Rx for January Syndrome

Doing your homework will open more doors to freight

Every January I see a surge of suppliers who want to set up meetings. It seems like every Dale Carnegie comes back from the holidays committed to working harder and being a better version of last year’s model. It’s the same reason the company fridge is full of salads the first month of the year. I call it the “January Syndrome.”

So far this year, more sales reps have lost ground with me than gained it. Several months ago, my gig changed to the non-asset side of the business. You’d expect that even a rookie sales rep would have done his homework about that before sending an email to see how many temporary drivers I need. Yet the number of sales “professionals” who reach out to me as though I’m still running trucks is staggering. These irritating calls made me appreciate how much B2B sales is changing and how slowly our industry is adapting. Here are some of the fundamental shifts I’m seeing in the game of “fill the trailer”:

Researching not prospecting. Information about prospects comes from multiple sources. You can find timely, accurate background on every company and its decision-makers, customers, competitors, and markets. Information like this used to take months or even years to pry out of people. Starting cold with open-ended questions about your prospect’s business will kill your credibility along with any chance of getting a pound of freight. Do the research and develop a game plan long before you reach out. Have you set up Google alerts to follow your customers, or checked out their LinkedIn and Facebook pages? This is Sales 101 today.

You’re not needed anymore. We deal with more RFPs than ever. One reason is that decision-makers generally know how to solve their own problems and don’t need help from the sales rep until it’s time to figure out what all that scribble on their white board is going to cost. If you’re not careful, your sales force will turn into nothing more than a flock of messenger pigeons dropping off smelly pricing all day.

They’ve heard it before. In contemporary sales, the old “Ben Franklin close” no longer flies. You can’t rely on a deft tongue and a slick brochure. In fact, selling in today’s world is about not selling. Customers want business partners with attributes they can’t get from a computer. Consistently demonstrate that you are honest, hardworking, and knowledgeable. Deals will naturally evolve.

Not a one-man show. If you’re in sales, I doubt you’ve ever won an Employee of the Month mug. There’s tension between sales and operations that many chalk up to arrogance. To me, it stems from the reality that sales reps can “earn” three times the coin of everyone else. Today, it takes a collaborative effort to secure, manage, and grow business with customers. Outdated compensation models that focus on individuals are no longer effective and will only de-motivate your team.

Lunches are cool. Twenty years ago one of the easiest ways to take a business relationship to a new level was a night on the town with all the fixings. Now, customers would rather have the grand you spent for the limo, dinner, and tickets taken off their monthly freight spend. Besides, they don’t have the time to be out at night—and many even frown at the invitation.

Try a business lunch instead. It’s a great way to spend time with a client. Just don’t order the salad. There’s still plenty of that in the fridge.

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