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Heavyweight retailers offer advice on how to land their business

TORONTO, Ont. -- What’s the best way to land a deal hauling freight for mega-retailer Walmart?

TORONTO, Ont. — What’s the best way to land a deal hauling freight for mega-retailer Walmart?

“Stop asking to take me to dinner and to go golfing,” Michael Buna, senior manager, strategic transportation management with Walmart Canada said during a panel discussion on How the Sales Game Has Changed, held today at the Ontario Trucking Association’s 86th annual convention. “The corporate world is changing. We have an ethics policy and it’s there for a reason. We are more interested in what your company can do and what your core competencies are. Letting me win a golf game is not going to get you that bid, it really isn’t. What it’s going to do is discourage me from calling you, because you are putting us in a bad situation.”

Buna’s candid remarks highlighted just how dramatically the sales process has changed in recent years. Few deals are being brokered on golf courses and in hazy bars. Gone are the liquid lunches. Buna urged prospective carriers to learn as much as possible about Walmart’s business and its unique requirements, but he pointed out there’s a vast amount of such information readily available.

“Find out more about me, just not on the golf course,” he said. “There’s social media, a lot of what we do every day is all over the place. It’s in newspapers and on the Internet. We have forums for that, where you can find out more about us and what we are doing.”

Buna also said carriers should have a realistic idea of where they fit into a shipper’s network before making a sales pitch or bidding on lanes. Work with shippers to find out where they’re expanding and what their future needs will be, he urged.

“We are bidding out for five years down the road,” Buna told OTA delegates. “We know where we’re opening up our stores and distribution centres and some of our vendors are bidding based on where they know we’re going and where our growth is.”

He also said carriers should be honest about what their strengths are as well as their limitations when bidding on lanes.

“We have people who have five to 10 tractors who respond to our bid and bid on all 15,000 lanes,” Buna said.

Not knowing when to end the sales pitch is another common mistake carriers make, Buna said.

“At a certain point, stop selling,” he advised. “At the end of the day, we need to move ahead just like everybody else does. At some point, the salesman needs to go and someone who can get a business deal done has to be there.”

In many cases, Buna observed, a great salesperson is incapable of closing and a good closer can’t deliver a compelling sales pitch. Some carriers have effectively sent in two-person tag teams consisting of a salesperson and a closer, who compliment each other’s skills to get the deal done.

Mark Gallant, director of transportation with Home Depot, said carriers looking to land new business should be less reactive than is the current norm.

“Stop reacting,” he said, when asked about common mistakes carriers make when selling their services. “There’s so much pressure right now on all sides. You have to put your foot forward and get aggressive again. Show leadership and pick a direction. There are a lot of great opportunities out there, look for it, pick it and go after it.”

Gallant also said carriers should try to present a workforce that’s as diverse as the customers they hope to serve. Stores like Home Depot, he pointed out, make a concerted effort to hire staff that reflect the diversity of their customer base, and carriers should do so as well, he suggested.

“We spend a lot of time at Home Depot trying to make sure that in our stores, we match our diverse customer set,” Gallant, who sits on Home Depot’s board for diversity, explained. “That is absolutely what I would do. Your customer set is becoming quite diverse.”

Gallant and Buna agreed that carriers can differentiate themselves by offering easy access to data and analytics. Gallant said he has installed transportation management systems for several retailers and shippers through the years.

“There are probably three or four (popular TMS systems),” he said. “Get to know them even better than your shipper does.”

He also said carriers should look to “design your entire sales and customer service departments around making it easy for customers, from an electronic standpoint.”

“Make it very easy for customers to consume their own information,” he advised. “That means a lot, if I can see my data inside your company and get access to it more quickly than I can through my own company.”

Buna added “When looking at technology, make sure it’s adaptable. That technology needs to be adaptable for your customers. The easier, faster and cheaper you can get that done, the more lucrative you look to the customer. Sometimes it’s difficult working within our own extensive systems.”

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