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If you’re a freight broker or freight agent, negotiating is an everyday occurrence for your freight broker business. And it’s not for the faint of heart – Negotiating is tough work! But, over time, it helps you develop skills and strategies to build credibility and deepen trust between you and your customers and carriers.
In the logistics industry, freight brokers and freight agents hold a very unique position in the fact that they are both a buyer AND seller of transportation. Which means, in many ways, that they are in direct conflict with one another and here’s why: When freight brokers sell to customers, the goal is to sell your services at thehighest price possible, while offering customer’s good VALUE for their money. When freight brokers buy transportation, the objective is to secure the lowest PRICE possible without compromising the level of service we need. The difference between the two is how freight brokers and freight agents make money.
Because negotiating is inevitable as a freight broker agent, it’s imperative to build better relationships with both your customers and carriers while not forgetting to focus on selling thevalue you bring to the table first! When you focus on these two components, you will lessen your negotiating time and increase your profits.
Here are some questions you could ask yourself to get a better indication on how much negotiating you’ll need to do with your customer:
- How will the other person benefit as a result from buying from you?
- Do you know your value proposition to the other party?
- How high up in the company is the person you are dealing with?
- How are you perceived by them?
- What is the urgency of the other party?
- How strong of a relationship have you developed with the other party?
Having a firm grip on the above answers ahead of time will help you be prepared with the responses you’ll need to enter into negotiations intelligently and with confidence. In addition, I’ve included some valid points your customer or carrier may have when negotiating and insight on how to better address and/or combat their concerns:
- You have not proven your value beyond the competition.
- Do Your Homework: Technology has allowed consumers access to more information than ever on pricing and competitors. In order to sell on value – not price – as important as confidence and rapport are, you need to do your homework on your potential client. This will be the first step you take in order to establish if they’re a good candidate to meet your price needs so you aren’t wasting your time talking to individuals only interested in the cheapest option.
- Leverage Your Strengths and Experience: Before you reach out to ANY potential customer or carrier, your mind-set needs to be rock-solid and you better be ready to unleash ALL your company’s strengths and unshakeable reasons why you stand out from your competition. Don’t be like a deer caught in headlights when they start firing questions off to you. If that happens, you’ll never truly be able to win back their full confidence or trust in you and will have started the relationship off on shaky ground. Take a moment with your potential client to share the history of your company to show solid roots and have success stories or customer testimonials at the ready (bonus points if your testimonials/case studies solved issues or addressed concerns similar to your potential client).
- Confidence Is Always King: When stressing the importance of value as compared to your competitors, you should not get into price negotiations. This would be the time to mention the advantages only YOUR business can bring to the table (i.e. 24/7 customer support, online customer portals, technological advantages, etc.). NEVER take things personally and let emotions get involved during negotiations and never bad mouth your competitors.
- You have failed to differentiate yourself from your competition.
- Know Yourself and Know Your Value: You have to be able to list (firmly and capably) your businesses strengths and know them inside and out. You must be able to succinctly communicate what sets you apart from your competition and, therefore, are capable of commanding a higher price. Here are three ways that can help you differentiate yourself and act on IMMEDIATELY:
1) Sell Yourself – It’s common knowledge that when dealing with a person when purchasing a service or product, most times they aren’t just buying what you have to sell…they’re buying the value in YOU! It’s the connection the customer feels with the seller, how they can relate to them, how they feel understood and comfortable by choosing to go with you. So, sell yourself! Be confident in yourself, find that common ground with them, be relatable and be informative. Now’s the time to show off all those years of experience and abilities you’ve acquired, all the knowledge you’ve retained that have made you the seasoned freight broker you are today that allows your business to run smoothly and efficiently. It’s these details and your passion for what you do that, in their eyes, will give you the edge over others and impress upon them why you are better than the rest. Customers revel in the fact that they are doing business with the best of the best. You just have to convince them that you are and then FOLLOW THROUGH! But, don’t be cocky or arrogant – remember, they have MANY others with whom they could do business.
2) Ask Questions…Then LISTEN: Most don’t take the time to ask questions, let alone listen to what their client have to say. Take the time, before-hand, to research your potential customer to have the background information you need in order to ask the right questions. Nobody likes their time wasted and no potential customer will feel important when you ask them questions that show you didn’t do your homework on their business and that’s a deal-killer right off the bat! What better impression to make on a potential client than to demonstrate being pro-active in your information gathering and establishing yourself as a leader in the industry by asking insightful questions.
3) Be Solution-Oriented: When customers are looking for a solution to the problem, they don’t want to hear about all the great things your company can do or care about your flashy company literature. They need a solution and that MUST be your focus if you expect to gain their business. Listen thoroughly to understand the full extent of their need then address that need/concern/issue specifically and satisfactorily. Mention another customer with a similar situation that you’ve helped and what specific actions you took to overcome that obstacle/concern.
- You have failed to build trust or provide a viable solution:
- If you want to build trust and credibility with your customers, and hold on to them for life, follow these 10 important tips (courtesy of Walter Rogers, salesforce):
1) Avoid selling a solution that isn’t in the customer’s best interest. Sometimes you just don’t have the right solution at the right price. If that is the case, it is always best to be honest with the customer, instead of proposing something which you know will not fully deliver the outcome the customer is looking for.
2) Never misrepresent the features, advantages and benefits of a product or service. Customers don’t want a product or solution that only comes close to meeting their needs, or that usually functions properly. Give them the whole, unvarnished truth, and let them decide if the proposed solution will work for them.
3) Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. Some sales professionals find it very difficult to say no to the customer about anything. Telling the customer that a certain solution with specific features and benefits will be delivered by a specific deadline, when you know you can’t deliver, is a recipe for disaster.
4) Accepting or offering bribes or gifts is always unethical. There are perhaps no brighter ethical line sales professionals must not cross than the one prohibiting off-the-books inducements.
5) Keep pricing consistent to all departments within the same company. You will poison the relationship and kill the account if the discrepancy is ever discovered.
6) When problems develop after the sale, don’t make excuses and don’t place blame; fix the problem. You are the face of the company; it is your duty as a sales professional to deliver on the promise you made.
7) Don’t withhold bad news. If you think the customer will be upset when you tell them the bad news, just imagine how much more upset they will be when they find out you knew the bad news three weeks ago and hid it from them.
8) If and when you must speak of the competition, be respectful at all times. Some sales professionals seem to think that “trash-talking” the competition will make their own products and services look better. Usually, it only makes them look petty and immature in the eyes of the customer.
9) Always honor the relationships that other sales professionals on your team have with their accounts. Stealing accounts from your team members is just that–stealing.
10) And finally: make promises and keep them. Above all, you must do what you say, when you said you would do it. This one skill alone will put you head and shoulders above your competition.
- Your price is still too high or asked you to reduce your price or match a competitor:
- First off, this may be a red flag. Some individuals are only focused on garnering the lower price – period. Most times, these individuals end up being problem customers and a drain on you and your business. It might be best to just decide to cut bait and move on and save yourself the headache. But, don’t instantly jump to this conclusion. Ask more questions, get a better feel for their needs and flexibility (if any). Sometimes people are just very busy or need to tend to other things and want to cut through the process. Be patient, get more information then make an informed decision.
- For all other times, be empathetic to their concerns and let them know you understand their situation. This brings you over to their side and helps them feel understood and diminishes any feelings they may have that their concern is silly or unjustified. Moving forward, you will need to ask more questions and deal with each objection they have to relieve their apprehension. You need to properly and fully address each objection before moving forward on price. If they don’t feel comfortable in doing business with you, negotiating price is pointless. If you still cannot agree on price, you need to explain why your service is still the better value. Remember to specify to them that, in the long run, choosing to pay a higher price will ultimately provide them with the value they seek (i.e. goods delivered on-time and in good condition). Help them to understand that by choosing you, it will not only make things easier and more stress-free for them, but will reflect positively on their position and make them look better to their superiors.
- Find out what the customer values most when doing business. If you provide the same value as a competitor, then price becomes the only definitive difference. Use this opportunity to impress upon them what only YOU can bring to the table and establish these factors as anchors and testimony to your superior value and thus obvious choice for selecting you.
When a freight broker or any business professional is faced with the negotiation process they must realize from the onset that it’s all really about relationships and selling value every step of the way. Once that mindset is established, you will dramatically cut down on having to negotiate to win business. However, when you are forced to negotiate, you can refer to LDi’s Free Report, “11 No-Fail Negotiation Tactics for Freight Brokers”, a power-house list of critical negotiation tactics geared specifically to overcome objections.
If you have any additional suggestions on winning negotiating techniques, we’d love to hear them! So, please feel free to comment on this or any of LDi’s blog posts or suggest future article topics and thanks for reading!