Too many trucks chasing too little freight. You hear it every time the market feels soft. But there's always freight to be had, and you don't have to look too far field for it. In fact, the best opportunities for new business come from existing relationships. Consider two: current customers and third-party freight brokers.
It's only natural to look for the big score from a new client. But look at how your existing accounts have evolved over time. Some have expanded with the addition of a lane, a service or more volume, while others have atrophied because the account didn't get the attention it deserved (maybe you were too busy chasing new business). Next time you call on a customer, here are three things you can do to strengthen that relationship:
Listen. Every time a customer talks about his business, it's an opportunity to learn something important. New products, new suppliers, and new customers for him may mean more freight for you.
Don't take quotes for granted. Whether you've been working with an account for three months or three years, your customer deserves a pricing package that's thoughtfully structured and relevant. He'll respect your professionalism, have a deeper understanding of the value you provide, and be less likely to haggle away your margin.
If you visit the same customer over and over, drop in on the company next door, the one with the 35 loading docks. Your customer probably knows his neighbor. Ask for a referral. If your truck is already making deliveries in that area every day, think of the money you'll save picking up next door.
Small load brokers represent a thin slice of the third-party market now. Big players dominate, enjoying the broad, free range of middle ground between what the shipper pays and what the company actually hauling the freight makes.
A lot of truckers resent brokers. They need them to keep their trucks full, but they're doing it at a depressed rate. Yet these third parties can be important sources of business if you manage the relationship well. Here are three rules to remember:
Resist the Friday afternoon temptation to just “get the truck home.” This is a business transaction. Agree on terms ahead of time and get the agreement in writing in order to eliminate memory lapses 30 days down the road. Don't overlook extra charges. Bill and collect what's due to you.
Know your partner. Ask the broker if it's authorized to broker freight. Get signed credit applications from all third parties and don't bother phoning the references they give you; they won't list customers they've stiffed. Instead, call your trucking cronies or suppliers.
Use the Internet to find freight; online load-matching services can be good prospecting tools. When you find the freight you're looking for, shine your best sales shoes and go get a commitment to haul it every week.
Finally, whether you're working with a longtime customer or a load broker you barely know, treat people with respect. When the trucking industry is in a freight-chasing mind-set, prices and principles tend to get thrown under the wheels. If a potential customer doesn't trust you or your company, you're done. Pack your bags and move on to the next guy. Or pack your bags, period. You may not be employed for long.
Mike McCarron is managing partner at the MSM Group of Companies, which specializes in transportation and logistics service between Canada and the United States.