Scott Watanabe

By: Scott Watanabe on November 13th, 2020

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How Freight Agents Can Improve Carrier Relationships

Business Advice | Logistics | Transportation | Best Practices | Agent Program | Freight Management

You’ve done your homework and have partnered with a reputable freight brokerage that is committed to helping you succeed. Depending on your training and dedication to the job, initial financial success will be linked to your ability to find customers who need to move freight. 

While it’s easy to focus on customers who are requesting and paying for a service, the agents with the highest earning potential – and who ultimately go on to become elite brokers – are those who effectively manage carrier relations.  

Why Focus on Carrier Relations? 

Carriers are customers, too, and should be treated as such. When you recognize a carrier’s needs and respond equitably, they can provide significant advantages to your business, including: 

Increased loyalty – Nothing is better than repeat business. As a new broker, you can spend hours looking for a carrier to move a customer load. Utilizing repeat carriers can reduce the booking process to mere minutes, increasing overall efficiencies for yourself and the brokerage. 

Faster negotiation – Booking freight focuses heavily on negotiating rates. Typically, negotiations move faster when there is an element of trust between two parties. When you develop strong relationships with repeat carriers, they are less likely to engage in lengthy and potentially costly negotiations. 

Enhanced service – Repeat carriers are more likely to extend higher levels of customer service to dependable agents and brokers. They will check call, notify you of delays and issues promptly, and rarely cancel on your shipments after booking.

How Can Brokerages Find Good Carriers?

There are multiple ways for freight brokers to pursue potential carrier partners. For those new to the industry, prospecting and cold calling is an inevitable approach. However, long-term, cold calling is not a preferred approach unless you have a contracted lane with considerable volume. 

Alternatively, brokers who are in the process of booking freight will have an opportunity to develop their carrier portfolio. While building customer relationships, you will notice that carriers are running the same lanes weekly. You will soon be negotiating or booking with the same carriers weekly, creating an opportunity to develop a carrier relationship.  

When you book a carrier, consider asking the following questions to determine whether your interaction is a relationship worth building:

  • How many trucks do you have, and what types? Asking this question will allow you to identify the carrier company size (e.g., large carriers, midsize carriers, small carriers, or owner-operators) to determine whether they are a good fit for your portfolio.
  • Where do you run, and why? Getting insight into the carrier company can help you identify areas where there are opportunities to develop new business. This information also allows carriers to negotiate backhauls. 
  • Do you have an available truck list? Available truck lists are emails that carrier companies send out to brokers multiple times a week to share where the carrier has trucks available. This list is useful to agents who are looking to connect customers to carriers. Available truck lists also serve as an informational aid for agents who need to prospect and cold call. 

To help maximize efficiencies, consider building out carrier profiles in your TMS system. You can also ask the carrier to self-profile by completing a web form during their onboarding process. 

Efficiency Gains Through Carrier Relationships

Once you begin building carrier contacts, you can develop a system to book your carriers more efficiently. With streamlined processes in place, agents can focus on growing their carrier portfolio.  

Consider the following approaches to help book carriers faster:

  • Carrier lists and playlists – Developing a spreadsheet of your best carriers, including contact info, lane details, and customer notes, gives you an accessible resource for carrier information when you need to book a common lane. 
  • Email lists – Creating an email list of your regular carriers can take the hassle out of posting freight and negotiating rates. Having access to an updated distribution list will allow you to communicate more efficiently and cover freight faster. Additionally, you will find new freight opportunities – additional loads based on truck availability – based on carrier responses.  

How Do I Establish a “Regular” Carrier?

Developing any long-term relationship requires continuous contact. For every booking, successful freight agents will discuss the option of a carrier becoming consistent on a lane. Taking a proactive approach to booking lanes means that you can take your request to the customer sooner. The conversation can be straightforward: 

“Tom, I am looking for a carrier that would like to run this lane for me weekly. Is this something in which you would be interested? If so, I can guarantee the volume, and it will likely create more opportunities for both of us.”  

Since strong relationships are built on trust, you may need to run the lane with a carrier multiple times before they will agree to run the lane permanently. In other words, don’t be concerned if initial interest is low. 

When you begin assigning carriers a weekly lane, keep the following in mind:

  • This is a verbal agreement. There is no paperwork involved (other than each rate confirmation).
  • Negotiate for the near-term and the future. Consider how market fluctuations impact rates. Your regular carrier will never tell you when you are overpaying them but will be the first to tell you when they think you aren’t paying them enough.
  • Ensure the customer is aware that you have established a regular carrier on their lane. Proactive communication shows that you are building carrier relationships. The customer will be more apt to send you the lane weekly and extend you additional opportunities. 

Additional Tips

Consider the following tips to help maintain positive and productive carrier relationships:

  • Timely payment – When carriers are owed compensation above and beyond their contract agreement, do your best to ensure they receive payment promptly. Detention pay, out-of-route mileage, or additional stops are examples of non-contracted payments.
  • Priority advantage – Once you establish a carrier base, always reach out to your existing carriers first (before calling on the load boards) when a new load becomes available. Likewise, “regular” carriers will contact you before they jump on the load boards. 
  • Stay in touch – Even without freight, continue to develop your relationship with carriers. If you don’t, they will be forced to move to the load boards. 

Want to Learn More? 

Communication is critical to managing the carrier relationships you work hard to create. Make it a priority to take good care of your carriers and treat them as you would expect to be treated in your business relationships. 

Armstrong changed the game over a decade ago by putting more money in freight agent pockets. Powered by agents, Armstrong’s success is your success.  

Learn why more carriers are joining Armstrong’s approved-carrier network here

Visit Armstrong’s carrier portal to get set up as an approved carrier today! 

About Scott Watanabe

Joining Armstrong in 2014, Scott serves as Director of Training and Agent Development for Armstrong Transport Group. Also known as "The Freight Sensei," Scott oversees new hire training, agent mentoring, and continuing education through professional development. He is skilled in negotiation, operations management, and customer and carrier sales. Scott is a retired US Army Reserve Veteran with two combat tours and over 21 years of service.