Selling Freight Forwarding Services

2 months ago I have posted the article Converting sales lead to order – forwarders tale. In this post I have tried to attract the attention of the forwarding community to an important but highly undervalued process. The process of sales.  As any process the process of sales has an input which has to generate a result. But what we provide as an input in freight forwarding, how we manipulate this input in order to get the desired result and what result do we get at all (is it the desired result?).

Firstly, I would like to accent on an important point. The sales process starts from the end of the marketing process. It is the sales lead and the cold call that are the inputs of the sales process. Now, let us take a short look at the freight forwarding sales process. I see three steps which I put in form of questions.

Question number one: What we sell? Freight – no, definetely not as we do not own the freight, transportation – again wrong answer, we do not provide transportation services (we are forwarders not carriers). You might be laughing for saying obvious things but belive me my practice thought me that they are not obvious at all and many salespersons tell to their customers they sell freight or transportation. Actually as forwarders we sell – organization, coordination, consolidation of various services which aim at the proper movement of our customer’s freight from one location to another. That is it. This is what we do. This is what we sell. Organization, coordination, consolidation !!

Question number two: How we sell? Normally, most of the salespersons, being eager to close the deal start by overwhelming the prospect with information about the organization and the products they can offer. This is very wrong approach, I can say it from bitter personal experience.  Firstly what we need to know is what is actually our customer looking at. What kind of transportation they use, how they perceive such vague notions as “short tranzit time” and “low freight cost”, what is their understanding of the “quality forwarding services”. And this we can find out only by listening and asking the right questions. We should understand that selling freight forwarding services is not like selling “sneakers”. You can not impress the prospects by telling them how good is it for them to ship using your services 100 kilos from New York to Sofia, Bulgaria if they do not have the need to ship. This is the starting point. Unlike foodstaff for example, our customers must have loads in hand in order to look for our services at all. On my practice I have this case when I spent 30 minutes explaining what opportunities my company had just before realizing that the prospect does not have international shipments at all. So the starting point is: either start selling with a sales lead or do your homework before making the cold call. There are many books on this topic that is why I will not go there. But I would like only to share with you what became one of my foundations in selling freight forwarding services – Does my prospect have any international loads at all !?!  Only the positive answer to this question will put the prospect in my list.

Question number three: When we stop the sell ?  This is easy. We stop selling in two cases. Either prospect tells you – “We are not intrested in your services” or they give you an order.  Many of you might object to the last but it is my understanding that after you receive your first order you should start serving your customer in order to get repeated orders which is different process from sales (though closely related to it).

Whether you agree with me or not – please comment or remain silent!
If you have other views on selling freight forwarding services – share your comments with us!
Want to tell us more about selling process in freight forwarding – this is the place to do it!

40 thoughts on “Selling Freight Forwarding Services

  1. If one understands what the customers CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS (CSF) – then you are better positioned to close the sale.

  2. interesting topics mate…….
    i think there is another added value for us to the customer….

    is to provide assistance, consultation and protection for the in-experienced supplier or buyer, or whose perhaps assessing a new contracts, to make sure that they’re not going to be a scam victim…

    meaning to say… we have to protect supplier/buyer, to avoid any fraudulent activity (ex : when the goods gets there, buyer wont pay to the supplier etc etc)

    what do you think? do you think we could provide such service ?

  3. Finally a selling blog that makes sense… I have been reading ones about the irrelevancies of the “Freight Forwarding Sales Rep.” Unfortunately I could not comment one those because they disabled the comments from their snooty one sided blogs. You make good points. Sales is sales is sales and all real sales men/women know that. Ask questions, learn about their business, ASK FOR THE SALE, follow up and service the account no matter how big or small. It will inevitably lead to more sales. There is no need to talk about your company and the great things that they have done if you notice that your prospect starts to look at his/her watch or checking his/her phone and so on. We sell worry free shipping. We’ll corrdinate, consolidate, and ship your freight while organizing the paperwork for clearance and tax. Thats it. End of story.

    And to those that have had bad experiences with any kind of sales rep… Bad ones are out there. Just like there are bad chefs, and bad singers. The key is when you find a good one keep them, like a good husband or wife. Don’t generalize people in a field where there are literally hundreds of thousands of us. There are bound to be bad ones. But on the brighter side there are definitely excellent ones.

  4. I was searching on how to sell freight forwarding services, and Google search directed me to this article. I agree with what you said. I have experienced a lot of times when a prospective clients will ask me questions and seek advise from me on how to import or export their stuff, only to find out later that they will not import/export because it is much cheaper to buy locally, or they will use the services of multinational companies because their rates are much cheaper. This is kind of frustrating.
    Anyway, I hope you could come up with more articles about marketing a freight forwarding service.

  5. hi..i have came into freight forwarding sales one month ago…this article is very useful for the beginners like me..to starts the carrier in the field of freight forwarding sales .thanks for publishing articles..

  6. The problem that many have in the Freight Forwarding industry is that is has turned into a commodity service. You need Freight. This is not a service in which you sell items that are an added-value to your customer. This is essential such as manpower, lights/electrcitiy and machines.

    The problem is that the Freight Forwarders fight for the cheapest price and everyone has a better price. Big Freight companies would cut their price at first to get the retention of a customer or give them rates for signing a year contract.

    Your simply fighting for volume in this game nowadays. No one wants to pay and no one wants to make change with their current adjustment!

  7. My 2 Cents
    The Key word here is – “SELLING”. Try Marketing instead of selling – as till you have actually converted a lead into a customer, its Marketing. Its a sale only when you have a customer/client.
    When you start – you have a lead and a service which you present to the lead with the intention of converting the lead into a client. So what all do we have :
    1. A lead ( you research this one)
    2. A Service (you have this one)
    3. A presentation ( you create this one)
    4. A opportunity to showcase the presentation to the lead. ( you create this one too)
    These are the only factors that we control and can manipulate to assist us in reaching the desired outcome (converting the lead to a client – i.e. getting their buy-in, or business). Usually it takes time for the lead to verify all that you present to them, they must have a need (not a desire)for the service, your service should appear better than the competing service providing companies, your presentation should have gone /done well, you must leave something behind with the lead- that will constantly remind them of your company or its services, & so on.
    How you go about arranging for all the above – how much of it is planned and executed to perfection will vary and that will determine the conversion factor of your effort.
    I also do not buy into the theory that the Big companies have an advantage over the SFF since even at those “Big companies” – there is a person who has to sit down and plan the strategy with which they will end up with more customers and more sales. Imagine that person is you and that “Big company” is your SFF.
    I have been putting togather a document that goes into more details, which will be available from my blog at parbir.wordpress.com

  8. I tried looking for your document on your blog and was unable to locate it. Do you have a link for it or have you posted the document yet?

  9. I can’t say enough to agree with the original author… I do not sell freight… I sell a service …one which you have to identify prospects and seek to find where your service is needed, and if at all

    I walk in to every potential client believing they will be my next big account. If I find out to the contrary then I spend the remainder of my time there connecting as best as possible and being kind to the people who were nice enough to give me an opportunity… You never know when they may change gard.

    It’s funny having a job that revolves around human emotion rather than any real product… This job is about selling yourself.

    Good luck and good selling !

    You can make a mill. If u want

  10. I’ve been in the Trucking/Transportation and Logistics industry for over 26 years. Most of which has been in management, DOT and CHP saftey compliance, dispatching and sales. It was when I started doing sales I saw my career take off. So much so, that I now teach others how to sell. I’ve successfully secured both large and small accounts all because of knowing how to sell myself. Remember, sales is not a JOB. It’s a lifestyle.

    Contact me for more info at peptakinformation@gmail.com

  11. Hi,
    Good to read this article, I agreed…
    But I want to ask another question which face every Sales Officer… that If customer Imports on C&F basis so how will you convince him that He should Import on FOB basis,

    Regards,
    Salman

  12. Dear Salman,

    Convincing customer to change the terms of delivery is no an easy task. Actually, I would not force them because I have no idea why this terms of deliver were used. This is part of the commercial negotiation between the buyer and the seller and forwarder has no part in it. We as forwarders can only consult the respective party what is better and what is not. Openly and frankly – this sells better. Moreover, if you push your customer to change terms of delivery as suits your needs best, this might have repercussions.

    So, I will advise the advantages and shortages clearly stating that this is mine, as forwarder prospective. And I will leave the decision making process to the customer

    Regards
    Georgi

  13. Interesting reading
    I’ve been running my own Freight Forwarding company for 18 months now and started with 6 accounts I’d worked with for years. I’d handled these accounts at other companies I’d worked with, then decided to go it alone. Problem for me is attracting new business. Being an ‘operations’ man I have always struggled with ‘sales’ calls etc.

    Still have the original 6 accounts but feel its time to improve on this number now. I don’t employ anybody else, run the business from home and advertise a virtual office address rather than my home address as the business address. Would like to hear from people in a similar position about how they market their business. I’ve worked with large forwarders who advertised through Google AdWords etc. and seen the results of high spend campaigns. Currently not in a position to put that kind of spend to advertising so would be interested to see what currently works for others.

    I’ve been told that these days the chances of picking up a new account through cold calling are long gone but would like to hear others views on this.

  14. Dear Michael,

    I admire your openness and your strive to make your own fortune. You can read another post of ours – the Successful Small Forwarder. Dedicated to people as you are. in nowadays time when Internet is all-encompassing working from home for a forwarder is the most normal thing.

    Internet is everything today so concentrate on this one. Inbound rather than outbound marketing – this is the key. Nice website without fancy staff but with good SEO and good content worths more than million dolars budget websites of big companies. And do not waste time in cold calls. You do not have neither time nor resources.

  15. hi

    i am amar. i am new to freight forwarding industry. prior to this i have worked in one of the leading domestic transportation industry in bangalore, india. but after some time i felt like i need a career shift to freight forwarding where in i will built my career. i have worked in couple of companies in my new role as assistant sales manager. unfortunately i am disappointed that my plan is not working out but still i am striving to get success in this industry and i want to be a top sales person in the industry.

    so here my question is what are the most essential things is needed to get success in this industry and what kind of information required to grab the sales and if the customer is saying no how to convert it to yes and get the repeat sales.

    can you guide me.

  16. Dear Amar,

    I do not know whether I can guide you in the area of freight forwarding. This is the first thing someone asks from me. I will however share some thoughts with you.

    You state your plan is not working. I recommend you turn firstly at yourself and ask yourself whether the problem is with you. In majority of cases this might be the problem. The good news is that this is a problem easy to solve as it wholly depends on you.

    Firstly stop striving to be a top sales person. Try to be a sales person and get the knowledge in sales. Than apply this knowledge and make yourself a good sales person. Being a good sales person means that you start to understand your customers. Once you start to understand them and to communicate properly with them you will soon realize that you do not need to sell any more. You need to assist your customers to solve their logistics problems. And this is where the real pat to become top sales person starts. Top sales person is not selling but is assisting customers

    This is my understanding.

    And here we come with the most essential thing you need never forget, you need to make part of you – listening and understanding. And forget that you can ever change your customer saying from no to yes. When you receive negative answer just try to understand why and the next time take it into consideration. And if you and your customer stay on different positions just present him or her with you position and leave on the customer to decide. Never try to convince a customer. This does not work. Aggressive approach will only repulse the customer from you.

    This are my thoughts. You can not get the whole business of your customer and it is not needed. There should be job for everyone 🙂 Just try to get the most profitable business.

  17. These articles are useful to me just when am about to commence a carrier in freight forwarding sales. Thanks a loy

  18. my friend, I am about new in FF industry, I live in a very competitive country as we only manage import shipments and all freight charges must be prepaid, despite this, some importers have decision power on their shipping process. I work for a not the biggest but not the smallest FFW company, can you give me some advices about the correct words or the correct information Imust reveal to customers in order to catch some biz? It has been a very difficult year and 2014 seems to be harder.
    I will thank you very much any comment you can give me,
    Greeting from Venezuela!

  19. Dear All

    I’m Abbas from Egypt,I was browsing and saw your conversation, briefly i was working as logistics manager in trading company , and now I prepare to open my own small freight forwarding company, and i need some information about how to calculate commission for sales executives , sales manger, and operations people
    it will be high appreciated if anybody can help me in this

    Thanks in advance

  20. Hi,

    First of all, I am so happy to read this article. I am currently account officer for about 3 years here in the phils. I just want to ask if you can give me the best sales strategy so I acn share it with my colleagues.

  21. One Question :-
    After submission ofQuote to the customer , how constant should be the followup??

    I have certaine clients who ask for quotation and post submission of quote also , they reply to my phone calls and messages , but orders don’t get closed…

    Wat steps are to be adopted in this regard for final closure.. Please advise

  22. Your site is very informative and useful as well. I am approached by a freight forwarding and logistic company to do consulting to improve their business. I am an MBA graduate with working experience in other industries not in FF company. Could you advise me how should I start the assignment and what are the areas I should concentrate.

    Thanking you in advance
    zafardeen – Sri Lanka

  23. Hi,
    I totally agreed with you sir for the above. As a salesperson i have quite an experience with the cnf customers. The thing which i need to be cleared is that if you have poor law and order condition in your target sales area will that be your bad luck or good luck because currently my sales is the game of trust and luck. Customers now totally deny in have the international business. In such a big metropolitan city and the only seaport city and they are all doing local business. 🙂 How i will going to build that trust? They thing i am on a mission to collect the business information to demand the extortion on the next visit.

  24. hi
    for sure this is a really a helping site am very new in this industry just took a career twist from selling insurance to selling freight services,am looking forward to more interesting topics of this nature

    best regards,
    Newton.

  25. I think you are doing great service to new and old FF but you are missing one point to emphasize to your readers and that is to be honest in dealing with your customers and your service providers down the line.

  26. Dear Asad,

    I do not know in which country you make your business but I agree with you completely. You might have done everything absolutely perfectly well and at the end to have all job ruined just because a customs officer was not in a mood and started looking for a veal under the bull. And building the trust is by open and sincere communication. I dream for the time when the customer will understand that we, logistics providers, are not mere intermediaries but we do actually the whole work on the integration of the whole process.

    There is also something called local culture. Some people are open and share info – like in Scandinavia or Germany – you can easily ask for contact info and present your services. In other countries things are very tight. People are closed and provide only common words, do not trust etc.

    But this is the life isn’t it 🙂

  27. Dear Ramesh,

    if you are seller, than you need to handle only to the port. That includes loading and delivery to the port of origin or to the CFS or to the airport of origin, export customs processing, terminal handling and documentation. Issue of BOL is disputable and depends on the country of origin.

    If you are buyer – you organize the transportation from the port/airport of origin to the final destination

  28. I am also new to FF. We have many RO but profit is low as all are CIF. I also need to convince consignee to take FOC so we can collect freight

  29. Dear Marcel, all depends on where the freight is coming and how the buyer and seller have agreed. If freight is coming from USA you can not do much unless try to decrease somehow your cost. If it comes from India and the Far East – than there is a lot to be done. For example make a comparison for alternative quotation – showing full transparency in your quotation on FOB inbound and the lack of transparency when the load comes from the India and the Far East. Show the customer that the overall charge – the transport cost included at their CIF quote from the shipper plus the inbound local charges is more expensive from an FOB transportation organized by you.
    And another thing – under CIF terms especially from the Far East you never know where is your freight. When the freight is under FOB – then the control is on the buyer through you as a forwarder and the very movement of freight is much more visible.

  30. Hello Guys,

    I have recently moved to Dubai from Scotland and after 10 years of media and telecoms sales I have ventured into the world of freight forwarding, I work for a mid sized family owned business called cargo-partner.

    I have literally started my first week so finding this page has been a god send so thanks to the author of the original post.

    I would be happy to hear from anyone that would like to give me some information specifically on the open questions that your all asking to open up potential clients into speaking about their current situation and helping us sales guys into finding a gap or a weakness to fill.

    You can get in touch with me via my email address: lee.anderson@cargo-partner.com

    Looking forward to hearing some feed back.

    Thanks,

    Lee

  31. Dear All,

    Fleming Asem is my name,a logistician/freight forwarder and work with Uship Logistics Ghana Ltd as director and as well trade in timber.
    As our development and capacity building strategy, we are seeking for a corporate that operate in the same line or any entity interested to help develop in form of alliance.
    We are also seeking for individuals who are interested to advise us on sales leads or network.

    Rgs

    Fleming Asem
    BOX BT 194, Tema-Ghana
    fleminga@ushiplogistics.com
    info@ushiplogistics.com
    tt.fleming@yahoo.com
    http://www.ushiplogistics.com

  32. Hi Boss

    Im Arshad and I have experience in CHB(custom house brokerage) operation
    around 6 years… but now i got new job in freight forwarding marketing
    department so i dnt have much experience in sales in FF .. honestly 0
    knowledge in selling Freight so could you kindly advice me what kind of
    things to consider for starting this sales job… reply me

  33. Arshad,

    In pakistan ,marketing and sales are equivalent. first of all you need to collect data of customers ,for this purpose you can consult following sources

    1- Import General manifest
    2-Chamber of commerce members list
    3-Yellow pages(like jamal yellow pages etc)
    4-News papers

    Now when you have a rich data of 200/300 importers/exporters ,now plan your visits

    visits are of two types

    1-cold calls(visiting customers without appointment )
    2-Planned call(visiting customers with appointment )

    cold calls can be acceptable in small import export companies but it is not good in corporate and large clients .

    make atleast 3 visits daily and after a week , revisit those again.
    after 3 visits decide that which customer is potential and which should be dropped from list. for every dropped customer, add a new one.

    i am positive that after one month you will have at least 5 good clients which will give you inquiries . Your actual followup is required after qouting them rates. phone calls, visits and emails are necessary . if you need any further info, feel free to contact me at +92-321-8811313

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