Unraveling the mysteries of the shipper's mind


I’m always amazed by the truth. Like most people, I’m a champion at trying to read people’s minds and interpret people’s actions. And like most people, I’m often wrong. That’s why the shippers panel at this year’s TMSA Logistics Marketing & Sales Conference was such a powerful experience.  

This opportunity to listen to a panel of prominent shippers live and unfiltered was invaluable. I’ve been thinking about the truths revealed ever since. The participants were as diverse as can be—and as candid as it gets. This was the lineup: Troy Turner of Unilever, Scott Grady of Rush Group and Vivek Syania of Google. 

Here’s my topline of the Q&A that ensued and the nuggets uncovered:  

First off, the question everyone had, “What does Google ship?”

Answer: servers. They have data centers all over the country that are hungry for them. And that appetite for storage requires a significant transportation network. 

So how does a 3PL or other service provider sell to a company like you? 

Turner: He suggests doing research on the company in order to understand what the company represents. For Unilever, it’s being a sustainable organization. Reducing carbon emissions is important. Turner also mentioned that he did not go to school for logistics, so he relies on partners to be the experts and reveal potential opportunities to him. Unilever also takes a hard look at how the potential partner is improving the lives of drivers and improving the productivity of its drivers. 

GradyHis answer pointed to his desire to vet potential partners before speaking to them. He primarily wants to check the stats of the individual provider for on-time performance and safety. From a practical standpoint, he’s looking at capacity and infrastructure, too. Grady also tries to ascertain a service provider’s ability to flex, and mentioned overtime as an occasion when this is important. 

SyaniaHe needs to make sure a service provider understands his business challenges and the importance of speed. Syania said that a mistake vendors often make is to assume that because Google is a tech company, that tech is all they care about. The truth is, they aren’t looking for potential partners to wow them with the latest and greatest tech solutions. They are looking for innovation and solutions on a broader level, though. 

Where do you go for information?

Turner: He acknowledges Unilever has a big need to stay ahead of the curve because they can’t flex as easily as some small companies. Consequently, he feels they need to be about a year ahead in their thinking. So Unilever has someone who scours the market on Google, then on a monthly basis shares the information with leadership. In addition to this executive level summary of what’s going on in the industry, they rely on suppliers for market updates. 

Grady:He said they rely on organizations like TMSA for information as well as the different industry and trade publications. Rush’s supply base also gives a ton of information.

Syania: Google has a subgroup in the company that’s on the lookout for what is next. They also look to forums like Gartner.  

What does it take to become a shipping partner of choice?

Turner: It comes down to ease of doing business for Turner. I explored the implications of this revelation in a post you can read here. Turner admits this is a very subjective measure…one that can’t be revealed until one actually does business with a supplier. It boils down to being available—not just good. That’s why referrals are crucial. To get a supplier who’s been given the nod by a trusted colleague is gold. Second best is case studies that show Turner how a company has addressed challenges and how they’ve worked with other companies. (This tracks with what I’m seeing; carriers, logistics companies NYSHEX are producing a steady stream of case studies. Then they’re repurposing them in blog posts, newsletters and white papers, as well as posting on their websites.)Turner further expanded on what it takes to become a preferred provider for Unilever. He gave the example that when he has a challenge, this is the person he goes to, even when he knows it is not the service provider’s specialty, because he knows this person will get it done. Turner said that they get all the curveballs and late-night calls…as well as the business. 

Grady: For him, they’re looking for long-term strategic partners—and for strategic value that goes both ways. He said he has to control costs from 24-36 months out, so he looks hard to determine whether a potential partner is stable on the whole, profitable and that their safety numbers are there, i.e. not too many accidents. Lastly, they look at their stability in supply chain/manufacturing because partners need an understanding of Rush’s windows. It’s also about innovation and transparency. They look to partners for solutions and data. These things don’t just come from inside the company. They look to partners who they think can become part of their future. Transparency that reinforces trust is huge, too. When something goes wrong, their valued partners let them in on it immediately. Knowing early about a mechanical failure, a sick driver or an act of mother nature gives Rush more time to fix the problem. 

Syania: Beyond the infrastructure, Google is looking for initiative. They want partners who are anticipating problems and proposing solutions. According to Syania, “The true test is when the instructions and requests stop coming from us and start coming from the supplier.” Syania expanded further on that, by saying that in considering partners, his team isn’t just focused on reliability. They’re focused on collaboration that leads to creativity. Also, as a company, Google wants to be transparent in public, so their partners have to be on-board with that. After all, they’re often the first point of impact and first point of knowledge out there. 

So how do service providers like us get through to shippers like you? 

Turner: For him, a recommendation from another shipper Unilever has a relationship with. Recommendations are powerful. Emails and phone calls are difficult because he already gets so many of them just from other people inside Unilever. He suggests getting their attention another way—LinkedIn, for example. 

Grady: He took Turner’s comment a step further citing email as an irritation. He also said that when companies do manage to get on his radar, he looks at their company culture, over the road safety culture and record of continual improvement. They want to know how they’ll fit into the Rush family. 

Syania: He suggests catching their attention and making it easy to see credentials. What catches Google’s attention? Case studies that match the “pain” Google is experiencing or demonstrate how a service provider has grown with their clients—don’t just show industry knowledge.  

Insights like these, are everything to marketers (and copywriters like me). I think that when you understand how prospects think and feel, you can always be there with the assistance and information they need. And I believe that the best things I’ve written have originated from deep market insights. That’s why I’ve found that I can never get enough of this “insider information.” I was reminded at this year’s TMSA conference that I don’t have to wait for next year’s shipper panel to be enlightened again—I can just talk to the people who are in direct communication with prospects every day: sales. Jeff Davis had an excellent line in his opening keynote “Sales is the cheapest market research you can find.” 

Want to read more of my takeaways from the conference?
Drop by my blog where I’ll be recapping why Google hates some websites more than others, what makes the Compass Awards so cool and more in the coming weeks.

Conrad Winter is a freelance copywriter specializing in content and copywriting for transportation and logistics. Based in Metuchen, NJ, he creates website copy, campaigns, blog posts, whitepapers and case studies for carriers, 3PLs and industry associations. 

Interested in more?
 and visit the Members Only Section for more valuable resources and whitepapers.
And check out the TMSA Blog for more related articles!

Share this post:

Comments on "Unraveling the mysteries of the shipper's mind"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment