What's Needed Before Considering Marketing Automation Software

By Zen Newman, Partner Program Manager, PipelineDeals

The logistics industry has long struggled with a lack of process in their sales efforts. By not defining the steps they go through to bring clients on board, companies in the industry are letting opportunities drop through the cracks and leaving their customer base vulnerable to predation by competitors.

There are a couple of things that carriers can put in place quickly to improve the efficacy of their team. The combination of the right software tools and business processes in a sales environment can make a tremendous impact on the outlook of any logistics company.

Larger players in the industry are already making major investments into their marketing technology and workflows. For every goliath in the industry, however, there are dozens of smaller firms who are falling behind.

Many of the more sophisticated elements behind growing a logistics business are daunting. Before these can be implemented there are several essential pieces to master before moving on to more complex infrastructure such as marketing automation and business intelligence tools.

Thankfully, the preliminary steps to these enterprise tools offer substantial performance gains in their own right and have dramatically lower barriers to implementat. Business leaders in the logistics industry who are looking to expand their business would do well to start with these three things.

CRM Software
CRM software can no longer be considered a new technology. However, it is stunning how many companies in the transportation sector do not have one.

For many firms, moving forward with a CRM system can appear to be a life and death decision. Over analysis and lack of a decision inevitably follow. The truth is, that while transitioning between CRM systems can be a pain, it rarely involves the levels of cost and disruption that many companies fear it might.

Because of the relatively low risk, and cost of deployment, CRM software represents one of the first steps that any freight company can take to standardize their sales efforts and put themselves in a position to grow predictably.

Implementing CRM software can be straightforward, but there are several things to watch for that will help ensure it stays that way. Keeping your eyes on the prize is essential to avoiding the much hyped, but unused “shiny new feature” that plagues the industry.

Use the following four criteria as litmus a test for any CRM software that you’re considering:

  • Is it easy for salespeople to use 
  • How fast can you expect to have it up and running
  • Does it give everyone visibility into customer relationships 
  • Can the diverse teams that work with customers use it to collaborate

Notice that all of these focus on helping front line users to function better and collaborate across teams.

Is sales management necessary? You betcha! But, the critical ingredient to managing a sales team is getting them to adopt the tool set. This means focusing on their needs and their productivity when bringing a new system on board.

This philosophy is counter to the direction of much of the industry, who tailor their application toward granular insight and arcane reporting at the expense of front line users. The result is poor adoption and friction between sales and management.

Sales Process
Despite its position as a cornerstone of sales, CRM can’t go it alone. On its own, CRM software is just a largely out-of-date repository for customer information. That’s because to be successful software relies on two inputs, adoption and process.

Put bluntly, many companies in the logistics space are not accustomed to thinking through their sales process analytically. For many in the industry, sales is synonymous with relationships and keeping your ear to the ground for opportunities as they arise. This ultimately makes sales a very passive process.

Relationships are, of course critical, but they need to be treated as a tool, rather than an end. The goal is to move freight.

How do you determine where and whom to prospect? What techniques do you use to make contact? How are accounts qualified? What’s the buyer’s journey? And what does getting the sale mean in an industry that is defined by transactional shipments? These are all questions that sales managers need to be clear on to define a sales process.

The goal here is to create a reproducible process, just like you’d expect to see in claims, or on a cross dock. Great reps may be able to intuit this process on their own. The difference between having your average rep above quota or below quota, however, lies in making sales process universal.

Post Sales Process
Logistics is rare in the degree to which the actual close is meaningless. In many cases, keeping the freight on your truck is a matter of staying close to customers, pursuing expansion opportunities and keeping the competition at bay.

These activities are where the post sales process comes into play. While the sales pipeline itself lends itself well to creating a linear process, the post sale is far more nebulous. This dynamic makes it far more challenging. Nevertheless managing the post sale is far more critical.

How exactly this process is laid out requires in-depth knowledge of both the customers and the solutions available for the client. The more transactional, or error prone the transportation mode, the more essential it is to stay on top of accounts, not only because of the risk of customers leaving but because of the chance they could leave your competition.

In spite of the difficulty to define a set process here, there are several key things to keep in mind when managing accounts:

  • Understand who your key decision makers are, but also stay in touch with those who support them. 
  • Know where the opportunities for expansion are
  • Nothing jeopardizes the relationship faster than not staying on top of deadlines and issues. (this can include anything from freight claims to negotiating a rate increase)

Beyond these pieces of tactical guidance, the key to the post sales process is to understand where in your account base the opportunities lie and to have a strategy in place to continue pursuing those.

Conclusion
There are companies in the logistics industry who are gaining an advantage by implementing advanced marketing automation, business intelligence, and operations software.

The majority of the firms in the industry, however, remain unready for such tools. Both their deployment and use require technical and organizational infrastructure to already be well developed.

Before logistics companies can begin to incorporate these advanced components into their business growth efforts, they first need to have a detailed understanding of their growth strategy and a disciplined approach to implementing it. It’s up to leaders in these companies to be honest in their self assessment before charting their next steps.

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