In the April issue, I talked about how to prepare for a sales call — how to get to know the customer and find that “magic button” you can push to make a personal connection. Maybe it's kids. Or travel. Or sports. Something you both feel passionately about (it's probably not freight) that can jump-start a conversation instead of a sales pitch.
Now that you know your customer better, it's time to get on with the deal, right? Not so fast. One of the big mistakes you can make is trying to force a sale when it's not there. It's easy to resort to discounts in order to make the sale happen, a strategy you'll pay for many times over. From that point on, everything else you have to sell — everything that makes your company great — won't matter. To your customer, you're the low-price carrier, the one he calls when he needs a cheap rate.
In my experience, no customer worth having will give you all of his business on the first call. The best relationships start with a series of “little closes” — smaller deals that are more like solid singles and doubles than home runs. This takes the focus off price and the pressure off the customer to make a big commitment. Picking up a load here or a lane there, and doing a great job, keeps the rally alive and sets the table for a big inning when your competitor drops the ball.
TAKE THAT NEXT STEP
Like a batter in baseball, you want to come to the plate with a plan. What are you trying to accomplish on the sales call? Sure, you want the business — every load, every lane. A grand slam. But if you think that's realistic, you're going to have big trouble making this a profitable, sustainable account.
Narrow it down. On every call, your goal should be a commitment to the next step in the sales process. It doesn't have to be about business. Your goal could be to get the prospect to your terminal for a tour.
WHAT ARE SOME NEXT-ACTION OPTIONS?
Can you send more information about a particular service? Ask what format works best — email, regular mail, a paper copy sent via FedEx? Conclude the meeting by agreeing on what you're going to send, when you're going to send it, where to send it, and what you're going to do to follow up.
Your best “next step” may be to simply keep the conversation going. Agree on a follow-up meeting, a lunch, a round of golf — whatever works. Settle on a date and time and then put it on the calendar before you leave.
Your goal may be to pick up a small piece of your customer's business so you can start to prove yourself as a dependable carrier. Does the customer have a plan in place if his primary carrier can't do a job or goes out of business? Is there a lane you can take on? If you agree to send a quote, explain when you'll send it and then book a time to follow up.
In any case, don't leave things to chance. At the very least, you should agree on the date and time of your next meeting before leaving. Remember, it doesn't have to be about business (what's his magic button?). If you walk away with nothing more than a confirmed appointment to get together again, you're still on the base paths. And that's a far better place than on the bench.
Mike McCarron is managing partner at the MSM Group of Companies, which specializes in transportation and logistics service between Canada and the United States.