Matt Belanus, VP Sales at Schmuhl Brothers
By far, the greatest personal joy in my professional career has been the opportunity to meet so many different people. These contacts along the way have been as unique as their respective industry. Even as my career has evolved through different roles, the friendships remain. It isn’t about getting the sale but- how are things at home? How is the car project coming along? How is their eldest’s freshman year going?
The COVID-19 Pandemic has put a lot of businesses into a state of rapid flux. This is true for myself, and most likely many of my colleagues in the transportation industry. There is an uneasiness in the air with concerns about maintaining certain target revenue goals and riding out the storm. On a sales standpoint, there are challenges with staff working remotely and waiting for delayed responses for updates on projects. We seek answers- are projects on hold or have they been canceled altogether? Trying to qualify a new account may offer an extra level of challenges, as prospects may not want to look at a new vendor during such a turbulent time.
A few weeks ago, I made a call to one of my relatives when we first started quarantining as a nation. During our conversation, my uncle mentioned that COVID-19 may be a once in a lifetime experience for most of us alive today. Initially, I thought he was referring to the inconvenience of social isolation, or not being able to go to your favorite restaurant or taking your child to a school activity. The more I pondered, however, I began to reframe it in my mind as a personal growth opportunity. More time with our family may offer the ability to become closer and connect more meaningfully. I have felt the urge to reach out to family members with more frequency. If anything, our period of isolation made the world slow down, and highlighted the importance of relationships.
The same positive view on your interpersonal relationships can also be utilized for your business relationships. It may be difficult to qualify a prospect but it’s a great time to check on your customer on a personal level. When I say check in on a customer, I am not referring to an email hoping that they are safe. This is the time to get on the phone and have a conversation. This last month has been wonderful talking with contacts that are working remotely. I love hearing kids in the background or someone’s dogs barking at the mail carrier. I have no ulterior motive to secure new business- but I want to check in to make sure they are okay on a personal end. Chances are, my customers are dealing with a fair amount of uncertainty. Being thankful for the business you have and a willingness to share these feelings with your customer should not be viewed as a weakness, but rather an opportunity to galvanize your relationship. In the end, people want to know they are appreciated.
I work for a great regional asset-based intermodal carrier based in Kansas City. Despite our growth over these past ten years, it still has a smaller mom and pop feeling and a sense of community. With the elongated Chinese New Year and the fear of blank sailings on the horizon, there is some volatility in our piece of the supply chain pie. Talking with some of my opposites in my respective market, there is indeed concern. What is going to happen to the freight market? When will customers return to normal shipping volumes? Will the pandemic shutter some of our customers? Professionally I am truly grateful for all the great clients that we serve in Kansas City. I know that it is easy to fall into a numbers game trap and that the transportation industry can feel impersonal and transactional. I would challenge you to think differently. If you make the effort to really know your customers, the rewards are far greater than a piece of business you may covet.