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The successful salesperson

Are your salespeople really listening to customer wants and needs — beyond price?

All That’s Trucking blog by Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief

Is selling in the trucking industry nothing more than pricing? Absolutely not, says Andy Ahern of Ahern Associates, a transportation management consulting firm in Phoenix, Ariz.

“If all you have to sell is price; go find another profession,” he said in a recent newsletter.

This also came up in March during a panel discussion of next-generation leaders at the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual conference.

In order to get better rates, several panelists noted, you have to offer something more in the way of service than the competition. This is especially vital for smaller carriers that can’t compete on volume.

“If you’re always chasing the easy stuff, you’re easily replaceable,” said Steve Gordon, COO of Gordon Trucking Inc. “In that case, size doesn’t necessarily matter, if you provide a valuable service better than anyone else.”

At Heartland Express, said President Mike Gerdin, “When we go to a customer, we ask for their toughest lanes, the ones they can’t get covered, and give the best service on it. If you get a foot in with that customer, you can grow that customer, if you’re taking care of stuff that really creates a problem for him each and every day.”

Gerdin’s comments echoed those of Jim Mickey, co-owner of Canada’s Coastal Pacific Xpress, back when I interviewed him as a 2010 HDT Truck Fleet Innovator.

CPX has actively gone after freight that requires a better person behind the wheel than what’s considered average. This allows the company to get higher rates, which in turn allows it to pay its drivers better, which in turn helps make sure its driver workforce will provide the kind of service the shippers are paying for.

As a result, he says, his company’s the one shippers turn to when “it absolutely positively needs to be done,” and done right.

Failing your way to success

So if you’re not going to sell on price, what’s the key to a good salesperson? First and foremost is the ability to handle failure and rejection, Ahern says.

“The key to getting everything they want is to know that all of their yeses are hidden behind the no’s,” he says.

Ahern quotes an expert on sales performance, Tom Hopkins: “I never see failure as failure, but only as experience. I never see failure as failure, but only as a negative feedback that I need to change course in my direction. I never see failure as failure, but only as an opportunity to develop my sense of humor. I never see failure as failure, but only as the opportunity to practice my techniques and perfect my performance. I never see failure as failure, but only as the game I must play to win.”

I wrote about failure in this blog earlier this year, in a post titled “How to be more innovative,” about Tim Richardson’s presentation at the 2012 Recruitment Retention Conference put on by the Truckload Carriers Association and ACS Advertising.

Fact is, some of our most famous inventors had plenty of failures. Thomas Edison is a prime example. There’s a story that says it took thousands of attempts for Edison to perfect the light bulb. When asked about his failures, Edison reportedly said they were not failures, for with each attempt, something was learned about what would NOT work.

Successful salespeople

After years of training sales people and redesigning sales programs, Ahern also observes that successful salespeople:

* listen to what the customer needs are and then address those needs.
* are always prepared
* consistently prospect
* communicate
* observe
* are dedicated
* are professional (assertive and persistent, but not aggressive)

“I truly believe that every sales person can get whatever they want in life when they stop complaining and they start asking the right questions,” Ahern says.

The next week, Ahern wrote that he had a number of comments to the effect that he was “off the mark” with his comments because today, selling in the trucking industry is nothing more than pricing. In addition to advising those who sell only on price to go find another job, Ahern said that salespeople do need support from management, including specific goals and objectives.

Too many salespeople, he says, sell in a specific pattern instead of customizing his approach to each customer.

“It’s true that shippers are very price sensitive today, but if all you have to sell is price, then you’re not going to be successful,” he says. “A successful salesperson is a person that understands how to open a window of opportunity and create a sale, and they also know how to explore those opportunities so they can close a sale, and that is beginning of the process to changing a sales person’s pattern.”

Two ears, one mouth

Ahern says it’s very important for sales people to recognize that:

* The buyer has the answers.
* A salesperson can’t make a sale without a buyer.
* A buyer only buys when he/she can’t fill their own needs.

That’s why it’s vital for a good salesperson to be a good listener — yet that’s also one of the most difficult skills to develop. “Until a salesman finds out what the issues are, it’s going to be impossible to make the sale.”

“If you sell strictly price, that’s what you’re going to get — a price-sensitive shipper,” Ahern says. “Yes, shippers are price sensitive. Yes, you’re going to lose relationships after many years just because. However, at the end of the day, if you service that customer and that customer has left you strictly for price, that customer will (at some point) come back to you, if you stay in touch with the customer, you don’t get angry at the customer; and you continue to provide that customer the benefits they will receive should they re-engage your services.”

Ahern Associates:

Related Stories:

Next-Generation Leaders Run a Tight Ship, 3/14/2012

Selling Has Nothing To Do With Selling, November 2010

Ahern and Associates Launches New Trucking Company Crisis Hotline, 10/18/2010

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