“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Understand your industry
The B2B logistic and transportation services market is commoditized.
The service being sold is a commodity.
In our case, handling and transporting a shipper's goods from point A to B can be accomplished by any Joe Blow with a truck, or broker with a telephone.
Therefore, there are many competitors (trucking companies, brokers) out there, they are easy to find, and because of this prices will be driven down in order to stay competitive (just look at any load board).
The pre-internet days of simply calling up shippers saying you have a truck in their area and asking for their business are long gone. So why does 90% of the industry still use this outdated method? It might be because they don’t know any better.
Understand your Shippers
So now that you know you are selling a commodity, how do you improve your chances of growing your book of business by closing shippers?
you first have to understand the shippers you want to sell to (it’s amazing how little research we do into this, and you wonder why the shippers we cold call act so rude):
- What are their roles and responsibilities?
- What do they do from the moment they wake up at every hour of the day?
- What are their pressures?
- Who are they responsible for?
- What messes them up?
- What causes them problems?
- What do they hate doing?
- How do they get evaluated by their company for raises, for bonuses?
- Have you done enough research on their company, their product and their offerings?
- Do you know what their best seller is and the best way for it to be shipped?
Yes, I know what you’re thinking this might take some time to figure out. I suggest you do it anyway. The value you will get from understanding the person you are trying to sell is invaluable.
Pro Tip: Shippers are Price-sensitive, they have a laundry list of things to do and people to manage and because of this they have formed behavioural patterns to protect the time they have in their day, they get consistent pressure to deliver products from management under budget, on time, and without a hitch.
Now that we have a good understanding of our industry and our shippers that we sell our services to, we need to proactively look for ways to add value to their day with our services.
Understand your company: What value you bring beyond your service
We want to answer the WIFS (What's in It For Shippers) why should they spend their precious time with you? In what ways are you different from the 20 other transportation companies that call them every day? In what ways do you add value to their day?
- Highest Safety Rating, Well maintained trucks, and well mannered drivers. WIFS: ensuring their product will get where it's supposed to go without a hitch
- Unbelievable customer service. WIFS: save time, peace of mind
- Expert knowledge in the industry. WFIS: peace of mind, low risk
- Has your company worked with big names in the industry/ or worked with your shippers competitors? WFIS: Can be trusted
- Many years in the industry with a great reputation. WFIS: Can be trusted
- Technology (we live in 2020 so do your shippers the bar has been raised): Customer portal, real time- track and trace transparency, speed quoting, documentation (upload download any time) WIFS: Save Time, save money, peace of mind, deliver an Uber/Amazon like experience, better customer service.
Understand how to Sell your Value not your service
The worst thing you’re doing right now that is killing your sales, that 90% of transportation professionals do, is cold call a shipper and immediately get into a price conversation.
Why? Because you are stripping your service down to what everyone else is offering and the only tangible thing on the table that can be negotiated upon is price.
Instead ask insightful questions and tailor your offering to what the shippers actual pains are (answer the questions in “understanding the shipper”). This will work to add layers of value to your offering.
In a commodity industry you want to have a multidimensional offering with many value added services layered on top. Why? So that your service becomes viewed as more valuable and thus worth more. But also so that you can bring more tangible concepts of value for discussion to the table other than price.
You want to sell the sizzle not the steak.
If a shipper has simple needs then anyone can solve his/her needs. Take the time to understand the shippers needs and make your offering multidimensional.
When discussing the shipper’s needs, keep it multifaceted!
As discussed in “understanding the shipper” shippers have a lot going on in their day, so they rely on mental shortcuts, and reactance/rejection scripts to make complex decisions and get through their day with as little disruption as possible.
Shippers take mental shortcuts when they oversimplify their needs to speed up the decision-making process so they can move forward with as little bottleneck as possible.
Likewise shippers have reactance/rejection scripts or patterns in behaviour that safeguard them from having someone of little value to them- like say a broker only wanting to talk price- waste all their time.
Hence the “Who is this? What do you want? Fu#ck off!” Cold call we’ve all experienced.
To be honest I can’t blame them for this behaviour- what would you do if you are constantly getting bombarded with the same brokers and carriers pitching the same thing every day, you’d probably develop something similar.
So shippers simplify the complex because it takes less effort. These mental shortcuts bypass your value added layers and go directly to price.
“ For example, a shipper may say all you guys do is drive my product up the road, I am not paying extra for that” or “you guys are a dime a dozen give me your best price or I’ll go with someone else”. When shippers value-strip, it’s easier to focus the conversation on price.
If you receive any of those objections. Don’t take it personal they don’t know you and are just reacting the way they have been conditioned. What you should understand however is that you didn’t work to create enough value to be treated any differently. I strongly recommend you go back and fill out the questions in understanding the shipper and understanding your company.
Pro Tip: If I have imparted anything to you so far it’s that as a transportation professional that sells on value, remind the shipper of the complexity of their needs, the pains they’ve experienced in the past, and the importance of your offerings compared to the competition. When that happens, you are forcing them to think in more ways than price, more multidimensional and shippers are more open to your value-added solution.
Widen the conversation beyond price. As discussed, keeping it just on the price is the fastest way to get nickel and dimed. Keep the conversation focused on value. Keep it complex and multidimensional so you can focus the conversation on the different areas you add value to your shippers day. Here are three tips to help you broaden the conversation.
Ask impactful, big picture and operational questions
Generic questions further commoditize your service. Instead, ask bigger questions to expand the shipper’s mind and get them to view you differently.
Probe into the shipper’s critical needs and concerns.
Ask questions to engage the shipper and get him to see things in a different light, or discuss the full scope of the shipper’s needs operationally.
Be curious, operate from a place of genuinely wanting to help.
Discuss the impact their decision has on other functional areas of the business:
- What are the mission-critical issues that happen on the loading dock?
- Describe the full scope of this project and your concerns.
- How does not having your “ insert value proposition” impact operations?
- Have shippers ever let you down before?
- What problems do you wish you didn’t have to deal with when shipping your product?
- What would you do if you had to “insert your company's value proposition” at your company? How would this help?
- Based on what you’ve told me it seems like you would benefit tremendously from our service of “insert value proposition”, would you agree?
Be relatable, authentic and pleasant to deal with - your company depends on it.
It is estimated by the Harvard Business Review that 25% of the reason why people buy is because of the seller. That means you could have the same service and company in the same industry but a different sales person and your sales would go up by 25%! Shippers buy you.
How can we attract shippers with our personal brand of selling?
Tell a compelling story: Storytelling is critical for any sales person but even more critical in this industry where deep relationships built over many years are the norm rather than the exception when it comes to moving freight for shippers. They have to trust you. They have to like you.
Storytelling is more than sharing examples, it’s also sharing the emotional impact in your examples. Humans don’t just use reason and logic to make decisions, they actually buy on emotion. So, shippers need more than facts to make decisions. When you share examples, also share the emotional impact your solution had on the shipper.
These stories need to be authentic but don’t need to be expansive.
One time I bonded with a shipper over telling a story about how I brokered a truck of mangos across the Mexican border, and I came to find out that the truck had been detained because of cocaine smuggled between the mangos. For the next 3 weeks the shipper and I made Breaking Bad jokes back and forth to each other. This resulted in a new $100,000 freight spend account.
Sell a complete package
Shippers want to go with a trustworthy company, they want peace of mind and an uber or amazon like tracking and customer service experience. Courteous, timely service. If these are your value propositions as well.
Well then you’ve just transformed your commoditized service into a unique offering packaged with your value-added additions.
Your solution is an intermixed package of the value associated with your service, your company, and you (who has the relationship). Explain what value the shipper would forego if they decided to buy your product/service from another provider?
Simplifying your shipper’s needs leads to simple, generic solutions. Simple solutions encourage the shipper to focus on price and view you the same as the 15 other guys with a truck that tried to sell their service.
It gives them permission to treat you like someone wasting their time and that's when you get those rejection/reactance scripts like: I don’t need your service, we are good thank you or the unceremonious FU#!k you I’m busy.
shippers who are aware of the complexity of their needs are more open to your value-added solution. So make them aware.
Putting it all together
The purpose of any commoditized services business is to create value. The more value you create, the more different you will be viewed and the more business you will earn and more profit you will make.
Price plays a minor role if the value is great enough. Be multidimensional, multi-layered with your offering.
You need to know your unique value-adds and ask questions that build value for the shipper (knowing what they go through in their day)
Tell Stories, Ask big picture questions, and package your offering to create more value for yourself when selling to shippers
Real World Examples
If your shipper is experiencing a lack of visibility in their freight and, you find out through your questions, that this is causing their loading dock to be backed up, unprepared and resulting in longer loading times. Then if you offer them a piece of technology like a customer portal with real time track and trace; then you can actually charge more for your service since your offering is greater than the competitions. Then you are adding value.
If you find out through your questions that shippers are tired of going with larger companies they are too impersonal and treat them like a number. Then you tell a story accentuating that as a small trucking company/boutique broker, you have a huge advantage over big businesses because you actually know your customers. Your value add can be simply that you can interact with them in a personal way that big businesses cannot. It’s that intimate knowledge that can keep your business top of mind and give you an edge. Remember 25% of a sale isn’t the product or company. ITS YOU.
If you find out that a shipper only goes with large organizations because they are the most trustworthy and safe. He then asks you to send over your package because he is busy (reactance script/rejection script) Then if you offer marketing materials explaining who you’ve worked with and the certificates and badges you’ve collected, or showcasing your brand new and painted trucks. Then you are adding value by being the kind of company your shipper has said they want to deal with.
If the shipper is in the agriculture industry and is weary because many carriers don’t know how to handle reefer. You tell him how your company places extra effort on the need to understand how to ship specific foods, and pay special attention to gas emotions, what foods can go together and can’t, what to run the refer at, how to plan each pick up so that the nose and tail of the truck are evenly distributed when dealing with a heavy fruit and a light vegetable. Again a shipper who cares about how their food is delivered will pay a premium to not have to worry about this headache and go with you because you are an expert. Then you are adding value.