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Viewpoint: Finding referrals that convert into logistics sales

Implementing a simple, cost-effective strategy

One way to learn about your customers’ ecosystem is to ask questions around “in, do, out.” (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

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

Referrals might be the best method of new lead generation for freight sales. Not only is it a simple and cost-effective strategy to implement, but it also returns an impressive conversion rate — about three times higher than what you can expect from other forms of prospecting.

Your internal process surrounding referrals can be as structured as you want to make it. An occasional referral request might not need any additional preparation or material. To get the most out of frequent referrals, you can create a thorough and organized system.

How to make effective referral requests

The starting point for referrals will always be the quality of service you provide. You need the foundation of ensuring customer satisfaction, being reliable and going above and beyond. This is where you find enthusiasm from your customers to recommend you to others.  Also, when you are speaking with your clients, one of the best questions you can ask is who their competitors are as well as their largest customer and suppliers. By staying within your customers’ network, you maintain a high level of domain knowledge of the products, players and processes in a single space, and that niche focus resonates with most shippers today, large or small. One framework to learn about your customers’ ecosystem is to ask questions around “in, do, out.”

This means, every company must bring something in, do something to it, then send it back out.  Example: A manufacturing company brings in raw materials and packaging, does something with the materials (assembles, forms, builds, packages), then sends those products out to its customers or distributors.

(Image: Charley Dehoney)

There are other easy, often-missed ways to open the door to referral conversations, like including a line at the bottom of your email signature with any incentives you offer or simply an invitation for referrals. Add this to your social media and marketing material as well.

If a customer takes a moment to voice appreciation of you and your business, be prepared to bring the conversation around to referrals in a casual way. It’s a natural opportunity you shouldn’t let pass you by.

Ideally, you’ll want to ask customers for referrals after you’ve made a positive impression in their mind. It could be after resolving an issue, delivering under a tight deadline or finding a way to provide value where they didn’t expect it. Ask for their referral in a way that doesn’t sound forced or scripted. Mention the importance of referrals for your business and ask if they can think of anyone who would benefit from the services you offer.

How to develop a freight referral program

When you’ve outgrown the capabilities of your previous process, consider creating a referral program, which is a better investment in the long run.

Start by looking at how you want your prospective customers introduced to your business for the first time. You might highlight your unique selling proposition, send material for more detailed information and provide testimonials. Without some degree of preparation, a referrer will only provide the last item.

Educate your referrers on how you position your business in your marketing and how you set yourself apart from competitors, to give them possible talking points. This brings you better matches. It increases the likelihood of a positive response during the prospect’s initial conversation and also fosters a better conversion rate. Name your criteria, such as specialized shipping needs of your ideal customer, that can help the referrer choose quality prospects.

Provide marketing material to your referrers as attachments that can be easily emailed. This might include a sales sheet, guide or white paper on a strategic topic. Have your material, complete with the rest of the email, ready to be sent out when needed.

Find your preferred process for collecting basic referral information and make it simple for the user. Instruct your referrer on the next steps to take, whether it’s filling out a form on your website, sending an email or making the introduction happen via LinkedIn.

Be sure to thank referrers for their help. You may have an incentive you’ll give them, but also thank them on the phone, via email or even with a note in the mail.

Once you start getting responses from your referrals, organize your data and analyze your metrics. Track where your best referrals come from, the incentives you offer and your ROI. Compare your conversion rate to your rate from other sources of leads. Develop your process and you’ll have a system that continues to bring in customers.

F3: Future of Freight Festival


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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.