Watch Now

Commentary: Cold-calling tips that drive success in supply chain sales

Let prospects speak; you’ll get your turn — really

Cold calling is a vital part of sales prospecting in the supply chain industry. (Photo: iStock)

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.

While cold calling isn’t the only method of generating new business in supply chain sales, it is a vital part of sales prospecting in this industry. Even during peak season, the holidays or your slower season, when prospecting might not be front of mind, you should continue to set aside time for it. The fact of the matter is, if you don’t, your sales growth will eventually flatline.

The purpose of cold calling is to start moving more prospects through the sales funnel. With the time it takes companies to complete the decision-making process, there may be a delayed payoff from your perspective, making it necessary to prioritize prospecting in all seasons to avoid a dip in business.

Actively channeling cold calls into the pipeline also helps remove the pressure to close each deal. The larger the number of prospective customers you have entering the process, the less crucial each one stands on its own. The sales team is able to trust the process, and the confidence this adds to the conversations can be contagious, further leading to positive results.

Compared to other prospecting methods, cold calling produces the best results for a minimal commitment of time and resources.

Tips for cold calling:

Develop a system for both researching customers and picking up the phone. Plan your time realistically for the best chance of consistent results, whether you’re feeling motivated, thorough or rushed, whether you’ve set aside enough time, or if you’re wasting your own time and procrastinating dialing the phone. Some people harvest their transportation management system (TMS) to find shippers and receivers they may be able to call on while others scavenge the internet looking at lists on Google and trade association websites to find their leads. No matter what method you employ, when you sit down to make cold calls, you need a list of prospects, not an internet rabbit hole session. Prepare your list ahead of time and stay out of the never-ending pursuit of the perfect lead. There are a million reasons for salespeople not to hit the phones. Do not let a lack of leads be your excuse as all of these hurdles are fixable when you have a mindful system in place.

Practice on and off the phone. If you’re trying something new, practice before you call, but also remember that each real call contributes to your practice. Roleplaying works. Do a voice recording or video of yourself for your eyes only. That will give you the buyer’s perspective and show you what you look and sound like to your prospects. The key is to cold call consistently. With time, it will get easier for you and give you better results.

Hit the right balance with what you say. It’s important to avoid sounding like a script, but you must plan your talking points. You want to be conscious of the other person’s time on the phone, especially with the first few seconds of making the right impression. If you’re just starting out in your career or at a new company, err on the side of confidence. If you need to read your script word for word for a while when prospects answer the phone, do it! Give yourself every advantage you can when you’re starting out, and no matter what, be direct with your point while still sounding conversational. And don’t forget to breathe.

Ask the right questions and listen. Seek out the prospect’s successes, difficulties, concerns and needs. You might ask them to tell you about the benefit they would see from filling a specific need, a need that you can fill. You’re looking for the opportunities as well as getting them to open up in the conversation. Just as in any other conversation, a negative initial response can be a starting point if they’re willing to continue the discussion. Above all else, keep your questions open-ended and allow your prospect the ability to speak candidly and freely. The worst thing you can do is overtalk your prospect so listen intently and take good notes. You will get your turn to talk so take advantage of your prospect’s willingness to speak. This will separate your conversation from your competitor who most likely only listened long enough to get their turn to speak.

Stay away from “selling” unless you’re specifically asked. If they’re asking about your ability to meet specific needs, you must be able to confidently answer in a compelling way what you can offer. If they don’t bring it to that point in the conversation, they would not have welcomed it otherwise. Nowhere more than in logistics is it paramount to underpromise and overdeliver. It is during the sales process that shippers share valuable details and requirements and expect salespeople to retain those details in an effort to better service the shippers’ needs. Pay attention to these details, document them carefully and share with your team so you can nail the service commitments with your prospects when they become your customers. That will speak louder than anything you can possibly say.

Look for feedback for yourself. Feedback can be anything from noticing the reactions you get in conversation to listening to a recording of yourself practicing. Use feedback to improve your future interactions. Pay attention to the tone you bring to the conversation, the phrasing and words you use, and the immediate response you get back. If you are selling at a large firm, find a couple of mentors. Try to find a person more senior than you who can share his or her experiences in the industry and inside your company. Also, find a mentor who is your tenure that you can share ideas with and bounce new tactics and messages off of. These relationships will help you stay fresh and continuously grow in your career. If you’re at a smaller shop, get on Twitter or LinkedIn and engage in the ever-growing supply chain sales conversations that are always going on. No matter how you engage and interact with other, like-minded supply chain sales folks, it’s critical you never give up on making yourself better. 

With cold calling, if you put in the work diligently, it pays off. Rejection is part of the process, but you can learn from it and make improvements to your methods. Make cold calling a consistent habit, and it will be worthwhile for your business. Remember: Everybody ships, just mostly not with you! Ready, set, go — and happy hunting!

Charley Dehoney

Charley Dehoney is a growth-focused executive, consultant, advisor and investor, with more than 15 years of experience at the intersection of transportation technology. He's helped create revenue systems that have supported hundreds of millions of dollars in growth for the businesses he's helped build. Dehoney is currently serving as CEO of Manning's Truck Brokerage, a 50-year-old, private equity-backed logistics company. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska with his beautiful wife and three strapping young sons.