Cure Your First-Shipment-Itis
“That’s the last time we ever haul that crap.” That rumbling you hear from the bowels of dispatch is a telltale sign of “first-shipment-itis”, the pain associated with a new customer whose first shipment has turned into a gong show. The Trucker’s Urban Dictionary defines first-shipment-itis as “an inflammation of common sense, causing smart truckers to miss opportunities due to a fixation on a first shipment’s bacteria.”
Your gut tells you to dump the customer and make the pain go away. But rarely does shipment Number 1 provide insight into the long-term profitability of a new customer.
In fact, the price and pain of any first shipment means diddly squat. Here’s why:
I never won a single bid in all my years of trucking. Every deal I closed involved the same formula: Patience + Competitor’s Screw-Up + Match Price = First Shipment.
Rarely will transportation buyers pay you more on the first shipment than what they’re currently moving it for. Even when the incumbent screws up you have almost no lever age. What you do have is an opportunity to match a bad rate and start building the customer’s lifetime value.
My guess is that your best customers came to you after something went awry with another carrier, and you bailed them out.
Think of the business you would have lost if someone’s first shipment was a mess and you decided to punt them. You never have enough information about that first load to give away the customer’s potential lifetime value. That seven foot skid you waited eight hours to pick up could be the prototype for George Foreman’s next great grill.
The photocopier salesman you’ve been dodging for months catches you by surprise at your desk. Your machine is working fine so you blow him off as quickly as you politely can.
Transportation buyers are no different when you drop by. They’ll tell you very little about their company until they must. How much business do they have? How fast do they pay? The important questions won’t get answered until the customer really needs you.
Because of these unknowns, there’s a higher risk of a screw-up on the first shipment. It’s hard to judge the quality of any customer until you have a history.
Truth about trust
Any new relationship is a leap of faith, even if the only reason you’re getting the deal is because you’re the cheapest trucker that day. Moving a customer’s shipment for the first time involves trust. Trust is a powerful but fleeting advantage. Use it to ask questions and learn everything you can about the transportation side of the shipper’s business.
Solve a problem
Many shippers today make themselves out to be pure price shoppers. They’re not. Transportation buyers are paid to hide behind the rates, even when their sales manager is all over them because of the carrier’s awful service from Edmonton.
The shipper has a pain point. Find out what it is. Embrace every opportunity, even when the circumstances are not ideal. Tell the customer that the rate you matched is well below what you would normally charge, but expect it’s something you can build on. If every load is ugly there’s no harm in walking away. On the other hand, you might be surprised how many customers will reward you in the long term when you can solve their problems in the short term.
Too many customers are dismissed over the cost of a lunch at Red Lobster.
If you suspect that first-shipment-itis has infected your company, it might be wise to pay Dr. Sales a visit. Clinical research indicates that this disease can stunt your growth.