Adapt or go broke

TORONTO, Ont. – The Canadian transportation industry is way behind the times when it comes to adopting new technologies and evolving sales processes, which creates challenges but also opportunities.

That was the message from Mike McCarron, president of Left Lane Associates, who spoke this week at a Delta Nu Alpha transportation club luncheon.

“Our industry is way behind the times,” he said. “To me, that’s an advantage. It’s an advantage to those who embrace technology.”

To make his point, McCarron placed older-generation cell phones at everyone’s place and asked attendees to compare them to their current iPhones.

“That is how much sales has changed the last five years. As an industry, I don’t think we’ve adapted,” McCarron said.

He suggested the traditional outsides sales rep model has passed.

“It doesn’t work anymore,” he said. He described an outside rep making $60,000 a year, with $20,000 in desk costs and incurring another $20,000 in business expenses. For a transport company with a 10% margin, he said that rep would have to bring in a million dollars in his first year just to break even.

“There is also the reality that the rep owns the accounts,” he said, warning that they can take them to a competitor or start their own competitive business.

McCarron said transportation buyers have evolved. Many are now millennials and they go online to find service providers. Seventy-three per cent of today’s buyers won’t answer cold calls, McCarron said, and 90% make buying decisions based on online research. But too few transportation companies put any focus into their online presence. In essence, transport companies must go from hunting prospects to becoming hunted by prospective buyers.

In a survey of transportation company websites, McCarron’s firm found 95% were not mobile-friendly and most had no updated content.

“The website is not an online brochure,” he insisted. It should serve three purposes, McCarron said: to distribute company content; to optimize search engine performance; and to track customers. If your website is ineffective at retaining visitors for more than a few seconds, it will perform worse in search engine queries.

“With this new age of customers, they’re going to Google ‘Toronto to Western Canada.’ If your company is on the 14th page of Google, you’re never going to get the phone call,” he explained.

McCarron also said companies should have a well managed social media presence, but only if they’re committed to it.

“You’re in or you’re out,” he said of social media. “It’s a lot better to be out than to have incomplete stuff.”

McCarron said social media should be thought of as an LTL carrier for your business’s content. Posting relevant information shows you’re committed.

Social media is a great way to connect with prospective customers, McCarron said, because of the “power of acceptance.” They have already accepted your request to connect on social media, which isn’t the case via e-mail.

When you land a new customer, that’s when the real work begins.

“You’re not getting a new customer; you’re getting an opportunity,” McCarron emphasized. “And it’s what you make of that opportunity that makes the difference. You have to provide service on the first few opportunities.”

When he ran MSM Transportation, McCarron said he’d often price-match to get the first load and then differentiate based on service. Rate increases would follow.

He also offered advice on how to get rate increases. Focus on add-on services with existing customers, he suggested, and always put expiry dates on price quotes.

“As an industry, we give lifetime rates,” he said. “We say yes to everything. Every customer should get an anniversary date. Every quote you give this customer expires on that date. You may not get the rate increase every year but you have to have that conversation every year and even if you don’t get the increase, you can leverage it into new business. They realize you’re not a weak link.”

If you aren’t raising rates, McCarron said, tell the customer why not.

“It’s about sending a message,” he said. “It’s a message you’re sending to the customer that you’re serious about doing business and if they perceive you as a weak link, they’ll push you around all the time.”

McCarron offered five “quick fixes” attendees can easily implement in their business.

Leverage cash: “Cash can be used to create margin,” McCarron said. You can negotiate better rates by offering quicker payment terms, you can offer factoring services for less than factoring companies do and you have greater flexibility to make deals. McCarron said you can start building cash by focusing on billing. “Billing should be done the day the shipment is delivered,” he said.

Focus on your brand: McCarron encouraged business owners to Google themselves and their company. “You have a brand the day you open the door,” he said. “It is defined by two things: Keeping your promises to customers and it’s about what people say about you when you leave the room.” Company e-mail signatures should be consistent, LinkedIn profiles up to date and accurate. “Ask yourself, if you were looking for a service, would you do business with yourself?”

Stop submitting bids: “They’re an absolute waste of (expletive) time,” McCarron said of requests for proposals, noting he started winning more business at MSM Transportation when he told customers why he refused to submit bids. “You can’t run a business doing this.”

Put expiration dates on quotes: “Every rate needs to have an expiry date,” he said. “Do not give lifetime rates. Give anniversary dates and all customer pricing expires every year on the anniversary date.”

Don’t fear technology: “It’s the way of the future,” McCarron said of technology. “It’s so powerful and so user-friendly. Embrace it or you’ll be out of business. I’ve seen what very inexpensive, easy-to-use apps have done for businesses. If you don’t have a CRM (customer relationship management) system, get one. The power it will bring you is staggering.”


James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • Hello James,

    Great article and I believe Mike McCarron states it correctly, “It’s an advantage to those who embrace technology.” An online web presence is critical for today’s businesses.

    Even if prospects are contacted directly by a business the prospect will first check out the business’ online presence before even considering becoming a customer to that business. If the online presence is missing or doesn’t fully represent the professionalism of the company then the deal is off!

    Businesses which embrace online and have it done right will win over many competitors who don’t do it or don’t do it as well.

    My business is focused on helping small businesses with their online presence and I have seen first hand what a good online presence can do for a company.

    All the best,