Hitting the bull’s eye

Making sales numbers in a tough market takes focus

To gauge the difficulty of selling transportation services in today’s economy, I called Todd, the carrier operations manager at a large retail farm and ranch store. Todd reported that since the end of 2008, his company has reduced the number of carriers it uses by more than 50 percent and is no longer entertaining bids from small- to medium-sized carriers or any brokerage firms.

Obviously, it will take more than a sales pitch to do business with Todd. Assuming many shippers have initiated similar policies, will any sales strategy work in this economic climate?

Despite all of the technology that shippers and carriers use to communicate today, trucking remains a relationship business. Even in tough times, customers will continue to ship with those they trust, says former fleet executive Dave Ward, now a partner at Pittsburgh-based ThoughtDrivers, a firm specializing in business performance for the trucking industry. Sales and account representatives are the primary facilitator of customer relationships, and your success depends on how effectively they manage these relationships.

First, leadership teams must carefully develop and clearly communicate expected outcomes, measures and incentives for their sales and account reps, Ward says. Leadership must support those expectations with the information and sales processes necessary for the reps’ success.

“What could be more detrimental to results than a rep assigned total accountability for profitably growing and retaining shippers’ business, and not having the informational tools and home office support to efficiently understand and manage the relationship?” Ward asks.

On the other hand, there is danger in having too much bureaucracy and oversight. “If great account reps are akin to racehorses, then don’t saddle them with an ounce more of detail, paperwork or administrative duties needed to achieve results,” he says.

Second, carriers need to use business intelligence (BI) tools to better understand their customers and the complex relationships carriers have with them. “BI describes powerful software devices that can be used to create competitive advantage when properly fed and used,” he says.

Third, sales reps not only should become advanced users of BI software; they also should be on the front lines continually gathering and storing data and information from their customers and prospects, Ward says. “Sales must accept their responsibility to gather and store customer information that only they are privileged to learn.”

The most important pieces of intelligence that sales reps should gather after each sales call or visit are: What is the remaining sales potential of the account? What objections does the customer have? What must we do to overcome those objections?

By using BI software to analyze and draw conclusions on each account, companies can create transparency in their organization and formulate customized sales strategies.

For example, Ward says, imagine the leverage available to a company that knows the individual relationship realities for its top customers. Furthermore, imagine the competitive advantage the company would have by putting in place short-term objectives and tactics to close on the remaining sales potential of each account.

Finally, management processes and structure are just as important as technology to maximize the effectiveness of sales reps, he says. Having alignment in all three areas gives sales reps the information and support they need to negotiate with customers and prospects to obtain new business.

For example, if an important customer asks a sales rep for lower prices in return for more business, the sales rep would know immediately any possible concessions to request in return, such as allowing shipments to be picked up an hour later in the afternoon, Ward says.
In sum, an empowered sales rep will have useful information about that relationship so he can grow the relationship for the benefit of the carrier.