9 Hacks For Negotiating With Freight Brokers Even If You Suck At Sales

It seems like every time you call on a posted load, you’re outgunned. Remember, that freight broker is skilled, trained and eager to book freight on his or her terms. You make a half dozen broker calls a week, but he takes that many calls in 30 minutes. What’s wrong with this picture?

Can you really win negotiating with freight brokers, even if you suck at sales? And what about all those websites that keep saying the same stuff? Stuff like know your numbers and your cost of operation. Seriously, your truck could be a paid for 2005, or a 2019 with $600 a week payments. The broker doesn’t care.

UPDATE: I’ve added a fantastic free resource at the end of this article. Who doesn’t love free? 

This article outlines 9 hacks to help you deal with brokers more quickly and efficiantly. You can roll up your sleeves, learn a few new tricks and put them to use today, or you can keep settling for what you get. The choice is yours.

 #1. Don’t Take It So Personally 

This is business to business sales. That truckload isn’t a retail product, sold to a consumer. There are two parties involved, both representing a company. You may be Bob, the owner-operator with one truck. To the broker, you’re representing a trucking company, your business. Rather than think of a big brokerage trying to take advantage of the little guy, think of it as two businessmen who represent different companies. Stop taking this so personally.

#2. Remember, Most Of The Work Is Already Done

You can read all the books from the sales pros and you’ll find they all have a few basic steps in common. In this article written by Brian Tracy, you’ll find it broken down into 7 steps.

  1. Prospecting
  2. Building rapport
  3. Identifying needs
  4. Delivering persuasive presentations
  5. Overcoming objections
  6. Closing the sale
  7. Getting repeat and referral business

As far as a sales process goes, most of your work is done before you ever talk to the broker. Someone from the brokerage did all the leg work finding the customer and getting the freight. All that’s left for you to do is come in at #5, overcoming objections. Obviously, this is usually the rate.

Finding your own freight is a different story. Keep in mind, having better skills with brokers will improve your ability and confidence in finding your own freight.

#3. Know The Right Numbers

You can’t run a business without keeping on top of your numbers. Obviously, you need to know your cost of operation and your break-even point. They’re critical to you, but the broker really doesn’t care. If you’re in an area with too many trucks and few loads, you might not break even. You should have made good money going in. Getting out could be damage control.

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The numbers you need to know when calling on loads are the rate average for the lane and the load-to-truck ratio for the city or area where the load originates, and all costs involved in the run. Even the time of day may be important. But again, that depends on the numbers. It may not be worth waiting until 3:30 in the afternoon when there are 20 trucks for each load.

#4. Be Parked And Prepared

You may think this is a no-brainer, but brokers deal with this every day. Billy Big Rig is trying to book a load while traveling 70 mph, using the steering wheel as a desk. Oh, and he can’t find his pen. On the other hand, you’re parked and ready with all the data you need at hand.

#5. Find Your Voice

Imagine you’re a freight broker. You spend all day on the phone trying to cover loads. Incoming and outgoing calls are going on all day. Let’s generalize a bit here, these calls break down into 4 categories.

  1. Representatives from trucking companies are calling in looking for backhauls. They are in an office cubicle, usually talking in a business tone. They want to book their loads and move on. There may be several loads coming out of one shipper. This customer may take all of them.
  2. The broker calling an owner-operator who’s posted his truck, or a truck owner he’s dealt with before. He’s often calling to cover a load that’s yet to be posted on the load boards. On a side note, you can follow this link to read  7 Power Moves For Posting Your Truck
  3. A truck owner who’s calling on a posted load. Unlike the first two, this guy is talking louder than most, doesn’t shut up and is rude when he doesn’t get a rate he is happy with.
  4. You, the owner-operator who’s talking in a business tone. Whether or not you come to terms on the load, the broker knows you’re an easy guy to communicate with.

Your goal is to have the voice and professionalism of #1, the company rep. This is where finding your voice comes in. To some, this may come naturally, but others may have to work at it. It’s not the voice your hearing at the dining counter in the truck stop. You know the one. It’s the guy who has an opinion about everything, and he never shuts up.

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Negotiating with freight brokersIn a recent Forbes article, communication in any presentation is broken down into 3 parts:

  • 55 percent non-verbal communication, or body language
  • 38 percent your tone of voice
  • 7 percent your words

The broker who answers your call can’t see you, but he will immediately create a picture of you in his mind. It’s just human nature. Generally, that picture will be based on your tone and your words, but heavily weighted towards your tone.

You want to match the volume and tone of the company representative in the first example. The one who’s in a cubicle or office setting. It’s not a loud I’m talking on my cell phone voice. It’s a business tone and a business volume.

The best tip I can give you on this one comes from the book, Never Split The Difference. Chris Voss is the author and a former hostage negotiator. He describes this process as finding your FM radio DJ voice. And if you’ve not yet read the book, you really need to.

#6 Talk Less – Probably Way Less

We’re truckers. We may have just gone hours without talking to anyone. Don’t take that out on the broker. Introduce yourself and tell them the load you’re calling on. If the load is in Cleveland and you’re in Youngstown, just say you’re in Youngstown. Brokers don’t care if you’re at the Walmart Distribution Center at Southland Crossing in Youngstown. Give brief but complete answers to help match your truck to the load.

Whether you’re dealing with someone you’ve worked with or not, you know the information they’ll need. Make sure you can provide them with everything in a timely manner. Remember the company rep who may have just booked 10 loads in the previous call probably had everything they needed in minutes.

#7 What’s The Offer On The Load?

Everyone asks what a load pays. The amount the broker quotes may never book the load, so why ask such a closed-ended question. What’s the offer on the load would be a better question. Not what it pays, or what’s his offer. Just ask, “What’s the offer on the load?”

#8. Close On A Better Rate

Find the closing question that works best for you. Again, from Never Split The Difference comes a great question to bring on a better offer. Calmly repeat the offer back to them, add one or two details breaking down the offer and ask “How am I supposed to do that?” Then shut up.

It should go something like this: “660 dollars… That’s $1.27 per mile, and the lane average is $1.82. How am I supposed to do that?” It’s important that you don’t raise your voice.  Also, the phrase about 660 dollars should not sound like a question. Just state the amount calmly and in a business tone, add a short statement, ask the question and wait for the reply.

The Dangers Of High-balling

This will go one of 3 ways. You may get no movement on the rate, or you may get a better offer. The third possibility is you may be asked what you were thinking. If the lane average was $1.82 and you come back with $2.55, you’re probably going to bring the conversation to an abrupt end. That highball number may also cost you in the future should you ever call the same broker, or if he sees you’ve posted your truck in a lane he’s trying to serve.

#9. Win Or Lose, End On A Good Note

You may come to an agreement on a rate, or you may decide to move on. Either way, end the conversation as a businessman. Don’t come off mad, and DON’T TAKE IT PERSONAL. It’s just business, and the day may come when you’re that perfect person for the load.

A short summary

  1. Don’t take it personally.
  2. Most of the work is already done.
  3. Know the right numbers.
  4. Park, and be prepared.
  5. Find your voice.
  6. Talk less – probably way less.
  7. Ask what’s the offer on the load?
  8. Close on a better rate. Try this.
  9. Win or lose, end on a good tone.

I’ve purposely left out posting your truck because I covered it as a separate post. Take the time to read the article if you haven’t already read it.

Also, Never Split The Difference is the best sales training book I can recommend for negotiating rates and finding your own customers. It describes small but powerful actions that will change the way you communicate with brokers, shippers and receivers. It’s also an entertaining read. I can’t recommend it enough.

Bonus tool: One of the best negotiation training freebies I’ve ever come across has been Chris Voss’ on-line platform.

Seriously, much of his work is focused on the short, quick types of negotiations we’re involved in every day.

Disclaimer: The Trucking Podcast has an affiliate relationship with Trucker’s Edge. This means we receive a small commission when you subscribe, but it doesn’t cost you any extra. You also get 30 days of either of the 3 plans free.