Intermodal 101:Mutual Commitment Pricing Programs

Intermodal 101: Mutual Commitment Pricing Programs

Rail controlled door to door shipping does have several advantages, as discussed in previous weeks, but it also has its drawbacks.

Many shippers have a transportation budget that gets created once per year.  This budget relies on some level of consistency when estimating pricing.  Utilizing the door to door pricing, which is subject to change on very short notice, does not afford them the opportunity to properly budget.

Shippers must be able to add in transportation charges to the cost of their products.  They are not typically able to change their pricing to their customers every time the railroad decides the balance of equipment in each location is out of kilter.

But perhaps the largest reason an intermodal shipper might want to avoid the transient pricing opportunities of door to door is the ability to lock in capacity at a given price.  Many of the equipment providers who offer the door to door service options will also commit to providing capacity if the shipper will commit to a price for year-round business.  They can execute a plan on capacity because they are able to plan based on the shipper’s commitment.

These mutual commitment programs (MCPs is a generic term as used here) provide the stability needed by the shipper for their long-term planning.  Getting a cheap price from spot-market rates is nice, but it does not provide the consistency needed by most shippers.

When should a shipper look to door to door and when should they look to MCPs?  In our next update, we will discuss how shippers should take advantage of one or both of these rate types.


Training Tuesday:Balancing the Sales Pitch

Training Tuesday: Balancing the Sales Pitch and Silence

Often the most important part of your sales pitch is when you are completely silent. We often rush through all the great benefits of why a customer would buy, without really listening to them tell us what they need and why they might buy from us.

Most people hate mimes. Why do they exist? Are they evil? If a tree falls on a mime does he make a sound? But, silence is the one important sales attribute that mimes demonstrate in abundance. So, on your next sales call, be a mime, at least for part of the call. Silence just may turn out to be the most important piece of the sales puzzle. 

Why is it that so many salespeople think they must tell everything they know before allowing the prospect to talk? Why is it that some think the sales process involves a lot of talking when, in reality, the most successful salespeople do more listening than talking? It’s a fact that the more we listen, the more we can learn about our prospects and the easier we can find their “hot buttons.”  It’s not what we say that makes the sale, it’s what we can get the prospect to say.

Begin With Questions

Think about how many times you launch right into your presentation thinking you know what the prospect wants. Sometime later, often too much later, you find you’re on the wrong track. The prospect has an entirely different need – one you might have uncovered by asking open-ended questions that required more than a yes or no response. Then you could have focused on what the customer wanted instead of what you had to sell. Stop thinking so much about what you are going to say and concentrate on what the prospect is telling you.

It’s a paradox: the more we try to tell the prospect up front, the more barriers we create to the purchase. However, the more we listen to why he or she wants to buy, the more we can tailor our delivery to providing very specific information concerning how our product or service fits his or her needs.

Ask More Questions

The opening question is merely the first in a series of questions that guide the dialogue. It’s an approach as old as the art of miming. If we want to involve someone – the first step in convincing that person – every comment we make should end with a question that solicits more information. The person asking questions is the person controlling the direction of the dialogue. The one who is talking is providing information that helps the other adjust the direction.

After you ask a question, however, don’t be too anxious to fill the silence. Let the silence work in your favor. Too often we answer the question for the prospect by jumping in and providing him with an objection:

“Perhaps you don’t like the price,” or, “Maybe you don’t like the resources it would involve.” 

Beware of the very real temptation to fill in the silence with a product weakness – the one we are most worried about.

Don’t Rush In With Answers

Salespeople have a terrible tendency to try to get their point in as soon as the customer stops talking. Think about how often you find yourself stepping on your prospect’s last words, rushing in right after the prospect has finished making a point.

Salespeople can break themselves of this self-defeating habit by training themselves to wait several seconds after the customer has stopped talking before they begin. That gives you ample time to think about your response and answer in a way that reflects the customer’s concerns.

Get in the habit of paraphrasing what the prospect has said. This will accomplish two things. One, it reduces the likelihood of misunderstanding what was said, and two, it boosts the prospect’s ego. People like to hear their thoughts repeated – it makes them feel like what they said was important.

Learn to Listen

Don’t listen with just with your ears. Listen with your eyes and your entire body. Use body language that shows you are paying more attention, and your listening habits will automatically improve. Lean forward intently, look the prospect in the eye, and focus on the valuable information you are hearing.

And finally, listen for buying signals. You’ll never notice a buying signal from the customer when you’re doing the talking. Sure, we want to talk so the prospect will learn how smart we are. But the prospect only really knows how smart we are when we’ve “listened” to the information he or she wants to share.



Training Tuesday:Asking Questions

Training Tuesday: Asking Questions

Asking good questions can make the difference between making a bad sales call and engaging the prospect in a worthwhile conversation. Here are some important tips to remember:

Use ‘assumptive problem’ open-ended questions
Instead of saying, “Do you have any problems with moving your product now?” say, “How are you handling problems that occur while transporting your product?” If you know your industry well enough, you’re aware of the problems that everyone seems to have. You are asking your prospects to quantify and explain the implications and consequences of those problems.

Use ‘instructional statements’
Don’t ask for information; tell them to give it to you. Use phrases like, “Tell me a little about……….”; “Share with me……….”; “Give me some idea of……….”; “Detail the way………” and, “Let’s talk about how you……….”

Ask yourself questions before you make the call
Think about the call before you make it. Ask, “What do I want them to do as a result of this call?” This will determine your primary objective. Then ask, “What information do I need from them?” This will provide whatever qualifying or information-gathering questions you must ask. Finally, ask, “What do I need them to think and believe in order to take the action I desire?” The answer to this question provides the points you’d ideally like to get across….without actually making the points yourself. They are ideas for them to discover through your questions. The reasoning is that people always believe more of what they say and think than of what you say. One of the surest ways to give yourself a fair chance at making a sale is to ask the right questions.


Intermodal 101:Equipment Availability

Intermodal 101: Equipment Availability

In our last post, we discussed the impact long-term rates had on the railroads as a contributing factor to the creation of rail controlled, door to door product.  But there are other reasons the rails have created this service.

Equipment availability in a given area varies at different times of the year. There may be extreme variation in equipment that result in an area being completely out of equipment for some months and having an excess of equipment in other months. A good example of this would be the empty equipment supply in Los Angeles, CA.  During fall peak season, equipment is very tight out of California due to all the import freight coming in from Asian markets that must deliver in the interior of the country so it is available for the holiday shopping season.  During January and February, there has typically been a lull in shipping from the west coast, so they become over-supplied.

To take advantage of this fluctuation in equipment supply, the rails decided they needed to have more control. To do this, the rails had to begin offering a service that was more transactional in nature, something they could change to reflect more current flows and to have more control over the flow of the boxes.

Rails began taking on the operational requirements that had been the domain of the IMC.  By working with drayage carriers they were able to cobble together a complete door to door offering.  The rates put together are spot market rates, which allows the rails to consider their network and box supply to raise or lower prices based on a day by day rate basis.

There are other contributing factors to the rails deciding to offer door to door service, but rates and equipment supply are obviously at the top of the list.  The rails have come up with a way to maximize their revenue.  But the door to door offering doesn’t address every need, every day.  There are still opportunities for the shipper and the IMC to participate.  Next time, we will go over some of the advantages that can be realized by the shipping community.

Check in on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month for more information on intermodal and how it can benefit you!