It’s always exciting when a new shipper agrees to give you a chance.  It’s also very nerve-wracking, because you so want to please him/her in order to build a strong relationship and ultimately get more business.  The best way to find out someone’s expectations is simply to ask, but many people find this difficult.  However, one of the great wisdom traditions of the world states that suffering occurs when expectations are not met.  So why should you and your shipper suffer?  Just ask.  My husband/business partner, Louis, often cringes when he sees me turn to someone and say, “Sooooo,….” about to ask some question that he would never ask someone.  I always tell him, “But I wanted to know.”  He then says I have an inquiring mind.  Exercising this quality can help you exceed your shipper’s expectations and get you well on your way to developing a strong business relationship.

But what questions to ask?  Here are five questions that you can systematically ask at the beginning of a new relationship that can ultimately help things go more smoothly:

1.  Do you prefer to communicate via phone, email, text, or fax (yes, there are still people who like to fax).  Finding out whether someone is digital or analog at the beginning of your relationship can really help you establish a good rapport from the start.  I had one shipper who just wanted to talk on the phone.  He wasn’t big on emails, and never texted, so I knew how to inform him of load statuses and issues.  Another shipper we almost lost to an interloper (i.e. competitive brokerage) really preferred emails and texts.  When we accidentally uncovered this preference, we started systematically asking people.  We almost lost her business because she thought she found it easier to communicate with the interloper, but we were just communicating the way her predecessor liked to communicate.  Sometimes, depending on the type of communication, the medium will be different, i.e. updates via email, problems via phone call.

2.  How often would you like updates on load status?  Some shippers want to know every minute detail, while others use a broker because they find that annoying and have no desire to know what is going on unless there is a potential problem.  Simply asking will enable you to adapt to that person’s communication style.

3.  How do you typically assign loads?  Some shippers will volunteer that they send a mass emailing out to 200 brokers and carriers.  We don’t even bother doing business with these types, because all they care about is price, and we only got loads when we made a mistake and under bid.  For this reason, this is a great question to ask at the prospecting stage as well.  We have some shippers who assign specific lanes to specific brokers or carriers, so whenever they have that shipment, they just call or email us.  Find out if it is a call or an email, either way, agree how to confirm that the rate in writing.

4.  Do you like to have a blanket agreement on a lane, or do you prefer a new quote every single time?  However they like to communicate regarding rates, adapt, so when it comes to billing, there will be no questions or disputes.  It is also good to send a confirmatory email of the stated rate, particularly if a shipper is in a panic to get it done and claims he/she will pay whatever it takes. We once had a shipper who said, “Pay whatever it takes, this load has to move today”, then she reneged, and since there was no paper/email trail, we had to take a loss.  Trust was gone, but we now document everything.

5.  What kind of documentation do you require to approve freight bills?  This is a critical question for cash flow.  If you do not present the proper paperwork, invoices can sit on the side of someone’s desk collecting dust until day 30 or 35 when you realize it hasn’t been paid, and they start the 30-day clock ticking once they have what they consider the proper paperwork.  That is how some companies use their transportation providers as a source of financing, but it is bad for your brokerage’s cash flow, since the freight agents and carriers must be paid on time no matter what.  Finding out in advance saves a lot of time and aggravation for your shipper and makes your life a lot easier as well.

Bonus Question:  So, how much does your company typically spend on freight annually? (Yes, this is one of those questions that makes my business partner/husband Louis cringe.)  But if you can get an answer to that question, you can figure out what your current share is and then set a target share for that account.  As your relationship grows, you can communicate that target and ask what it would take for you to get there.  This way you can learn if by working hard and being attentive, your share of shipments will increase, or if it won’t, your attention might be best spent elsewhere.

Now that you know your shipper’s expectations, if you work hard to exceed them every time, your relationship will strengthen, and this will ultimately place you in a position to increase your share of that shipper’s freight.

In my next blog I will tell you about ways a niche strategy can help freight agents create prosperity.

– By Cheryl Biron, President

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