Josh Christie is the VP of Marketing & Recruiting at D&L Transport
You may have seen our blog post titled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Freight Agents and wondered about the differences between habits and skills. This article spells out those differences, lists our top picks of skills, and provides insight into what we feel makes for an effective and successful Freight Agent.
Skills vs. Habits: What’s the Difference?
At its most basic, a skill is a learned technique. For example, hitting a golf ball doesn’t come naturally. Several elements, from grip to stance to swing, need to be learned and practiced.
A habit comes about after an action is performed on a regular basis. In our golf example, that would be when our golf swing works well in getting the ball from tee to green. Of course, it could also be when our habit is a repeated slice into the woods.
Our blog post on habits lists more general forms of repeated actions that make for effective Freight Agent operations. They include goal setting, planning, listening, learning, networking, communicating, and teamwork. Those are, essentially, repeated actions backed up by a wide range of skills that come together to drive effectiveness.
Our Top Picks for the 10 Skills of Successful Freight Agents
We’ve sifted through quite a few skills we’ve needed to develop and use regularly over many years as Freight Agents and Brokers. Here are our top picks.
- Telephone Skills. There’s a great meme out there with an image of a telephone and the caption: ‘Pick Me Up. I make you money.’ Telephone skills are quickly becoming a lost art. In an industry, reliant on timely communication, spending time on the telephone could easily take up your entire day. That’s also why it’s number one on our list. Telephone skills often require more listening than talking, which builds that listening habit and the communicating habit. Telephone skills are also at the heart of your customer service. It pays off with shippers and carriers bringing your best smile to the telephone every time. In a tech-heavy movement where automated AI for basic communications is quickly becoming the norm, staying focused on these basics with a bit of personalization helps you build relationships.
- Computer Skills. The computer skills listing includes email, Internet searches, and updating your online and social media business presence. Then there are word processors, spreadsheets, and operating software. That’s just the starting point, as Freight Agents also need to be experts in load boards and all facets of TMS. Of course, you don’t have the time to become a true expert. That’s where your Freight Broker can provide the training and support needed for your operation.
- Organizational Skills. Organizational skills drive the habits of goal setting and planning with a significant amount of teamwork in the mix. It’s also about prioritizing tasks daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. These skills also come into play when you’re multi-tasking, choosing which tasks to prioritize to deal with the day’s crisis. An essential aspect of all this work is to find time to review your efforts to identify any problem areas or areas where you’re spending more time than necessary. With that overview, you can better determine what improvements or changes are needed. Regular/consistent processes set expectations with your customers.
- Marketing Skills. As an Independent Agent, marketing is how you bring in business and grow your sales. That covers the full range of your efforts, from branding on your customer touchpoints – online/social presence to your email and direct outreach campaigns to find new customers. That means formally dedicating time on your calendar for sales calls and networking with local business groups and trade associations. See our article 8 Ways to Grow Your Freight Agency for further insight.
- Negotiating Skills. Unsurprisingly, negotiation is one of the essential skills of a successful Freight Agent. Those negotiating skills come into play in nearly everything you do. From finding customers and getting that first shipment to negotiating rates and dates to problem-solving, finding just the right compromise to meet your client’s needs. It’s all about negotiation. That’s why finding training opportunities to improve your skills makes perfect sense. That could be online training options or local colleges or business groups that offer training and the chance for networking. Constant practice and exposure to situations where you must utilize interpersonal skills are among the best ways to improve continuously.
- People Skills. The demand for people skills is broad and deep. It includes connecting with customers, carriers, and vendors. But it doesn’t stop there. It also must reach out to employees, helping them manage their workload and work together to meet the needs of the Agency. Your people skills must consistently demonstrate the ability to size up a situation, establish an understanding of the other person’s perspective, and provide respectful solutions. It’s tough to do all this under daily pressures, but it forms the core of a successful Freight Agent’s skillset.
- Logistics Planning Skills. Today’s TMS software and systems can seem like the perfect solution for logistics planning. Yet, it only offers potential solutions for your clients’ loads. It takes your logistics planning know-how to select the right option for that particular client and their shipping needs.
- Compliance Skills. Freight regulations differ significantly from state to state and even city to city. Then there are international shipping regulations that come into play for some loads. Successful Freight Agents need to be on top of these regulations to ensure their customers’ shipping is in compliance. That takes not only experience and expertise but the knowledge of where to look for answers to compliance questions you haven’t yet faced.
- Financial Planning Skills. Keeping on top of the financing of your business is a critical skill for every Freight Agent. That means keeping on top of cash flow with more funds arriving than are flowing out to pay obligations. Delayed payments can be a disaster. Then there is ensuring that you make payroll for your staff. Even if you’re operating as a solo Agent, planning for the cyclical patterns helps you determine the scalability of your operations.
- Strategy Skills. Almost all the skills listed above deal with short-term challenges. Yet a critical part of managing any business is looking ahead, setting goals, and putting plans in place to drive the business forward with the right strategic focus. Day-to-day scrambling can keep a business alive, but to grow requires strategic thinking and a long-range plan of action.
What Makes an Effective and Successful Freight Agent?
In our Freight Brokerage, we work with the best of the best in Freight Agents. We are also always looking for new Freight Agents who can be successful with the full range of support we provide. Here is our list of the key elements we believe make for an effective and successful Agent.
- Entrepreneurial. This is the essence of any Independent Freight Agent. After all, you’re starting a business from scratch and making a go of it every day. You need that entrepreneurial and even pioneering spirit to make it happen.
- Customer-Oriented. Without customers, you don’t have a business. They are the heart of everything we do in the transportation industry. You’ll need to focus on the heart of the business, whether they’re Shippers or Carriers. Making customers successful is what we do.
- Self-Motivated. Along with that entrepreneurial spirit comes self-motivation. You have to not only find customers to build and grow your business, but you also have to solve several unforeseen shipping and delivery problems nearly every hour of every day. That takes motivation to keep after it time and time again.
- Self-Aware. Self-awareness is all about knowing your strengths and admitting to your weaknesses. No one is good at absolutely everything. It takes self-awareness to know when it’s time to bring in help or consult with others to find solutions. This is also about having confidence, which is so important in our business, without an overbearing ego. Humility is a critical quality for a top-notch Freight Agent.
- Resilient. That self-motivation is naturally bolstered by a long-term ability to bounce back from setbacks and extreme challenges. As just one example, prospecting for customers is extremely difficult, with more rejections than successes. That means you’ll need to be thick-skinned and ready to go at it again after every rejection. Remember, a career .300 hitter in the MLB still fails 70% of the time while being considered one of the best hitters in baseball.
- Relationship Builder. Working with customers, carriers, and your support team successfully requires building relationships that endure through the good and the tough times. Those relationships can come through in the crunch for you and your network when needed.
- Great Communicator. You’ll need strong communication skills to not only get your message across but to actively listen to others. That includes taking into account their perspective, needs, and wants to find solutions where all too often, none were thought possible.
- Great Negotiator. Communication, relationships, and customer orientation all come together when negotiating a contract, bidding on a load or resolving a problem. Negotiation is at the heart of the Freight Agent’s role.
- Process Management. While much of a Freight Agent’s job is resolving daily challenges, that job happens within a well-defined process. Otherwise, nothing would get done. The successful Freight Agent knows all the processes and successfully manages them on their customers’ behalf.
- Honesty, Transparency, and Respect. This comes to the heart of who you are. It underlies everything you do. If you have it, it shines through to all those you encounter in your daily life and work. If trust is broken, it can never be repaired. Your customers must trust that you have their best interest at heart. This trust keeps them from being poached by competitors as well as makes them quickly return should they ever leave.
This list looks remarkably like our early listing of habits and this current listing of skills of successful and effective Freight Agents. For even more insight, check out our BETTERLIFE™ with D&L video series. We talk to our Agents as well as select subject matter experts to help you navigate the challenging world of the Freight Agent.
Of course, we feel that our Freight Agency program is the best in the business. To see for yourself, look at our Agent Opportunities page. You can also hear directly from our successful Agents. Then, get in touch, and we can get started.
Call toll-free: 866.559.0203. Or complete the form at D&L Agent Requirements.
D&L Transport. Your Family in Freight.