Even if you’re an established broker with a healthy customer list, there’s a lot of reasons why you might be on the hunt for additional shippers. Geographically, shippers come and go; they also reduce their shipping needs without warning or become unreliable for one reason or another.
As a freight broker, you always want to be on the look out for new and potentially better shipping partners. Part of this business development process is continuously looking at your standard lanes, opportunities in your network of contacts for new lanes, and service areas where you have the most reliable carrier partners to leverage. Asking shippers specific questions can help determine if they’ll be a good match.
It’s not always easy to get a decision maker at a manufacturing or shipping company on the phone. When you do, it’s important that you have a plan of attack for ensuring a fit between what you can offer and what they need to move.
Yes, it’s important to catch their attention and be impressive, but shipping managers don’t want to talk to salespeople about how great they are. They’ll have a better reaction if you can approach the conversation in the spirit of a potential partnership, by asking questions and listening to their answers carefully so you can offer the right solutions.
Before getting on a call with a manufacturer, make sure to review MacRae’s Blue Book. There you can search for a company by name, and find detailed information about most manufacturing companies (including freight rate estimates). Knowing the details of their freight will provide you with conversation starters so you can help put the shipper at ease.
To get you started, we’ve gathered the top 10 questions to ask shippers before trying to sell them on your services.
1. Tell me about your company. Your industry must be challenging.
While it’s important not to patronize your prospect, understanding the grand scheme of their business from their perspective will help you to focus on what’s unique about them compared to your other customers. Using those attributes later in the conversation will show them that you were listening.
2. How do you currently transport freight?
Now is the time to perk up. Let the shipper run down their stack of transportation solutions, even if they’re outside your expertise. Write down the areas where you might be able to help, especially if they sound dissatisfied with that solution at the moment.
3. What are your main priorities when moving freight?
Some shippers are obsessed with price, and some with speed or reliability. It all depends on the trickle-down stresses on their business and industry.
4. When was the last time you added a new provider? Why did you bring them on?
The answer to this question will give you an idea of how open the company and the manager are to changing brokers, and how much scrutiny they use when selecting new transportation providers. It might also give you insight into how other brokers have cracked into the account.
5. Is there anything about your preferred list of brokers that you would improve?
Here’s your opportunity! Use their answer as your lead-in to talk about your record, your carriers, and your niche expertise.
6. Are you having any problems with drivers?
Ultimately, a driver is representing both the shipper and the broker when they arrive at a dock, whether they know it or not. Bad behavior, late arrivals, or rushed loading and unloading can reflect poorly on the shipper. It’s important to know if your contact is sensitive to this.
7. What metrics do you use to judge the strength of your freight brokers?
The shipper may not have a great answer for this, and that’s okay. Simply asking the question lets them know that you have a desire to perform.
8. Besides you, who else makes shipping decisions?
Knowing if other parties are involved in the decision will help you determine the effort that might be required to partner up with this company.
9. What are your other shipping locations?
Find out what other shipping locations exist at the company. This way, even if you can’t break into the account with this particular shipping manager, you may be able to strategize a solution for another lane at a later date. You can ask for contacts later on when you know more about the company landscape.
10. How long is typical detention at your docks?
A shipper’s policy and attitude toward detention time is a characteristic that can hit you directly in the wallet. As a broker, you can’t afford to lose your most reliable carriers due to chronic detention misunderstandings or discrepancies, and you might end up covering the bill. Further, you don’t want to get a reputation for putting drivers in bad situations at the docks. Some shippers simply aren’t worth their loads.
Overall, it’s a smart strategy to use your knowledge of the industry and your lanes to get a shipper on the phone, then use your listening skills to find the sweet spot for getting your foot in the door. Great brokers that focus on building relationships over the long term, as opposed to making a quick buck, will win the best shipping partners every time.