Tips for 3PL / Freight Forwarder salespeople (and complaints)


Lately it seems to have been an ongoing feature of what I call “Annoying and/or Idiot Sales Person of the Week” syndrome here at work, only it’s been almost every single day that I’ve had to endure at least one phone call from a sales rep that left me shaking my head in disgust or annoyance. I know you have a tough job trying to drum up new sales, but you’re not going to get any new customers by ticking them off or just plain coming across as stupid. Perhaps I’m being unduly harsh, but I need to get it off my chest and I figure a post on some of the more common occurrences and what to avoid might help those in the sales arena. So here’s some things to avoid when calling a new customer for the first time:

1) Don’t try to be a “friend” on that first call: I’m not your friend. I’m not your “buddy”. I don’t know you, so don’t pretend that we’re long-lost high school buddies because we aren’t.

I get these calls all the time. Someone has learned my full name and calls me out of the blue and when I pick up the phone I get the “Hi (your first name), what’s going on buddy / pal / friend?”. I don’t recognize the voice, which invariably gets my mind wondering exactly whom I am speaking to. The sales rep happily pushes on as if we’re best friends and may mention sports and the weather or a variation of something similar. After wasting my time with mindless one-sided chit-chat – I’m usually just listening, still wondering who the hell I am really speaking to – the sales rep finally begins to explain why they really called, at which point I simply cut them off, tell them I’m not interested and hang up the phone. You may have managed to increase the amount of time spent on the phone per customer call, but you’ve invariably turned off a potential customer to future business with your company.

- You’ve just wasted my valuable time.
– You pretended to know me, when you don’t. Deception upsets people and while I might not remember who you were, I will certainly remember the company you claimed to represent.
– Maybe I’m old school, but I find it rude to address a potential client on the phone by their first name. It’s either Mr, Mrs, or Miss until you’ve met them in person and have reached a comfort level or they’ve told you it’s ok.

* Be courteous, be friendly, but be professional and don’t pretend to know someone you don’t. *

2) Failing to indicate who you are and where you are calling from: If you don’t tell me who you are and why you are calling, you are wasting my time. I don’t like people who waste my time.

For whatever reason, this seems to be a problem with trucking companies, particularly truck brokers. I envision some poor sales bloke sitting at a desk with the yellow pages open dutifully calling down the list and crossing off the names. They’ve called so many companies in such a short period of time that I can only guess that boredom and monotony have set in and they’ve completely lost sight of why they were calling companies in the first place. The call goes something like this:

Ring! Ring!

Client (me): “Hello, this is John Doe from ABC Company.”

Sales Rep: “Hi there, where do your domestic deliveries originate from?”

Client: “Um, are you trying to track down a local delivery?”

Sales Rep: “Oh no, I’m just trying to figure out your deliveries.”

Client: “Do you need to place a pick up or something…..? I can pass you on to Domestic Transportation….”

Sales Rep: “Who handles your domestic loads?”

Client:”I’m sorry, who am I speaking to? What company are you with.”

Sales Rep: “Well, I’m John Smith from Super – Fast – Rocket – Expedited – Warp Speed – Trucking and I know we could handle your freight….”

Client: “Sorry, not interested. Good bye!”

I’m sure he meant to introduce himself and tell me why he was calling. Really, I’m quite sure, but somewhere between call 500 and call 501 he got the order mixed up and went straight to confusing me with vague, general questions about deliveries and introducing himself later. I’m geared to solve problems and handle requests, so when I get these vague phone calls I’m going to assume it’s a warehouse or a customer asking about a pending delivery or pick up. When you finally get around to telling me who you are, you leave the customer wondering what kind of idiot you are who doesn’t introduce themselves properly to people. Sure, I may still not be interested and the phone call might be shorter, but if you annoy people that’s the image they are going to have of the company you represent.

* Introduce yourself from the get go. Tell people who you are and where you are calling from. *

Yes, this is common sense but it isn’t common practice. No, you are not going to get sales by trying to confuse the customer. Which leads me to my next gripe….

3) Trying to sneak into the customer’s door by pretending to know something specific about their business: I know who my providers are, so don’t call me because you managed to grab a waybill or invoice somewhere down the line and pretend to know my business.

This one really gets my goat. There is no surer way to convince me NOT to use you than try to talk your way into my office using shipment specific information that you happened to get ahold of. This is when sales reps call me inquiring about shipment status, claiming that there is a problem with billing, or making up some non-existent issue with the shipment in question, and then try to finesse the conversation into an opening for them to come in and talk to me. It must work otherwise sales reps wouldn’t try it, but I think it’s a cheap trick and dishonest.

* If you know about my business, come right out and say so and explain that you’d like an opportunity to discuss that particular area of business and how you can better serve it. A straight-forward, professional approach is the way to go. *

4) You don’t have anything to offer the customer, but continue to drone on and on….: Look, if, in the course of the conversation we both discover you have nothing to offer me, then please give up.

This is for those providers whose services I obviously don’t need or simply don’t fit with my business model and I’ve explained as such. Or providers who are speaking to the wrong person but just don’t get it. For example, I had a mom-and-pop NVOCC contact me about LCL export pricing. I explained that we strictly did imports only, zero export, and that all our traffic was full container, no LCL. But the person kept pushing on – maybe there was a chance we might do LCL in the future? Um…..no. Could we, might we, maybe start exporting? Um….no – I thought I already said we only do imports. Another time a domestic guy would not let me hang up the phone without being rude, even though I explained until I was blue in the face that he needed to be speaking to our Domestic Manager.

* Know who you are talking to and what area of the business they handle. If you get a sense that their business model doesn’t fit the services you are offering, politely end the call. *

These are good phone calls to learn about a company and their business, but once you understand you have nothing to offer them – or they make that clear to you themselves – it’s time to end the call.

Those are probably some of the most annoying things I’ve experienced lately, but I’m sure others could add to the list. What do all of these experiences have in common? A lack of professionalism, poor communication skills, and wasting other peoples time. Again, it sounds like common sense, but it’s certainly not common practice.

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SwizStick

About The Author: Co-Contributor

  • Jake September 18, 2007, 6:08 pm

    Things that irritate me about logistics managers…

    1) I call them up and the first thing they ask me is what my price is, without apparently considering that there are multiple service levels for any particular (international) freight move. Dumb.

    2) After identifying the myself, telling them why I am calling and asking for a meeting to discuss the issue further, they berate me for “bothering” them and slam down the phone… never considering that there is someone in their company doing the same thing to their prospective customers.

    3) Logistics directors (directors!) who send me dumb emails asking moronic questions… usually things they could find out by Googling one word (What’s the tare weight of a forty foot ocean container?) Duh.

    4) Importers who don’t set up their international trade transaction correctly and when the shipment gets screwed up, delayed or is otherwise problematic, blame my company.

    5) Prospective customers who schedule sales meetings and then don’t show up. When asked, they say things like “oh, you could have met with anyone in the office” or “I’m sorry, but my daughter’s T-ball game got rescheduled”.

    6) Logistics managers who don’t know the first thing about how their company operates, only about logistics or shipping or when the truck is supposed to show up at the warehouse… but then go on and on about their little piece of the pie as if it were the most challenging and interesting job in the world. Boring.

    What do all these things have in common? Not sure, but my guess is that the smart people are working in marketing or finance.

  • Splatty September 19, 2007, 5:11 pm

    Let’s not forget the logistics manager who accepts your appointment and then makes you wait for 40 minutes before he sees you. And then sits down behind the desk and makes a 10 minute phone call while you are waiting and finally gives you two minutes before he tells you that all of his freight is consignee routed.

  • SwizStick September 19, 2007, 5:15 pm

    Hi Jake,

    Thanks for the comments, too true, too true. Having worked both sides of the aisle, I know exactly what you are talking about. There certainly are some clueless logistics managers and directors out there that make a 3PL/Forwarder’s job difficult.

    I think I’ve run into each of the people you mentioned above more than once on the provider’s side of the fence.

  • SwizStick September 19, 2007, 5:22 pm

    Splatty – I couldn’t stand those kind of customers. Right up there with Jake’s number 5 – “…my daughter’s T-Ball game was rescheduled…” (too funny – I was laughing at work when I read this). Those were probably my two most hated type of customers.

    Still, there are SOME considerate and intelligent people in Logistics, just as there are SOME considerate and intelligent people in sales. But man, recently it’s been one bad call after another.

  • BB April 4, 2008, 7:44 am

    Hello Everyone…..

    I really enjoyed reading these posts because they are all accurate!! Ive been in the Forwarding Industry for 10 years, Airfreight Supervisor until last May when I was approached to become Sales by my Management Team. I had to think it over for a couple of weeks because what SwizStick said was Right ON! These types of Sales people are all over, and that is NOT me at all….I dont have a pitch, I dont cold call, I dont pretend to know you….. And if this is the only way I could be successful than I was NOT going to take the Position. Coming from the Operations side was and still is a big challenge because as any FF knows, Ops and Sales have completely different points of views, and clash most of the time on how things should be done. It works to my advantage most of the time though as I know how to “speak the language” of Ops and also know when they are feeding me a line of BS. People who come from Ops into Sales dont have the typical “Car Salesman” approach. I am straight forward, to the point, and Im not going to promise you things that I cannot deliver. Then you have the customers, as Jake talked about. The ones who waste your time because they either dont know what they are doing, or they are only benchmarking your rates so they can go back to their current FF and say XYZ offered me this, you need to match or Im switching. These are not the kind of customers that I want. To me, it should be a beneficial partnership between the two companies. We offer Value Add Services and Expertise, not just rates….And the company I work for is the largest FF in the World, however we dont want to be the cheapest, and dont go for companies who dont want to meet with us but only get rates, because that only means they want the cheapest, and you get what you pay for. Its a package, there are many things to consider when choosing a forwarder besides the cheapest price. With that said, I really enjoyed the posts! Take Care ;)

  • Muhammad ShahRukh May 4, 2010, 6:11 am

    Always Remember! Sell what Customer wants to Buy ,,,Donot sell what you have!
    Always gathe rinformation about customerws core business needs and thne call him to offer your services. Because customer does not have time to explain his business to you.

  • Thomas June 14, 2012, 9:45 am

    Very interesting conversation here, as a Business Development Professional (one of the many aliases used for sales rep) myself, and having done so both in the asset and non asset transporation industry, both sides here have valid points, but also contradict.

    If you are professional and solutions oriented from the beginning and have the ability to express what value you can add to that potentional client, your batting average will go up.

    If you do your due diligence, and explain this properly, that meeting will be kept, and deemed a valuable use of time to that client.

    Logistics Providers, have unfortunately gotten a bad name, as anyone with a carrier relationship and a book of business, regardless how big, claims to be a ‘logistics Provider’. The telemarketing freight reps out there, who are sure they can ‘save you 20% on your TL or LTL’ you are not a logistics professionals, but only a reseller, only as good as the length of that tariff you are reselling.

    Same goes for Logistics Directors…too many titles such as this out there, where there is little ‘direction’ being provided other than rate shopping, but there are plenty that are and understand the nuances to global supply chain management.

    If you don’t know or can’t recognize the difference immediately on both sides of the fence, then niether needs to be in the position you are in.

    Be professional, courteous, consultative, honest, and to the point in all things you do. For those of us in sales and marketing who are, we too bear the anger, from those who do not, of the traffic manager you just pissed off.

  • Austin October 13, 2012, 11:40 pm

    Nice article !! All the realistic things have been put together. Further, i have experienced each of these things in my 6 months of experience in sales in freight forwarding in Mumbai. The hot and humid Indian climate makes this profession even more challenging .

  • Crystal November 15, 2012, 11:01 am

    I really learned some good points in this blog! I’m new to the business and would love to get some points from anyone who has been successful in this business. I’m a straight forward person myself that does not like wasting my time or anyone else time. SwizStick I would love for you to email me and tell me what you would classify as a good sales conversation.
    Thanks, Crystal
    cwlogistics12@yahoo.com

  • steven January 31, 2013, 4:45 am

    Hi! Seriously funny article swizstick. I just graduated from university and got hired on by a 3pl/freight forwarder and this was one of the first links to pop up when I searched “what you should know about freight forwarding. I’ll be in ops for a year until I am promoted to sales, they tell me. I just want to know if you can give me some more advice or if I could pick your brain because definitely seem to know what you are talking about. My email is steveaguilar89@live.com I would highly appreciate a quick two minute convo with you.

  • veezo May 3, 2013, 10:30 pm

    swizstick, you certainly know your way around these issues. hope you could share more with me. like the other 2 guys iam very new to this line and require a lot of international FF experience..

  • Balan Kumaran May 7, 2013, 4:29 am

    excellent feed back !!

  • Max September 17, 2013, 10:46 pm

    For you rookies trying to get in the door. No matter what industry you’re in.
    Do something that sets yourself apart from the rest. I won’t give up all the things I have done to gain an appointment but use a little imagination and you’ll be surprised how far you get.
    First, know what the hell you’re talking about. Second, find out what your prospective client needs, wants, etc…. Then know the company and the industry you’re trying to sell.
    Lastly, make a plan and be prepared for best case scenario’s and worst case scenario’s. Either on the phone or in person. I love it when clients cancel appts as that means they “might” feel like they actually owe me their attention when I get in front of them.
    Lastly, to the person complaining about logistics prospect’s hanging up or not knowing what they are talking about. Get out of sales!! You should see that as an opportunity. Ciao

  • mariachristine October 14, 2013, 12:08 pm

    I appreciate this article, this is my third week working in a logistics company. my boss took a chance hiring me, I have no experience in this industry, but I am very eager to learn!! I find it a bit difficult because i have a language barrier with my colleges. and its hard to find articles such as this one where I can read over and find out common mistakes some reps make. I definitely don’t want to be one of those reps who has no idea what they are talking about, so I would like to ask those who have experience in this industry if they could possibly lend a helping hand? I’m very optimistic, and really want to do good here. I hope that some of you would be interested in helping me learn a few things, I know you all are very busy, but any little tips would help and be greatly appreciated.

    thank you, &
    best regards,
    maria@cityocean.net

  • A.B Burhan February 21, 2014, 6:00 pm

    Hi, I am Burhan from Singapore. I have been in Sales, then diverted myself to Ops and back to Sales. I have been observing and experiencing that Sales is not an easy tasks you would like to take up. You definitely need to know the basic operational fundamental before selling and making promises that might not be delivered. There are always FFs approaching prospective saying with regards to their added value service. You could start by attending industrial gathering and making real friend and secondly come to talk about business opportunities. Selling yourself in a very approachable way by making your prospective comfortable and wanting to support your needs would be ideal. Start a network by words of mouth or referral would make you more confidence and becomes interesting. Always be truthful and not confuse the prospective. Though I am in FF industry, I would rather work with people who comes up straight and willing to share businesses and ideas. Remember that you are not the only one doing sales and you need to keep on moving and rectify your own mistakes or foolishness in approaching. Projecting into failure is not a failure. It is a way to learning and improvising. Keep projecting till you find the right path.

  • Chris May 8, 2014, 4:10 pm

    It’s crazy how many logistic managers shut the door on 3PL’s. Like they are afraid we will phase them out or something.

    Here is a situation I ran into with one recently. I contacted the shipping manager for a sign company. In turn she said that she worked for a 3PL in the past and don’t see the value and we take advantage of people who are lazy and don’t have the passion to take matter in their own hands.

    So first off she called all other logistic managers lazy. I researched the company she worked at…… Went out of business. Its no wonder when they hire folks with that attitude.

    My advice to logistic managers… Find a good 3PL, build the relationship, and hang on to them like your job depended on it. Because for many, it does.

  • AJAY VASU August 4, 2014, 8:49 am

    I had been in the sales for almost 16 years. My style of sales was to make 5 new calls daily & the follow-ups was by phone calls, within 6 months you get a handful potential clients. Just provide them the best service you can.
    We don’t need 100s of client, just 10 to 15 clients is more than enough to complete your company target.

  • VH September 26, 2014, 4:23 pm

    In almost 10 years in the FF industry for domestic Ops. I’ve seen sales people gain new clients by being order takers. Which means under selling their previous provider and less profit for the company. Somehow this shows corporate people how successful they are. Often this means doing the same work for less than the others we make better profit with.
    Be straightforward,don’t make promises YOU can’t keep and be consistant!

  • damien October 12, 2014, 1:38 am

    Hi

    I am going to set up my frieght forwarding business in saudi arabia.I am new to the whole concept. I would like some tips on how to market myself to new clients..do and dont.. how to draft an email to introduce my company..what is the scope for development.. also how to make a sales call to fix an appointment and other tips taht will help me start up my business
    please contact me on my email id.I am really in need of professional help. rferns16@yahoo.co.in

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