I often talk to logistics companies wondering what are the best strategies to get the attention of potential buyers of their services. One thing these companies almost never do is actually ASK their customers and prospects that very same question.
But think about it, who would have a better answer than the people you are actually selling to?
So, some years back I decided to regularly survey logistics buyers on how to best get and keep their attention. My firm conducts the survey every couple of years and we recently finished up our 2018 survey findings report, which is available here. In all, we surveyed 100 buyers online and then followed up with direct interviews with 10 of these respondents to probe a little further.
We ask a number of questions, both strategic and tactical, but the one question that always yields the most interesting input is: “What frank advice do you have for logistics businesses that would like to build a relationship with you in the hope of gaining future business?”
In the six years we’ve been doing the survey, responses to this question have consistently focused on three themes.
Buyers don’t necessarily feel like they are being lied to. It’s more a question of whether they are getting the full story. To the extent that they feel details are being left out, trust is eroded.
“I like full disclosure out of the gate. If the relationship starts with a hidden charge, this will piss me off. But if I know I am dealing with an honest company that always gives me the straight facts, that’s a good foundation to build upon.”
Total honesty includes a candid assessment of weaknesses. In fact, there is evidence that pointing out what you CAN’T do, or can’t do well, earns more points than reciting a list of product features.
“Be honest about areas where you are not strong; it enhances your credibility.”
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One takeaway for us is that what providers view as aggressive selling could be regarded by some buyers as dishonest selling. When selling logistics, we all want to paint a picture of a better future, post purchase. But today’s buyers are more cynical and tend to view unsubstantiated benefit claims with suspicion.
“My BS meter is pretty finely tuned. I got a call lately from someone who said he could bring down rising freight rates. From that point, I tuned out since it wasn’t anything he could directly impact.”
Our advice: understand the problems you can solve better than most others, then market and sell to the prospects that align best with your unique value proposition. If you do this, overselling is ill-advised and unnecessary.
Understand My Business
What drives logistics buyers nuts, more than anything else, are providers that sell a solution before they even know what the problem is. It’s the classic “spray and pray” method of selling that we would have thought was firmly relegated to the dung heap of failed selling approaches. But the research suggests that there are some logistics businesses that want to pitch a solution without any knowledge of the prospect’s business or industry.
Some buyers resent it at a personal level.
“Learn about my business, but not from me; I don’t have the time.”
“Do a little homework and know something about my business before you call. This approach works with me, as opposed to the blast email that says you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
We need to stop regarding companies as generic prospects on a target list for calls or emails and make our marketing and selling more personal. Behind that emotionless list of prospects in your CRM are real people struggling to solve difficult business challenges. We owe it to them to dig a little deeper. When we do, we may actually learn that some are just not a great fit for our services. But when that research suggests a solid fit, suspects become true sales prospects at a much higher rate.
“I got a call from someone the other day who learned that we do a high volume of deliveries in a particular area and said he could help with capacity. That data point wasn’t hard to uncover. He’s now on my radar as a carrier for that city.”
When marketing logistics services, some companies mistake personalization for customized selling. Personalization helps, but it requires no digging or fact finding – just marketing automation tools. And buyers know that.
“For most of the emails I get, I know I’m just part of someone’s mass email – even if my name is at the top.”
Marketing automation can personalize, but it can’t customize based on individual prospect research.
Listen more, sell less.
Whether it’s Spin Selling, the Challenger Sale, Miller-Heiman or another popular sales methodology, all emphasize the importance of LISTENING as the first step in a successful sales process. And in our experience, most logistics providers (and their salespeople) understand the importance of listening to identify pain points. But the research suggests that at least some logistics salespeople need to bone up on basic selling skills.
“No flashy presentations or sales pitch is required. Just progressive ideas and a willingness to listen.”
Listening does several important things
- Gets the prospect to talk about their situation. When you’re listening and not talking, it shows that the focus is on understanding the challenge at hand and not on just making a sale.
- Ensures a clear understanding. The best sales people summarize what they heard and ask the prospect to confirm that this understanding is accurate.
- Allows you to present your product/service in the context of solving a known problem. When you start talking about your product outside of any context, it’s like a stranger walking up to you on the street and asking if you want to see their children’s baby pictures. Prospects don’t want to see your baby pictures, they want to solve problems.
And now, the good news…
When it comes to marketing and selling logistics services, buyers feel there is room for improvement.
But the real headline from our research is that logistics buyers rely more than ever on the ideas and contributions of providers.
“The pressure has never been greater to improve service at a lower cost. Logistics partners are vital to helping me respond to this pressure. They are an extension of our supply chain and can help when they are involved in the process and decisions.”
As corporate logistics budgets and staff get trimmed, the opportunity for 3PLs and other logistics businesses to add value increases. We just need to heed the advice of buyers on the best ways to get, and keep, their attention.
Jim Bierfeldt is President of Logistics Marketing Advisors, a marketing consulting firm that works exclusively with logistics companies to design and execute marketing programs that drive revenue and profit.