Training Tuesday:Fixing Sales Talk Mistakes

“Open mouth, insert foot.” It’s a saying used to describe what we feel happens when we say something that we should not have said because it could potentially be interpreted as inappropriate, hurtful, embarrassing for either party, or just awkward. In sales, you can occasionally say something and immediately want to take it back.

There are a few reasons this typically happens:

* We’re so excited and nervous to be talking to the customer that we get on a roll and can’t seem to stop ourselves

* We get defensive when we hear an objection – about our company, office, or service, and we rush to give an explanation

* We become uncomfortable or impatient with the silence after we ask a question, and we start speaking without waiting for an answer

* We say something we know didn’t sound right, but instead of stopping to regroup, we stumble on to the next potentially bad comment

The problem with this is that we can never fully take back those words. More importantly, we can’t predict a customer’s reaction to them.

What can you do when you’ve said something you wish you hadn’t?

  1. Offer a sincere apology. Give a genuine “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” followed by specifics of what you said or did.
  2. Use humor. With the right person and context, self-deprecating humor is helpful and almost always works.

Admitting that you did or said something wrong can be powerful in building a new customer relationship. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. Your customer knows that. Sometimes demonstrating the ability to admit your mistakes, and trying to remedy them, makes a customer want to work with you even more. It lets them know that you’ll be honest with them going forward.

We all make mistakes. Very few are fatal. Apologize when you make them. Learn from them and make it your goal to make fewer mistakes and more sales.


Intermodal 101:Why a 3PL?

With both ramp to ramp and door to door options available, there are many approaches that a shipper should take to maximize his freight spend whilst still meeting his customer needs.  But understanding that there are multiple approaches to employ is not the same as executing against that plan.  Shippers work hard to master their core competency; they want to brew the best beer, sell the most fashionable clothing, manufacture the fastest equipment, etc., they don’t have time or capacity to spend on transportation.

What they need is a great relationship with a Third-Party Logistics provider (3PL) to help them navigate the options available to them.  Working with the 3PL and forming a relationship based on trust and understanding will enable the shipper to meet his two goals, satisfying his customer and doing so at a reasonable cost.

The 3PL will work with the shipper to get a full understanding of the items that are most important to the shipper.  For some, the fastest possible transit time is the most crucial factor to consider when shipping, for others it is shipping as cheaply as possible while still other may want consistent transit times at reasonable pricing.  The 3PL will help determine which the shipper is looking for and will work to put a plan in place to meet those needs.

What steps will the 3PL take to meet the shipper’s needs?  We will discuss that in our next update.


Training Tuesday:Sales Listening

Sales listening is patient listening. Don’t anxiously wait for an opportunity to jump in and solve all the customer’s problems right away. After I ask a question I shut up and allow my prospect to speak. Sometimes I wait for several minutes. Most salespeople can’t stand a pause in the conversation. Take a deep breath, relax, and listen. Some prospects want to be listened to more than they want their problems solved. People love to talk about themselves, their jobs, and their companies; encourage them to do so.

Transportation salespeople who have been in our industry for a long time should re-visit how they qualify and maintain accounts. It’s easy to start believing that you have all the answers, but you never know what changes may have happened since your last call.

Never waste the prospect’s time. There will come a point when the customer is ready to move past the small talk, and it’s usually quicker than you might think. Everyone is short on time these days and most traffic managers, purchasing managers, and other decision-makers will appreciate you getting to the point. You can do this tactfully without jeopardizing the emerging relationship.

First, give the prospect a reason he or she should answer your questions and ask for permission to proceed. The prospect always expects to answer questions and will give this permission. When you move on to the questions, make sure you are actively listening and not just mentally preparing for the next thing you are going to say.

Take notes! Taking notes can be one of your most powerful sales tools as it will reinforce the reason you made the appointment in the first place: to learn more about the prospect and their company’s needs.

Taking notes also helps you listen. There’s something about holding an empty notepad in front of you that makes you pay better attention to what is being said and makes it more difficult to miss important points.

Taking notes puts you in a position of authority. It encourages the prospect to open up and generally sends strong positive signals to them. It says, “I’m listening to you and I won’t forget.”

Be sure to pay attention to the fine line between asking questions and making the prospect feel that they are being cross-examined. Be natural and at ease to create a comfortable two-way conversation.

Listen, Learn, and Earn.


Training Tuesday:Mastering the Sales Presentation

Increase your odds of closing more sales by practicing your presentations. After you’ve made sales presentations, they become practice sessions for presentations you’ll give in the future.

Collect the ideas you’d like to suggest or selling points you want to make; then organize them according to your purpose and the needs of your prospect. Give your words greater credibility by backing them up with data or testimonials. Keep your words as simples and direct as possible; use active, not passive language; and vary your tone, volume, and pitch to keep the prospect interested. Illustrate your words with examples and interesting stories to add color to your presentation.

Lastly, get to know everything you can about the transportation business – both SunteckTTS and the competition. When you demonstrate how much you know about your industry you’ll gain the respect of your customers and prospects. When people believe they are dealing with an expert it’s a lot easier to close the sale. Most customers want you to advise them. When they realize that you have a great knowledge of the transportation industry and of available carriers, then they’re happy to let you take control. It’s when a salesperson doesn’t know much about the transportation industry as his or her prospect that people resent a strong sales approach. However, there’s no doubt that traffic and purchasing people are better informed today than they’ve ever been.

The best way to make a compelling sales presentation is by demonstrating that you’re an expert in your business as well as theirs. When you exemplify excellence in your sales presentation, the customer is eager to find out what you can do to offer solutions to their particular transportation problems.

To make the best presentation possible, you must have conviction in the services you’re there to sell. A customer instinctively knows whether you believe in your service. If you do, they in turn will believe in you. Only then can you make a sales presentation that turns into a sale every time.



Intermodal 101:Commitment Pricing

Intermodal 101: Advantages of Commitment Pricing

Use of the Door to Door, transactional programs from the railroads might seem like the best way to take advantage of pricing that may go down at any given time.  Locking in at a rate for a year’s commitment might not seem like a promising idea when the rates could drop next week.

However, it is important for the shipper to remember, what goes down will eventually come back up.  Rates in intermodal have not fluctuated a lot in recent years, but the trend is to take them higher.  Locking in your rate for the next year will enable a level of certainty for the shipper.

Due to its transactional basis, Door to Door pricing typically does not include capacity commitments between the shipper and the railroad.  Locking in with certain programs will allow all parties to commit to each other.  The Shipper commits a certain number of loads on a scheduled basis, the railroad commits to providing capacity to move those shipments.  With expectations set, it is easier for both parties to perform their part of the commitment.

Budgeting is simplified for the shipper when they know the rate they will be paying to move freight in each lane.  When the shipper is creating the budget for the next fiscal year, if they know they have to move 100 shipments from point A to point B, and the rate for the year will be $1,000 per move, they must budget $100,000.  Doing this against all lanes is the best way for the shipper to accurately calculate their transportation spend for the year.

Finally, the operations within the shipper as a company are simplified.  Each person in payables will know the rate they need to pay, which could allow a level of automation.  The personnel in the order tendering department will know who the order is going to, which allows them to focus on shipments that aren’t committed and locked in.

Understanding the two different approaches will enable the shipper to maximize shipping dollars and get product delivered to the customer.  Typically, though, the shipper is not in the transportation business, so their focus is not on minimizing rates.  Use of a 3PL or even a 4PL will allow the shipper to focus their attentions on their core business and leave the program selections to the experts.

In the next update, we will discuss the advantage of bringing in a 3PL to assist with shipping.



Training Tuesday:Managing Stress

Training Tuesday: Stress Management to Improve Success

Selling offers more highs and lows than most other professions. Most salespeople suffer through periods of stress that are direct results of their sales jobs, but salespeople who succeed in the long run never let disappointments get the best of them. They know rejection goes with the territory and learn not to take it personally and instead, they view mistakes and failures as lessons that will help them improve. On the other hand, some very promising sales careers have died premature deaths due to stress. Stress sometimes causes sales people to lose confidence and then fill their day with nonessential activities and hide from their customers or prospects. We’re also faced with lots of rejection on our daily search for success. If you dwell on the negatives, they’ll bury you. You have to lighten up and look for ways to lessen the stress caused by your job.

Below are our top 10 tips to reduce stress:

1. Focus. Focus on what’s truly stressful to you about a situation and why – the idea being that understanding the stress lessens it and gives you some control over it.

2. Put stressful situations in perspective.

3. Postpone thinking about problems until an appropriate time. Successful people learn how to compartmentalize their thinking.

4. Take a deep breath. Size up stressful situations and decide which are worth worrying about.

5. Take vacations and occasional time off. 

6. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.

7. Talk to others about job pressures.

8. Expect the unexpected. Allow time and reserve energy to deal with the inevitable stressful events that occur daily.

9. Do something for yourself.

10. Volunteer or do something in the community that is rewarding to you.


Check back next week for more sales training and tips.


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!