Game planning for a successful sales team

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You know business is soft when you see carriers playing the sales equivalent of a neutral zone trap. They’re on their heels, protecting existing customers and slashing costs. Bye-bye, Winnipeg Jets tickets!

In this market, though, I see more fleets on the offensive. They’re done with the spot market’s erratic volumes and pricing. They want to haul for customers, not brokers.

Picture of a strategy board, skates, helmet, puck and hockey stick
(Photo: iStock)

Their plan? Hire sales reps.

Their problem? Where to start.

I faced the same question two years ago after investing in a startup, Rite Route Supply Chain Solutions. The timing was awful. It was the height of the pandemic. We had no customers and needed business fast.

But we did it. Here’s the game plan we used to quickly build a successful sales program from scratch.

‘Sales for Dummies’

Since we made a conscious decision not to hire experienced sales reps (more on that later), our first step was to write an in-house version of “Trucking Industry Sales for Dummies.”

This 200-plus-page document became our soup-to-nuts sales manual. It teaches newbies everything they need to become a trucking industry sales professional.

Creating this handbook wasn’t as daunting as you think. There is a trove of information and inexpensive tools available online, and you might be surprised how much sales knowledge is hanging around your own water cooler.

Writing it all down is important. It puts everyone in the organization on the same page regarding sales strategy and practice. Literally.

Experience not required

Too many fleets waste money on experienced sales reps who promise to deliver a big book of business like they’re some kind of Pied Piper. It just doesn’t happen.

Trucking is not complicated. It’s a simple, teachable industry if you’re prepared to do the teaching.

But finding people with the right qualities has never been harder.

What are the qualities of a good salesperson? They’re open to coaching. They’re self-motivated and can manage their time. They’re competitive and want to excel individually but value winning as a team.

When they lose, they don’t crumble. They see failure as a building block toward future success.

Hiring athletes

We determined that the best way to find the right people for Rite Route was to recruit former athletes. In addition to having the character we value, athletes tend to have large personal networks. Playing multiple sports over multiple seasons means having lots of teammates, competitors, and coaches. Sports friendships stay with you for a lifetime.

I saw this firsthand with my three children. The number of friends they made over the years playing competitive sports would be hard for a non-athlete of the same age to replicate.

These relationships can help sales rookies fill the funnel quicker when it’s time to start chasing freight.

We also found that former athletes are more willing to buy into a compensation structure that evolves from salary to full commission. It’s pay for performance. Salary doesn’t interest them. Making a lot of money does.

Job interviews

These days, resumes are so full of dung you need a nose plug to sift through them. We don’t bother anymore.

Instead, we ask candidates to submit a 200-word essay about why they think they’ll be successful in trucking sales. We invite the ones that stand out to hang around our office for half a day. We get to know them, and they get to know us. It’s kind of like a tryout.

If there’s “synergy,” we give them a copy of our training manual and wait to hear back from them. We don’t chase!

Getting started

In their first year, our sales hires spend most of their time working in operations, learning our secret sauce. They digest the sales manual and grow their prospect list.

The goal is to have 400 prospects in the system by the end of year one. It’s important to clarify that to us, a “prospect” doesn’t have to be the person who controls the freight. A prospect can be a friend who works for a company that has freight. The idea is to encourage lots of conversations and face-to-face meetings. Cold-calling traffic managers is a waste of time and only makes the learning curve steeper.

So far, so good. We trust our playbook, and the reps we have hired have paid for themselves in less than one year. The game is slowing down for them as we provide more experience and coaching. Better yet, those rookies have the intuition to know where the puck is going to be, and they’re skating hard to get there.

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Mike McCarron is president of Rite Route Supply Chain Solutions and a partner in Left Lane Associates. You can reach Mike at

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  • Thank you “Ace” for once again providing excellent information to the industry and the people in it. We need more “Aces”!