By Zack Deming, Senior Client Partner, Korn Ferry’s Transportation and Logistics Practice


You see him at the logistics trade shows. The VP of Sales greets you with a firm handshake, warm smile and a comment about last weekend’s football game. He might remember a funny comment you made at the steak dinner last quarter or ask about your mother who was sick last summer. On the relationship-management scale, he scores a perfect ten.

Strong relationship skills were enough to get by in the logistics industry ten years ago. Back then, you could invest in remembering birthdays and sponsoring golf tournaments and lead a team to make its numbers…but not anymore. Things have changed!

Today’s logistics companies need challengers who look at opportunities differently. They align their organizations based on their customer’s buying cycles, not their own selling cycles. They view their roles as dynamic leaders, navigating an environment that’s constantly changing whether it results from micro-events like a warehouse strike or a macro-event like Brexit.

The new generation of 3PL Sales Leaders are process engineers; they see their commercial operations as a set of interconnected workflows. More importantly, if they don’t have the answers, they have a deep bench of talent that does. They “own” their IT and take initiative to find and deploy software – without permission from the CIO – if it makes their commercial teams more productive and successful.

Do you have what it takes to lead a sales organization beyond great relationships? Here’s a quick quiz to help you sharpen your skills:

1.) When you think about selling your 3PL services, where is the Finish Line?

Quite simply, in logistics and transportation sales, there is no Finish Line, even when the deal is booked or the service completed. Customer lifecycles are interconnected processes without a clear beginning and ending.

Strong revenue and sales leaders know that their job is never done and that after they win a customer, the real work begins. They’re constantly looking for the next opportunity, exploring side comments in every conversation and in every meeting to identify and assess ways to work together that could unlock additional revenue. They’re creative, resourceful, intensely curious and most importantly, active and engaged listeners.

2.) Do you think about your sales team as a group of individual contributors or experts aligned with a well understood and carefully documented process?

Ten years ago, sales leaders could afford to hire aggressive and talented reps, assign their territories and wait for the results. “Hire ten reps and retain the top six,” many sales leaders believed. While this approach may work in an early market with a wide “green field” of opportunity, today’s logistics companies are embroiled in a hyper-competitive environment.

Therefore, today’s sales and revenue leaders need to carefully understand and document the processes that drive their commercial operations. Each role needs to be defined, including the tasks that determine its success.

Sales leaders must be process leaders capable of understanding, documenting, staffing, optimizing and course-correcting the dozens of processes across a logistics sales organization, from quoting freight, booking carrier capacity, onboarding a new account to negotiating an SLA.

3.) Are you as comfortable with Microsoft Excel as you are with Microsoft PowerPoint?

If the emphasis on process wasn’t enough, today’s logistics sales leaders must also be comfortable with both Excel and PowerPoint. No longer can sales function in a silo, delegating tasks to IT and waiting days or weeks for the answers.

4.) Do you ask for permission or forgiveness from your CIO?

Today’s 3PL sales leaders must be knowledgeable in their own IT—not information technology, but Innovation Technology. If they can’t get the insight they need on topics such as customer profitability or trade lane gross margin, they must be resourceful enough to find the technology provider to help them.

Sales leaders must have the skills to run the numbers, looking meticulously at customer profitability, rep productivity and gross margin projections. They make decisions based on data, not opinions and intuition.

Finally, today’s 3PL sales leaders break down the barriers between sales and IT. They share their goals with the CIO, communicate their requirements and work together to bring innovative mobile and cloud-based solutions to their reps, often becoming the competitive differentiator in the field