Fact: When in business, you will lose customers—many times through no real fault of your own. It may be that a shipper is bought out or merges with another company, has a reduction in their business for the lanes you service, or the management changes. The reasons are numerous and varied. Customers will come and go.
Fact: Micro- and small carriers that are prepared for this inevitability are the ones that continue to grow and evolve.
So, how do you prepare for the time when you will lose a valued customer?
Constantly and continually prospect for shippers with loads that will fit into your freight lane models. Don’t wait until you’re desperate to find a shipper.
The best way to be prepared and to operate seamlessly is to always have a list of prospects on hand. You need a go-to list of companies that have available loads within the lanes you service. Yes, you need to be set up on their approved carrier list before you need freight.
How is this accomplished?
Compile a list of prospective shippers to contact. This requires more than just a name, phone number or email address. Take the time to research each prospect. Start the research process by creating a file (either digital on your computer and/or a physical file for the full research package). It’s also important to understand the process of becoming an approved carrier—you can’t do a request for proposal (RFP) without being an approved carrier.
The following information should be included in the prospect profile:
- Company name, address(es), and location of originating freight
- Name of decision-maker for establishing relationships and name of person responsible for assigning freight to trucking companies, plus their email, phone, and fax information
- Website address and social media pages so you can track changes and see news about the company
- Type of product the company manufactures or handles that works with your operation
- Size of company in gross revenue per year and (when possible) number of loads shipped
- By what date or dates does it accept requests to be placed on the approved carrier list? Being on the approved carrier list for a shipper is the first step necessary to haul loads. If you are not on the list, then you will be left with empty trailers when the RFP window opens.
- On what date or dates does the company send out RFPs? Some shippers only do this once per year. And some send out RFPs every six months, while a few send out quarterly. If it’s March when you need freight and RFPs are sent out in September, then it might not be the shipper to contact in March. (Although come mid-summer, if you’re still in need of additional hauling opportunities, then that’s when you’d make contact.)
- Keep notes on all conversations or correspondence (emails, faxes, etc.) you have with anyone in the company.
What should you have at your fingertips when you’re ready to call a prospect?
- Have your trucking company’s profile/package on your desk, including insurance, authorities, lanes, services, etc.
- Have a ready explanation of how your services will benefit your prospect.
- Have a pen/pencil and a notebook in front of you at all times to take notes.
- Make sure you have your prospecting proposal memorized so it doesn’t sound like you’re reading it.
- Leave a couple of messages on your own voice mail to warm up.
- Open your prospect’s website and keep it open.
- Smile and dial.
- If they say “no” or “not interested,” they’re not rejecting you. Just move on to the next prospect that could be a gold mine for your transportation company.
To be successful in finding new customers, it’s imperative you’re prospecting on a weekly basis not just when you need more freight.
Murphy’s Law of Freight Prospecting says that “you’ll find more freight when you don’t need it than you will when you do.” The more you prospect on a regular schedule, the easier the process becomes. You become accustomed to the “no” and “not now” responses and move on to the next shipper on your prospecting list.
Here’s your action list for prospecting:
- Identify two to three potential shippers each week.
- Research and assemble a prospect profile file for each one.
- Call at least two of the prospects identified with the intent of being placed on their approved carrier list, and get the dates when they accept RFPs.
- Regardless of call outcome, make sure you leave a positive impression of you and your carrier. A good rapport with each company and each contact person within that company will be very useful in the future. As any company can attest, the business environment evolves and changes. While a company may not need your services now, that can change in a year or two. Establishing a good rapport the first time can be all that’s needed during the second attempt to land them as a customer.
- You may encounter some resistance from prospects. They’ll tell you that business is slow, or they don’t have any loads. Remember that persistence is key. Remind them you’re more interested in being placed on their approved carrier list so when business does improve and more loads are available, you’ll be ready to provide the RFP. Then continue to follow up with them.