That Which is Hidden Within

That Which is Hidden Within

“Nothing is more surprising or frightening than what one already knows.” Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Labyrinth of the Spirits, 2018

Every brokerage business has the potential to become a thriving, successful enterprise. It is only a matter of vision, resources and the dedication to execution that either accelerate or limit the ability to achieve success. Business leaders must recognize and accept that change is a necessary part of growth and the key component to reaching organizational goals. Change must become an inherent and intentional feature of the vision and culture – in deciding how to deploy resources (dollars and people), in communication and in how the strategic initiatives are carried out by the team.

One of the greatest challenges for business leaders to overcome is the identification of where change needs to manifest within the organization. Too often it is identified as a sales issue or a productivity issue, when these are only symptoms of a larger issue related to strategic direction and/or culture. Objectivity is essential in identifying troubles and gaps in operational effectiveness.

Assess Your Business – Are the metrics you use effectively gauging your success?

As a leader, your feelings about the business are valid, but are often clouded by recent or long term operational prejudices. Having clear, and clean, ways to measure activity and productivity allow you to look at the business in an unfiltered way. These metrics should align with the behaviors that you want to encourage – whether phone activity, revenue creation or on time performance. Each of these activities must be tied to an organizational goal. Measurements and metrics that are arbitrary can misdirect your team’s energies and remove the focus from where it matters.

Define Success – Create the Vision

The overall vision for your company, again, needs to be clear and as simple as possible – to facilitate communication and to facilitate understanding. By having a specific point of success that you are trying to accomplish, it becomes easier to see and easier to internalize across the organization. Vision is accomplished through a variety of lenses – the telescope, the microscope and the mirror. The telescope provides a clarity on the long term and horizon-based strategy (tectonic), the microscope provides clarity on the smaller daily initiatives and changes (incremental), and the mirror provides clarity about the people (yourself included) who make the decisions about the future of the company (cultural).

Build Belief – Communicate and Compensate

When the vision presented is both clear and has value, the organization is positioned to succeed. Psychologically, people need to have a defined purpose to move them forward. Without a common goal that makes sense, people will revert to what makes sense for them (comfort) and their compensation design (security). When the vision, purpose, behaviors and compensation all follow the proper order, positive actions will begin to take place. People will find ways to achieve the vision. Innovation and creativity will overcome old obstacles and new challenges. When people know where they are going and work together they can see what the success can look like and take/make the necessary actions/decisions to bring the vision into reality.

Execute – Block, Tackle and Review

Intent and follow through remain the driving principles of execution. If there is truly belief and clarity in the vision, every action that serves this goal is the correct action to make. Review every decision through the lenses of the vision and measure it against the defined metrics to verify its quality against the process standards.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

With any process, each time it is completed, one can review what worked and what did not. Identifying performance issues and disconnects outline additional changes that can be improved for the next iteration. It is all there in front of you. It is just the matter of intent. Take control of your present, understand your past and direct the future.

What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There

What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There

What got you here, won’t get you there is the message that we are increasingly delivering to our clients.

At TranStrategy Partners, our executive clients are very successful people, typically the owners and senior leadership of freight brokerage businesses. They have grown their companies through brains and hustle – lots and lots of hustle. Definitely a battle-hardened group of entrepreneurs.

These guys and gals are masters of the freight management universe and experts at cold calling, carrier network development, load tendering, customer service, problem solving and everything else needed to run a successful freight brokerage.

They come to us because they want to get to the next level, which means something different for every one of our client. Our engagements typically begin with a 360-degree business assessment to understand the current state of the organization. From the assessment, we make recommendations and partner with companies to develop:

· Strategy and implementation
· Training and people development
· Improved organizational structure and accountability
· Sales and marketing muscle

Our recommendations are changing somewhat, because doing the same things more effectively and more efficiently isn’t enough in the rapidly changing transportation market. To win in the new competitive environment, freight brokerage companies will need to do different things.

Do These 4 Things to Get There

1. Be an Industry Expert
Shippers are looking for a company who can solve their problems – ideally a company that specializes in solving problems for people just like them. If you are the shipping manager for an ecommerce company, wouldn’t you rather work with a company that specializes in ecommerce shipping? Stop generalizing and start specializing.

2. Become a Total Solution Provider
Freight brokers have a narrow niche – they match great carriers with great shippers and manage every step of the process. But shippers often have other transportation needs like LTL, courier service, freight forwarding, etc. It might make sense to expand your service offerings. The fast-growing ecommerce company you serve no doubt has LTL and home delivery shipments and your competition who moves those loads, will be pushing hard to take over the shipments you currently manage.

3. Provide Insights and Recommendations
Business intelligence, big data and analytics seem to be all the rage these days even though most people have only a vague idea what they mean. I like to keep things simple. I think all those fancy terms refer to collecting data, analyzing it and providing actionable insights. Your company’s transportation management system (TMS) collects and stores all sorts of useful information. Talk with your ecommerce customer and determine if data in your system can be used to help them make better decisions. Perhaps, shipment data from the last 6 months holds the key to a solving a big problem that your customer has. Put your data to work.

4. Focus on Marketing
The freight brokerage business has historically relied on cold calling, which isn’t working as well as it once did. Savvy transportation companies are using marketing, usually digital marketing to fill the top of their sales funnel. A focus on marketing and lead generation is a big shift for many companies that have lived and died by “smiling and dialing.” To be found online via digital marketing takes just as much hard work and dedication as cold calling. The good news about the web is customers find you and if you do it right, they will reach out to you. When customers reach out to you, they know they have a problem and they think you can fix it, which is a much better way to begin a business relationship.

Culturally Speaking

Culturally Speaking

In a recent study by student loan financial firm, Comet, one thousand respondents were surveyed about the dissatisfaction of their current career position. While not the worst industry (Hospitality), Transportation and Warehousing was the third highest rated industry regarding dissatisfied employees. The top five factors for the dissatisfaction in our industry were:

5. Lack of Growth Potential
4. Low Salary
3. Workload
2. Heavy Stress
1. Lack of Appreciation/Recognition

Each of these components is driven by the culture of any organization. With the right culture, each of these components can be turned around to bolster the satisfaction of its employees.

With the right training and development plans in place, employees can have a sense of movement along their career pathway. By providing the requisite skills and tools for each team member, an organization can establish a model of consistency and work ethic that supports the goals of the individual as well as the goals of the overall company.

By aligning compensation to properly defined metrics, employees can have full visibility of their contribution to the team, department and organizational goals. Both control and visibility of earning potential creates a motivation for employees that is tied to organizational expectations and behaviors.

Defining roles and responsibilities for each employee with clear expectations of execution helps to limit the creep of scope and undue additional work. Employees end each day with a sense of accomplishment of their daily tasks and preparation for tomorrow’s needs.

Stress is often felt when people are either unsure of what they are expected to accomplish or do not have the tools/time to fulfill those expectations. By providing clear roles, goals and the tools to succeed, stress can be mitigated and productivity can be increased.

Appreciation is such an important aspect of personal motivation, yet leaders often forget the power of a simple “thank you”. When an employee feels that they are accomplishing their work, the reinforcement associated with recognition of the accomplishment builds both trust and a desire to receive more positive reinforcement.

While our industry has much room to improve when it comes to dissatisfaction, your business can easily buck the trend by establishing a culture that supports its employees and aligns their goals to the overall goals of the company. Communicate, Appreciate, Calibrate and Motivate.

The Quest for Diversity

The Quest for Diversity

The power (and bane) of connectivity algorithms and data insights has helped us, as consumers, to find bounty in our cumulative searches for information. Unfortunately, these same search algorithms push us further and further in one direction or another. Our likes and preferences begin to form the basis of the majority of our information access, leaving us without an important contrary and balancing voice to temper ideas and question one-sided wisdom. While this is particularly true of political and social positions, it also can become a problem in creating a homogeneous business model that lacks necessary diversity.

In recruiting staff, businesses often look for the right fit for their culture – people we would like to have a beer with or folks we want to socialize with outside of work. This can create a strong camaraderie, but it can quickly devolve into a fraternity mentality where equal amounts of time are focused on work and on less productive pursuits such as fantasy football drafts, happy hour parties or questionable behaviors. While company events can be a morale booster, they should be organized with inclusivity and team building in mind.

It will be exceedingly more beneficial to focus on who will challenge you, who will keep your integrity intact and who will be able to make the tough decisions that are necessary to drive growth and manage change. Judge more on character and proven success than on familial connections. Innovation and creativity are the result of diverse ideas and backgrounds. Valuable insights come, not from a single source, but from varied, alternative and unexpected sources.

Look to your anti-self, not at what makes him or her wrong, but what they love to do – that you do not – and what makes that person strong and successful. Find ways to capture their valuable qualities and incorporate them into your organization to provide balance. As a leader, it is your responsibility to inspire those around you – through insight, wisdom, action and support. Foster a culture of diversity to gain valuable insight, help your people grow and help your business become best positioned for changes to come.

Revenue is Vanity – Margin is Sanity

Revenue is Vanity – Margin is Sanity

As an executive coach, I hear from my clients on a host of issues they experience. Sometimes those issues are external, while others are internal within the company. For example, one of my clients, a 3PL owner, found it difficult to get his employees to care about the company’s profitability. They pay their people well and have a nice, friendly company culture. However, he struggled to get the employees to care more about the bottom line.

It is smart to focus on profitability, rather than just revenue. At TSP, our philosophy is “revenue is vanity and margin is sanity.” After all, it’s not what you make, it’s what goes to the bottom line.
Focusing on revenue AND MARGIN is smart, but getting your employees aligned to your profitability goals is even smarter.

As the owner, your job is to set the goals (financial and others) and get the right people and resources necessary to reach the goal. In my experience, the owners of 3PLs and freight brokerage businesses try to do all the work themselves, which leads to burnout and frustration. Learn to delegate and hold your team responsible for meeting business goals including profitability.

You have created a nice place to work, which is very important. Now, you want to add ownership of business results to the culture.

To reach your profitability goal, you will need to enlist the help of your team. The following four-step plan will help you and your team set and reach your profitability goals:

1. Share your profitability goals. Once you have set your profitability goals, meet with your team to communicate your goals. As the leader, you must make it clear where you want to take the company. Be very specific and use SMART goals so there is no ambiguity about your profitability targets. Your people can’t reach the profitability goal if they don’t know what it is.

2. Communicate your expectations. Once you have set your profitability goals, communicate exactly what you need each team member to do to reach the goal. Be very specific about each team member’s roles and responsibilities in regards to the goal. The sales manager is tasked with getting higher margin business, the operations manager is going after cost savings opportunities, while the head of finance investigates refinancing equipment and provides progress reports to the team. By documenting your expectations for each employee, you are communicating that the profitability goal is important to you.

3. Measure progress. If you have set a significant goal, you will not reach it overnight, therefore it is important to measure progress to the goal. Provide your people with regular updates. Also, help your team develop plans and strategies that will enable the company to reach the profitability goal. As the boss, encourage, teach, but avoid taking responsibility for the work. When you do the work instead of the employee, you send a mixed message.

4. Reward and recognize. As your team meets your expectations on the profitability goal, you should acknowledge and encourage them for exhibiting the desired behavior and getting positive results. At TSP, we recommend the following three levels of acknowledgement: 1.) Review (lowest level) is non-formal, verbal praise for delivering on expectations. 2.) Recognize (second highest) is a formal recognition for meeting expectations. The praise could be part of a meeting or recognition presentation. 3.) Reward (highest level) is praise reinforced with a gift, bonus or a plaque. Be careful and consistent in your use of review, recognition and rewards for meeting expectations. Going overboard or being stingy with your praise can lead to negative consequences.

1,000 Learners Later

1,000 Learners Later

An in-house solution to train logistics employees

Employee training is an integral part of any brokerage. Historically driven by shadowing current employees, success is primarily dependent on the strength of the trainer. And too often, the trainer is a successful employee that is either focused on managing their current work or removed from the day to day operations to support training. In both cases, something suffers – the training or the business operation. Overall, it is difficult to develop a successful employee training program in-house.

 

CLEAR GOALS > EMPLOYEE BUY-IN > CONSISTENT PARTICIPATION

Achieving employee buy-in and consistent participation are key to a successful education program. Even if your company has taken time to clarify with employees why investing in their professional development is important and peaked their interest, the long-term follow through often falls short. We are thrilled that our easy-to-use training platform has become the answer for 1,000 learners!.

 

TranStrategy Partners developed Brokertrain’s on-demand video training after hearing from industry professionals that training is a common problem. Our goal was to help businesses accelerate growth by empowering employees with on-demand training in sales, customer service, carrier development, marketing and leadership. Now, freight brokerage firms are using Brokertrain to increase client engagement, improve service and ignite employee productivity.

 

The course curriculum is based on 35 years of brokerage experience along with over 300 successful transportation business engagements. Courses are built around the defined education deficiencies and gaps to create a holistic approach to the industry. Through case studies, examples and best practices, learners can improve their skills in managing freight solutions, relationships and people.

 

We hope you will join the 1000 learners and businesses already building their competitive advantage through education with Brokertrain.

 

Styles in Profiles: Connecting across Psychological Dimensions

Styles in Profiles: Connecting across Psychological Dimensions

When approaching customers, it is essential to understand their buying styles – how they make decisions and how they interpret data to inform those decisions. While every person is unique, there are four basic buying styles from which one can establish sales communication and protocols: Decisive/Dominant; Influencing/Informational; Stable/Steady and Conscientious/Cautious. Understanding your own style (from a selling perspective), in conjunction with others (from a buying perspective), helps to act as a catalyst in the conversation and builds trust.

Dominant and Decisive Buyers

Decisive buyers are driven by the impact of new challenges and the authority to make decisions. They are often dominant in group situations and challenge the status quo. Innovation plays a keep role in developing ideas, but they are also distracted by the ‘shiny new object’ within the market. Decisive buyers focus on the bottom line and will look for a quick, impactful decision so they can move onto the next opportunity. They are often over aggressive and prone to confrontation to protect themselves from being taken advantage of.

When working with the Decisive buyer, be clear, concise and focus on the bottom line. Avoid overly complex explanations of features and benefits and comparative tactics. Focus on success and importance and the ‘rightness’ of the solution.

Influencing and Informational Buyers

Influencing buyer are driven by the acceptance in a collaborative environment. They are trusting and enthusiastic in their approach to new solutions. They look to broker deals, motivate their team and creatively solve problems. The influencing buyer may be more focused on fit and form over function. They are focused on creating an environment of trust and acceptance, but may ignore the details and specifics of what any change truly entails.

When working with an Influencing buyer, it is important to find the shared connections to build bonds and trust. Show how they will be the integrator of any solution. Avoid pressure and immediacy in the decision, but, instead, focus on praise and how the decision will satisfy their need for an environment free of friction and stress.

Stable and Steady Buyers

Steady buyers are driven by appreciation of their dependability and consistency. They are predictable and steadfast in their commitment to execution of work. Steady buyers are reliable and work well within the team structure along defined roles and responsibilities. They are resistant to change and will take longer to accept new processes or solutions. Driven by the sense of security, change should appear more incremental than disruptive for the Steady buyer.

When working with the Steady buyer, position your solution as a logical extension of the current process – one that fulfills current expectations and increases value. Avoid pressure and criticism on any current behavior, but show how the change is both clear (visually) and better (operationally).

Conscientious and Compliant Buyers

Conscientious buyers are driven by standards of high quality and logic. They are highly analytical and focused on precision. They heavily dependent on data, information and structure in making decisions. They are not swayed by emotion or innovation without the requisite research and study to support.

When working with the Conscientious buyer, focus on the details and provide the data, case studies and testimonials of others who have found success in your solutions. Avoid broad stroke statements and implications and never criticize the buyer or their current procedures. Focus on exploring possibilities that logically arise from your solutions and align them to the buyer’s methodology.

Each buyer is different. As such, your approach to each buyer must assert the correct information and communication styles to reach them. Preparation though knowledge of the buyer will help you to deliver a greater impact on their business success and your own.

Breaking Down Success – Simplify to Multiply

Breaking Down Success – Simplify to Multiply

How are you developing your relevance in a crowded marketplace?

Disruption of the marketplace happens when someone has the insight to question the status quo – the vision of what is possible in working out the solution to the challenges within a current process or business model. However, while the idea for change is important, it is truly the proper execution of that idea which defines success into this new paradigm.

Brokerage, as an intermediary business, in its simplest form, is the profitable connection between those with freight to move and those with the capacity to move it. How you make those connections and where you exert energies become your differentiation – your ‘secret sauce’. Some focus heavily on the freight owners, while others focus primarily on the carriers and others still on the technology portals. Ultimately, it is the service provided that makes the controllers of freight and capacity choose to work with a third party. It is the ease of use and the value of such service that makes them choose an option that costs more than connecting directly.

It is less about what you offer than about how your offering satisfies a need (or multiple needs). As a broker you provide access – to freight, to capacity, to information, to solutions. By knowing what the freight and capacity controllers need and how they can improve (financially or otherwise) through your options, you can create a long-term relationship that benefits all parties.

Information and its use are key components to making your business successful. Listening to podcasts, reading books, keeping up with trends and networking with your colleagues all play a part in growing your knowledge and information base. This knowledge allows you to speak directly to the prospects in their own language and with an empathy or their concerns, beliefs and challenges.

What you do differently is less important than how you do it and how you do it well in serving others. Be an expert in your field, but don’t limit your options by that expertise. Keep learning. Keep your people learning. Don’t limit your knowledge confined to transportation, but in other areas where service, connection and relationships play pivotal roles in growth.

Enabling Success

Enabling Success

When you look at your team, across sales, operations and administration, are you confident that they have all of the tools necessary to succeed? Do they have the systems (both technological and organizational) that enable them to be effective? Do they have the requisite training and development to be productive and grow? Do they have the right leadership and vision to keep them motivated and moving in the right direction?

As a leader of your company, it is your responsibility to provide the necessary resources to your team and to foster the best cultural elements for success.

Process Systems

The work that is done, from accounting to dispatch to lead generation, requires a repeatable and cohesive process. Manuals, documents or workflows are important to explain how deposits are made, how documents are scanned or how claims are filed. Setting metrics that are tied to the work processes will guide employees toward efficiency and improvement. Technology and innovation can rapidly increase productivity across the processes and allow the team to focus their energy on more important activities.

People Systems

Recruiting, Hiring and Training your team are the three pillars of the people system. Target the right people. Find those that understand the true nature of customer service and have the fortitude to make proper decisions in alignment to your company’s values. Don’t be limited by the need for industry experience. Ours is an industry that can be taught and trained. The softer skills of empathy, collaboration and self-motivation are much more valuable.

Support and compliment these inherent skills with a training program that outlines tasks and expectations within the context of a larger goal set. Take the time necessary to build competence and confidence and allow the freedom to develop mastery and expertise, which can be further leveraged in support of new customer needs.

Culture Systems

With the right people and processes in place, it is vitally important to guide them under a cohesive and powerful vision. This vision should incorporate the financial and character drivers of the company. It should be the lens through which each decision can be clearly seen and made. It should be bold, yet it should not be impossible to attain. It should include a certain amount of slack and resiliency to weather changes in the regulatory and market environment. It should embrace change as a necessary component to growth. And how you communicate any change and how you relate to each member of the team sets the tone of your business.

As the leader and/or owner of the business, it is your duty to all stakeholders (employees, customers and carriers) to express the strongest organization possible. Review your business processes, your people and your culture to locate gaps or deficiencies. Partner with the right people, both internally and externally, to fill those gaps and provide the greatest impact for your profitability and sustainability.

Romancing the Truck

Romancing the Truck

While the shipper customer drives the top line revenue number of any brokerage operation, it is the ability to source capacity efficiently that drives the profitability of the company. Throughout the industry, the focus on capacity (retention and transactional coverage) is market driven and reactionary.

Building a strong core carrier network is essential regardless of the market situation. While there appears to be a general shortage of trucks (aging population of drivers, ELD compliance, market pressures), it is often just a shortage of trucks available to you. Your network is balanced when the market is balanced, but when the pendulum swings either direction too much, the carriers will depart for more profitable freight elsewhere.

You must understand the carrier’s needs (take the time to ask questions and learn about what drives them and what they are trying to accomplish):

1) Due to the high cost of their operations and assets, carriers are often driven by cash flow needs. (how quickly do you pay? Do you have multiple payment options?)

2) Carriers are comfortable moving within a particular zone of operation. (Does your freight regularly keep them within that zone? If you move them out of the zone, do you provide options to get them back to the zone?)

3) Carriers work with companies that they trust and show them respect. (How do you communicate with carriers? Do you thank them? Do you recognize their efforts? Do you work with them to solve problems or just blame them?)

4) Carriers want consistent utilization for their equipment. (Do you provide regular freight opportunities to the carriers? Do you work with them to identify opportunities that serve you both well?)

Of the thousands of carriers in your network, how many move more than 1 load per month, per week, per day? Having 10000 carriers in your network has little value if they only move your freight when it suits them or when you provide the highest rate.

Leverage your stronger carrier relationships by showing that you are interested in helping them achieve their goals. Report to them how they work with you (metrics, volume, payment history). Learn from them how your company fits their plan and how well you are positioned to retain and expand that relationship.

Often, brokers are the de facto sales force for the carrier so treat the relationship accordingly. Communicate regularly about plans and activities designed to find new freight for their fleet(s). Work in tandem to identify shippers and customers that will support your shared goals.

As pressure from automated brokerage programs continue to undermine the transactional business model, brokers must strengthen their relationships with carriers to compete. Share the love and commitment to your carriers to position your own company for success. Carriers are true partners in growing your brokerage.