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Selfless Means to a Selfish End

Our industry is made up of many fast moving specialty niches dominated by high levels of service. As the industry changes from the old style of doing business, it will be replaced by what is determined as an off balance sheet commodity known as "v...


Our industry is made up of many fast moving specialty niches dominated by high levels of service. As the industry changes from the old style of doing business, it will be replaced by what is determined as an off balance sheet commodity known as “value added”.

What exactly is “value added”? Well, consider that we used to take it for granted that our doctors would make house calls when we were sick. Or that the local grocer might throw in the delivery of our weekly shopping for free. They were adding value. These days we are often wondering if we are even going to get a return phone call from our load brokers or freight forwarders. With voice-mail, we are lucky to speak to a live human being. Call it the “me generation” or call it the glory of technology. In the long run, it could spell the end of a potentially good business opportunity.

It works like this: competition among transportation companies is cut-throat. There are just too many carriers, load brokers and freight forwarders serving too few potential customers. What will make the difference between success and failure, however, will have little to do with talent. Or with credentials or customer references, for that matter. It will have to do with relationships. And the only way to build relationships that endure is by going that extra mile, by adding value.

There is an old saying that goes “I do not care how much you know until I know how much you care”. Anyone running a transportation company should have this emblazoned somewhere in their office. The hyper professional attitude one often encounters these days says: “I am beyond making a phone call to see if things are all right, if everything was understood, if there is anything else I can do.” That attitude is ultimately doomed to failure. People expect more.

It is true. We are a better-educated and trained transportation industry and there may not be a great deal of difference from one transportation company to another. So when shippers come to make a decision about whom to deal with, they most often chose on the basis of trust, compatibility, attitudes and only last on the number of free lunches. So that it is not forgotten, we are moving into a service economy. “What can I do to help you?” will beat “Look how much I know”.

Now comes the problem. What stands between the typical transportation company and success? It could be one of a number of things. First, “pride”. We worked hard to achieve our customer list and we have something coming. Forget it. Out there on the street there is no difference between Jack and Joe, and to neglect the idea that we are selling ourselves and the benefits of doing business with ourselves is a recipe for poverty. Second, “laziness”. It takes time and effort to give people the kind of service they require to remain as customers. Lastly, “selfishness”. There is little humility in the business world, even though we are dealing with those people who possess it. Take a lesson here. We could all profit from being a little less presumptuous, and a little more unassuming.

In the end, when you give, you get back. And while the approach may sound self-serving (indeed, it is), it is also necessary. The “value added” approach offers an opportunity to use selfless means to achieve a selfish end. It is win-win. And in the world of the baby-boom consumer, there is no other way to do it. That is likely the reason for the rise of networking as the preferred method of developing a customer base. Meeting people, “making friends” as it were is not easy. And where the true “value added” transportation professionals will be able to build for themselves a long-lasting customer base, the one who is in for the quick kill – though he may profit over the short term, will not last.

Mark Borkowski is president of Toronto based Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corporation. Mercantile is a mid market mergers & acquisitions brokerage firm. Mark can be contacted at (416) 368-8466 ext. 232 or mercant@interlog.com


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