We are always looking for ways to improve our relationships with our shippers in order to increase their comfort level for doing business with us and for giving us more business. In reading an article in the Harvard Business Review by Lisa Rosh and Lynn Offermann entitled “Be Yourself, but Carefully,” I found some of their ideas can be useful for freight agents building sales relationships with shippers. The article advised managers on how to appropriately share their personal experiences and feelings in the workplace with subordinates to build relationships. I would like to share my perspective on how their ideas can help you build rapport with your shippers as you continue to grow your book of business.
- Keep It Relevant: The business objective here is to build trust with your shipper so they will give you more business not to become friends with them. It’s always great to make new friends, but you both have a job to do, and your purpose is to help your shipper do theirs better. Becoming very friendly with them could be a good byproduct of this trust, but always remember it is their business you want, and more of it. Oftentimes the task at hand is to solve a problem your shipper has. If you can come up with some past experiences where you have solved similar problems for other unnamed shippers of yours, you will demonstrate your value to your shipper. Preparing short case studies in the format of situation, action you took, positive result for shipper, you can demonstrate true value that is relevant to the task at hand.
- Be Genuine: At One Horn, we value honesty before everything else, so don’t make up stories that will serve your purpose. It is not only morally wrong, but you will ultimately get caught and ruin the relationship. In the article, they told a story about a manager who was trying to bond with younger employees. This manager lied about using social media during the years when he was in a position when social media didn’t really exist. The employees put two and two together, and he lost their trust. You may have to dig deep, but it is important to tell true stories you can be proud of sharing that also serve a purpose.
- Read Your Target’s Style: If your shipper is not all business and likes to open up with chit-chat about the results of the latest sporting event for their favorite team or the weekend with their family, be prepared. With the Internet, you can look up the stats and watch the key plays so when they bring the subject up, you can genuinely respond or even bring it up yourself. Maybe it’s their kids’ events, milestones, birthdays that light them up. Or perhaps they actively participate in a sport or a hobby. Take notes and remember, so you can ask follow-up questions. I genuinely love family and actively doing sports, so that is where I tend to go vs. spectator sports, so I try to find common ground to bond with my shipper while keeping it authentic. If they are all business, however, stick with business, but try to find out the business issues they are facing and share your experience with them to help them solve them.
- Don’t Get Too Personal: Even if they do. Sometimes your shipper might share things that are way too personal. It has happened to me many times, because I am a good listener, and I truly want to help. But I am still careful not to get lulled into a sense of comfort where I share equally deeply personal items. It is important to be there for your shippers when they need you, but they are the customer and you are the service provider, so dumping your problems on them is still inappropriate, no matter how good of friends you feel you are. Being the go-to person for them when they need help and advice will, however, build rapport and strengthen your relationship. Instead of “What keeps you up at night?” one of my friends often asks “What do you get yelled at for?” and if it is in the office or in the home and whether it does or doesn’t have anything to do with transportation, if you help your shipper solve the problem, it is a win for your relationship.
It is definitely more fun to interact with people with whom you have built a positive relationship based on trust and common ground. Being prepared with relevant and genuine stories from your experience can help you achieve that trust, particularly if it helps them achieve the results they seek.
In my next blog, I will tell you about the Secret to Freight Sales Success through Compelling Storytelling. Happy New Year!
– By Cheryl Biron, President
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