Growing the Customer Garden
Companies are no different from the plants in your garden
Once you stop feeding them they stop growing and slowly wilt away to nothing.
When it comes to tending a garden of customers, big ﬂeets have a real advantage. They have the experienced sales leadership to keep accounts watered and fed. They have the ﬁnancial resources to buy the patience needed to reap the beneﬁts of an investment in the sales department.
Finally, their scale gives them the capital to take a risk to grow through acquisitions. Unless your head’s been buried in the garden sand you’ve seen the big dogs gobbling up smaller competitors. They can afford to take chances that smaller ﬂeets can’t.
One of the challenges facing smaller ﬂeets is that they are run by ex-drivers who years ago moved from driving a truck to driving the company. Very few like or understand what it takes to cultivate a book of business. They’d rather spend time ﬁxing a Class B than ﬁguring out how to ﬁll the trailer it’s pulling. It’s hard to grow when sales is not part of the company culture.
As discussed in my last column, hiring an experienced sales rep is rarely the best option for these ﬂeets. The math doesn’t add up and usually the business that a rep promises to bring is more manure than fertilizer. And do you really want to hire someone who is bragging about how they’re going to screw their current employer?
Growth isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. Here are some things I would consider when looking for ways to tend a healthy garden of customers.
Dust Off the Business Cards
Growth begins and ends with the company owner. Owners need to own every customer relationship and treat it with the commitment that comes when the family home is securing the operating line.
Your owner may despise the sales process but even he can’t deny that customers love dealing with the boss. It makes them feel important and they’ll appreciate the fact that the owner is tending to their business. I guarantee you, more business will follow.
Cold Calling Not Required
There isn’t a sales rep on the planet who enjoys cold calling. Phoning 60 people a day to beg for a 30-minute meeting is no fun.
Cold calling today is as modern as using a horse to plough a ﬁeld. Any business can generate beaucoup sales leads through the rates desk, website hits, and shipper/ consignees data. Owners and sales reps just need to learn how to cultivate the data to put more prospects in the sales funnel. More prospects in the funnel will produce a more bountiful harvest any day of the week.
Smart Phones Not Cell Phones
When you send your kids an email do they respond? What about when you send them a text message?
Today’s younger and smarter generation of buyers is no different. They communicate instantaneously and on the go. Ditch the 7-lb BlackBerry. Today’s world rolls in 140 characters. So should you.
World’s Most Accurate Rolodex
Twitter is not for blurting out what you had for lunch. Facebook is not for kids. Pinterest is not a sewing club.
You don’t have to be an expert on every social media platform but you do need a basic understanding to have any chance of connecting with today’s customers.
People use social media because they want to be found. It’s the world’s best Rolodex. Think about the last time you tried to reach that loyal old shipper who moved on to greener pastures years ago. Your contact info is stale but what about LinkedIn? Fire off a request to connect and send a message — LinkedIn is a great way to keep up with your contacts’ professional lives and stay in touch.
If getting the boss on the road isn’t an option, it’s not the end of the world. There are other ways to grow your business. Future columns will deal other ways to keep the garden growing including falling in love with freight brokers and diversiﬁcation.
Speaking of diversiﬁcation, if you’re interested in growing your garden you might consider planting some weed. Understand Pierre, Jr., wants to legalize it. Just saying!
Mike McCarron is the president of Left Lane Associates, a ﬁrm that prepares companies to maximize their value in advance of a sale. A 30-year industry veteran, Mike founded MSM Transportation which he sold in 2012. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org , 416-931-7212, or @AceMcC on Twitter.
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