How to learn the basics of sales and freight transportation

Three years ago I posted a blog entitled ‘Tips for the New Transportation Sales Rep‘.  In that blog I consolidated a number of ideas generated in a LinkedIn Sales Management group and added a few thoughts of my own.  To my amazement, it has received over 38,000 hits since it was posted.

A few weeks ago I received a very interesting inquiry from a self-described “newbie” sales rep.  As a follow up to my February 2013 blog, I was asked about what a new account manager should do if his or her company does not provide either formal sales training or coaching in the basics of the freight transportation industry.  The following is how I responded to this question.

Ultimately, one gets out of a career what one puts into it.  Every individual must take responsibility for the array of skills and expertise that he or she acquires during a lifetime.  It is up to each individual to seek out and acquire the skills they need, not to wait for a particular company to supply them.  As a young sales representative or person in any entry level job in freight transportation, here is a pathway to success.

  1. Speak with your colleagues in other departments 

Take some time to meet with people in each of the core departments of your company such as Pricing, Operations, Line Haul and Billing to learn as much as you can about what they do.  With respect to Pricing, find out about your company’s costing model.  Find out how it works so you are looking for the right type of freight on the right lanes at rates that work for your company.  Be inquisitive and learn as much as you can from each department.

  1. Walk the dock

Visually inspect the freight provided by your top accounts.  Check out the packaging, how the products are loaded on a trailer and ask the people on the dock for potential improvements.  Check the paperwork and find out from the drivers who pick up the shipments if they face any challenges with the freight.  Understand how the freight rates for your accounts were constructed.

  1. Spend a day with a driver

If you work for an LTL, local cartage or small parcel carrier, periodically spend a day with your route driver observing him/her pick up and deliver the freight for your clients.  Check if the freight and paperwork are ready on time.  Speak with the person who dispatches the freight to learn as much as you can about each account.

  1. Buy some books

There are lots of great books on Sales and on Transportation.  Do a Google Search.  Read the reviews and pick the most highly recommended books.

  1. Check out the local colleges and institutes in your area

There are a variety of organizations that provide education in transportation and logistics.  Check to see what is available.  Learn about transportation but also about warehousing, logistics, supply chain management, regulations, risk management, financial management and other related fields.

  1. Subscribe to industry publications

Many industry publications (i.e. Canadian Shipper, Today’s Trucking) are available at no charge.  Download them each month and read as many relevant articles as you can.

  1. Join transportation and sales groups on LinkedIn

There are a variety of good groups on LinkedIn (i.e. Freight Management Best Practices) that specialize in transportation, Sales or both.  Join them, ask your questions and read the posts.

  1. Join industry associations and go to industry conferences

Join industry associations such as the Council of Supply Chain Management and go to their annual and local meetings.  Other organizations such as SMC3 run excellent educational conferences.  If you are interested in the Canadian freight market, check out the Surface Transportation Summit.

  1. Use product knowledge as a competitive sales tool

Sales skills can be learned through books, courses and most importantly through practice.  If you want to gain an immediate edge on your competitors, learn everything you can about your products and services and those of your competitors.  Ask your customers and prospects about the carriers they most and least admire.  Study the strengths and weaknesses of your company and the competition.  Being able to identify where your company’s value proposition comes out ahead of the competition is one of the most important things a “newbie” rep should master.

The bottom line:  Learning is a life long journey.  I have been in this industry for over 30 years and I learn something every day.  If you have some ideas on how to help new recruits to the industry, please post a comment to this blog.


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Dan Goodwill, President, Dan Goodwill & Associates Inc. has over 30 years of experience in the logistics and transportation industries in both Canada and the United States. Dan has held executive level positions in the industry including President of Yellow Transportation’s Canada division, President of Clarke Logistics (Canada’s largest Intermodal Marketing Company), General Manager of the Railfast division of TNT and Vice President, Sales & Marketing, TNT Overland Express.

Goodwill is currently a consultant to manufacturers and distributors, helping them improve their transportation processes and save millions of dollars in freight spend. Mr. Goodwill also provides consulting services to transportation and logistics organizations to help them improve their profitability.

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