The game of “fill the trailer” is changing. So should you.

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At the start of each year I notice a significant surge in the number of suppliers who want to set up meetings. Seems like every Dale Carnegie comes back from the holidays raring to go, committed to working harder and being a better version of last year’s model. It’s the same reason the company fridge is chock full of salads the first month of the year. I call it January Syndrome.

So far this year, more sales reps have lost ground with me than gained it. Several months ago, my gig changed to the non-asset side of the business. You’d expect that even a rookie sales rep would have done his homework about that before hitting “send” to see how many temporary drivers I need. Yet the number of clueless sales “professionals” who reach out to me as though I’m still running trucks is staggering.

These irritating calls made me appreciate how much B2B sales is changing and how slowly our industry is adapting. Here are some of the fundamental shifts I’m seeing in the game of “fill the trailer”:

Researching not prospecting
Today, information about prospects comes from multiple sources. You can find timely, accurate background on virtually any company and its decision makers, customers, competitors, and markets. Information like this used to take months or even years to pry out of people. Today, you can set up Google alerts to have news about your prospects pushed to you via email or RSS. Have you checked out their LinkedIn and Facebook pages?

Starting cold with open-ended, probing questions about your prospect’s business will kill your credibility along with any chance of ever getting a pound of freight. Do the research and develop a game plan long before you reach out. This is Sales 101 today.

You’re not needed anymore
We’re dealing with more RFPs than ever now. One reason is that decision-makers are smarter and more informed. They generally know how to solve their own problems and don’t need assistance from their sales rep until it’s time to figure out what all that scribble on their white board is going to cost them. If you’re not careful, your sales force will turn into nothing more than a flock of messenger pigeons dropping off smelly pricing all day.

They’ve heard it all before
In contemporary sales, the old “Ben Franklin close” no longer flies. You can’t rely on a deft tongue, a slick brochure, and a canned presentation.

In fact, selling today is about not selling. Customers want business partners who can add value and provide attributes they can’t get from a computer.

Forget the song-and-dance routine and charts of pros and cons. Work on consistently demonstrating that you are honest, hardworking, and knowledgeable. The deals will evolve naturally and the rates will take care of themselves.

Not a one-man show
If you’re in sales, my guess is that you’ve never won an Employee of the Month mug. There’s tension between sales and operations that many chalk up to arrogance. To me, it stems from the reality that sales reps can “earn” three times the coin of everyone else.

Today, it takes a collaborative effort to secure, manage, and grow business with customers. It’s a company-wide commitment that dwarfs any one person. Outdated compensation models that are overly focused on individuals and short-term goals are no longer effective and will only de-motivate your team.

Lunches are cool
Twenty years ago one of the easiest and most common ways to take a business relationship to a new level was a night on the town with all the fixings. Now customers would rather have the grand you spent for the limo, dinner, and tickets taken off their monthly freight spend. Most don’t have the time to be out at night, and many will even frown at the invitation. Also, with more women responsible for buying transportation now, men are starting to figure out how complicated nighttime entertaining with the opposite gender can be (a fact that women in sales have dealt with for years).

Try a business lunch instead. It’s a great way to spend an hour with a client, especially if you’re still getting to know each other. Just don’t order the salad. There’s still plenty of that in the fridge.

Mike McCarron was one of the founding “M”s in MSM Transportation before the company was purchased by the Wheels Group. Based in Toronto, he currently works for Wheels in mergers and acquisitions and can be reached at Follow Mike on Twitter @AceMcC.

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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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  • Great article Mike! So pleased to see someone addressing Sales / Marketing today in our business, it has changed dramatically in the past four years. I share your frustration and amaze at the number of sales professionals who truly don’t get this today. When you lead with what I call the “all about you” syndrome and a glossy brochure your going to fail. Business managers don’t have time for that, but they always need solutions so try the “what do you need” approach. And never forget that people buy services and products for some kind of personal need, find that need and now your selling. With tools like LinkedIn and the Internet there is no excuse for not knowing something about someone’s business and not knowing is an insult. Another fact, people buy from who they like, so how well liked will you be by starting off with an insult…. I find not only do many sales people not get this, but either do the companies who employ them. It’s time for an overhaul before you are left in the dust by those who do get it.

  • In the Transportation Industry it is the front line people who get ignored by the People in the Office.
    I can’t count the times that I have told the Sales Dept either about a new account or improving the ones that we have.
    The upper management didn’t want to hear what you have to offer Customer Wise
    I am not surprised that we are now feeling the pinch

  • Great post Mike.

    In the past mass marketing was the game. Mailers, cold calls, print ads, radio spots, you name it, including plenty of late nights. A mile wide and an inch deep was the game plan; blanket the market with your message and buyers were sure to call your name.

    Today the game is much different. A targeted approach on a suspect client, through a LinkedIn introduction, and only after due diligence has been done, will put you in a pile, not neccessarily on the top. At this point many buyers visit your profile, your website, and if you pass the grade, may call you to do some due diligence of their own. Vetting all questions for the right answers you may become the defacto template to which they measure all of your competitors in a time of need. With the use of search engines nothing is sacred. Everyone knows everything.

    What got you through the door was presenting a compelling and accurate understanding of [the sectors] challenges and the company’s customer’s presumed needs. What got you to the RFQ was your understanding of the buyers specific wants while at the table.

    And understanding the value you bring to the relationship, along with responsible pricing, gives you a better than average chance of securing a share of wallet.

    Ill prepared reps haphazardly beating the pavement for clients speaks equally of the company they work for. Good client relations take time to cultivate – so time must respected. It’s an instant gratification world with an “I want it here, and I want it now” entitlement. This often underscores the lack of professionalism on both sides of the table.

    The adage “work smart, not hard” is possibly truer today than ever, as we have more knowledge at our finger tips, allowing us to do more with less, than was afforded our predecessors. Smart buyers and educated sales professionals who embrace this new culture will reap the rewards.