calls.
If you’re feeling particularly good about your sales ability and want to take your discovery calls to the next level, you can use the CONSULT methodology to conduct your discoveries. This is a methodology that explores even more than BANT - your goal here becomes to know your customer better than they know themselves!
By using the CONSULT Method it focuses on the buyer and helps you to propose a future state that is better with your services. The CONSULT method breaks down the qualification stage into its seven main elements:
It’s also important to ask questions the right way. The fact is that salespeople are used to asking their prospects elegant, deep layered questions to get the information they need to qualify and understand where the current situation of the buyer is. The problem is, all too often, the questions are not open-ended. Even worse, they come across as self-serving rather than consultative. Even worse still, most salespeople try to sell customers before they have a comprehensive understanding of their current state. However, we can mitigate this by using an elegantly phrased, open-ended question during the discovery call. Here’s how you can put CONSULT into practice.
Your goal with the current process is to understand what your prospect’s current process and workflow look like - do they look like your ICP? Are they an “ideal customer”? Make sure you start the conversation off with some open-ended questions. This could include questions that look like the following:
Now that we know more about the current processes that our prospects have, we’ve set them up to start discussing what their frustrations are. Remember that when there’s no pain, there’s no sale! Once you’ve identified the challenges they’re experiencing with their current transportation solution, you can start to shift the conversation to how your company’s services can help solve them. Some sample questions that you can use here:
The discussion about your prospect’s current challenges should then flow nicely into the needs and requirements of their future state - you’ll want to know in-depth what’s important to them in evaluating potential solutions. Questions here can include the following:
What’s the difference between requirements and success criteria? This is something that we get asked a lot - needs is the evaluation process, whereas success criteria is the actual future state. The two are closely linked, but not the same.
The goal here with success criteria is to truly understand what success looks like to your customers. Step into your buyer’s shoes and think from their perspective: what’s the goal for them? Where do they want to be once they’ve bought your service? You can use questions like the following to find this:
Now that you’ve asked thoroughly about the success and needs evaluation goals, you’ll want to get a thorough look at what your customer’s evaluation process looks like - this will let you optimize the way you deliver your service to best accommodate their evaluation methods.
For example, if they generally test implementation on certain shipping lanes as a pilot project, you’ll want to include that in your project proposal. Some questions you can use to find this information can look like the following:
We’re now at one of the most important discovery steps: finding out which people are involved in making the decision on purchasing your service. Don’t overthink this - just use one simple question: “does this person write the cheques?”
Make sure that the person that does make the final decision and writes the cheques does indeed make it to future discussions! If you don’t have the primary decision-maker onboard, you’ll never close the sale. Here’s a few ways you can get this information:
Timelines And Priority
Finally, we’re at the end of the discovery. However, before you ask for next steps and get going to your next sales call or delivery, remember to ask for timelines!
The goal here is to determine when your customer wants to make the decision and how much of a priority it is for their business. Remember, it doesn’t matter how “interested” a customer might be if there’s no urgency to purchase.
And with the end of the timeline evaluation, the discovery call is complete - congratulations! Don’t celebrate for too long though - the sale is far from closed. Even if the prospect looks very interested (and many times, they will), it doesn’t mean there’s urgency or that the key decision-makers are onboard. That’s why you should always schedule a consultation that’s separate from the discovery - don’t try to do everything in one call!
The SSO for this stage is to demonstrate your project solution to all decision-makers and confirm their interest. The key here is to focus on the pains and needs we uncovered during the discovery. Remember not to oversell or focus on aspects of your service that don’t relate to the client’s project. For example, even if your trucking company offers LTL and FTL services, don’t talk about both if the project only requires LTL freight.
Remember to keep your consultation simple and brief, and interact with your audience often. This is your stage to drive home your company’s value propositions and show off your service, but it’s also the time to fill in any gaps you might have missed during the qualification (i.e. discovery). Remember that you’re striving for a wow factor - you’ve got to be memorable with your pitch.
If any objections come up from the decision-makers, don’t worry. It’s a good sign that they’re paying attention to your pitch. The key thing is to have an idea of what they could be expecting - great objection handling is the key to a great consultation.
Remember at the end of the consultation to ask for their business! You should remember to “soft” close the deal throughout this part of the sales process by asking questions like “based on this consultation, do you think our services will be a good fit for your team?” or “do you think our services will solve some of the challenges you’re currently having with X?”.
Most salespeople dread objections. However objections are a natural response of the buyer in the buying process. Handling objections in the right way, with the right forethought and practice is key to getting the sale over the finish line. At FreightPath, we think objections are great for a few key reasons:
To become a pro at handling any objection, focus on doing it in five separate steps: prepare, listen, clarify, respond, and confirm. Let’s go over each of these in detail.
Great objection handling begins with great preparation. It is important that you anticipate objections and roleplay how you will talk through them.
Far too often, reps are responding to a particular objection for the first time on a real customer call. We have found it’s better to be over-prepared rather than underprepared.
This might seem obvious, but it is not as easy as it sounds. Customers are going to bring up questions and objections. Be sure to listen to the entire objection. And when we say listen, really do listen! Don’t just think about how you plan to respond - care about what your customer is saying.
You need to be clear on exactly what the objection is; don’t assume you automatically understand the objection. To do this, be sure to ask a clarifying question of your own. This is helpful not just to better understand, but also to buy you some time on your response.
Once you fully understand the objection, then you can respond. Of course, in an ideal situation your preparation is so good that you already have a comfortable, thought-out response. However, if this is an objection you are answering for the first time, be sure to think it through before giving a response that falls flat.
One important thing to note: If you don’t know the answer, or just aren’t sure how to respond, just say you don’t know and tell the customer that you’ll follow up. Don’t make something up in order to respond. Not only does this make you look like the stereotypical sleazy salesperson, it turns customers off and puts you in a lose-lose situation. You’ve promised more than you can deliver, and you won’t get compensated for it!
The final step of handling the objection: be sure to confirm that your response satisfies the customer’s objection or question. If they are not satisfied, propose a next step such as another call, a case study, or a separate meeting with the individual to dive into it further. In either case, remember to not let an objection derail your consultation!
A key part of preparing to handle objections is knowing what to expect.They include price, priority, service offerings, and details about your company and how to approach them. In this section we’ll take you through some examples and help you become an objections expert.
Clarify: What is it about the price that seems high to you?
Prospect’s answer: [X]
Sample response: Understood (always make the buyer feel heard). Based on our initial discussions, your team expressed challenges with [go back to pain points] that results in [negative consequences]. We solve these issues, allowing your team to achieve [your value propositions]. If you determine that this is the right service for your team, we will figure out a way to make the economics work. Other than price, is the service a good solution for you and your team? (we want to find out what the real objection is)
Alternative technique: anchor the price to something higher priced. For example, anchoring the price to the cost of service from one a brokerage or a larger carrier. When customers begin to think of your service in the context of overall industry prices, they can justify paying a much higher price.
An important note: it’s important to acknowledge what you’re hearing from the customer, but remember: No matter what they say here, your goal is to remind the customer why they are buying your product.
Clarify: What are you looking to achieve with [service offering that they want]? What’s more important: [X service offering] or the [Y service offerings that you can provide] you mentioned earlier?
Prospect’s answer: [X]
Sample response: While we don’t have that specific service offering, we approach the problem by doing [XYZ], so I think our service can deliver what you’re looking for.
Clarify: What are your concerns with working with us? Have you worked with smaller companies in the past? What was that experience like for you?
Prospect’s answer: [X]
Sample response: I can assure you that we’re going to be around for a while. We’re building our business for the long term, and we work with [big names]. That said, we have business continuity plans in place, and in any scenario, we’d ensure that customers like you are taken care of.
Clarify: Whose budget would this project be funded by?
Prospect’s answer: [X]
Sample response: Based on our initial discussions, your team shared that [ABC] were high priorities this quarter. Our service makes [ABC] achievable. Are those no longer the priorities for the team?
Clarify: is who’s been around the longest the most important factor in making this decision?
Prospect’s answer: [X]
Sample response: Blackberry has been around longer than the iPhone - does that mean blackberry is better for your current cell phone needs? My understanding, in previous conversations, is that you are going to go with the company that fulfills your needs the most.
The SSO for this stage is to find and reach a win-win agreement with your customer - get the contract signed! This means to prepare and figure out where the deal breakers are (remember to not over-promise or overcommit), where you can be flexible and negotiate, and other key details about the deal. Remember to also think from your buyer’s perspective, and think about what they’re considering too.
Remember to always set up a call or face-to-face meeting for negotiation and submitting your proposal - you never want to do it over email! You’ll never reach the mutual understanding required for a win-win deal that way.
As you move the deal to a close during this process, you should also try to create compelling events to drive the other side to close. Create a sense of urgency. Sign today and you’ll give them a special offer. Create an incentive for them to sign now rather than later (remember still to not overpromise!).
Remember that even after you’ve shaken hands (even digitally), the work isn’t done. You still have to support your new client, and provide the exceptional service you just promised. The calls don’t end either - you should continually check in with your new partners the same way you would check up on a friend.
Selling to a new segment like the bigger distributors and shippers can be an intimidating experience - it’s not an easy task and it requires courage, perseverance, and a whole new set of skills from what you’ve probably grown accustomed to.
With this guide though, we hope that you have what it takes to get started on that journey - we’re beyond excited to see what you’ll achieve selling to a whole new customer segment!
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