The first step in selling logistic services is to sell shippers on the value of logistics

Though it should be a lot easier to quantify than beauty, value often lies in the eye of the beholder, too.

Despite the claims salespeople make in bars late at night about selling ice to Eskimos, the reality is few people buy anything unless they perceive it is of some value to them.

In a commodity market, the buyer values the lowest price above all. In a competitive arena like truck sales, value is more complex to discern. It may be expressed as a function of price, lifetime cost, productivity enhancement, return on investment, or some combination of these.

When value is open to such interpretation, it becomes incumbent on the sales professional to determine which factors weighing on the buying decision will appeal to which customers. The next step is to fashion a value-oriented sales message appropriate to each prospect. That sets the stage to ask for the business and ultimately close the sale.

The point is nobody can sell anybody anything unless they need it -- or at least think they do. So it is with logistics. A big, ugly word for a field of endeavor that's as easy for most of us to grasp as a handful of Jello.

The thing is if trucks fleets don't have a good handle on what logistics can do, how can they sell its value to their customers? Certainly, there are lots of shippers out there with top-shelf logistics experts on staff. They include the folks who make speeches at industry events and write reams of professional papers on this stepchild of military science.

But truckers don't just make their living off the Fortune 500. There are plenty of companies of all sizes who would be predisposed to buy a fleet's logistics-related services. If only they knew how valuable the payback on investing in logistics can be.

Don't put the cart in front of the horse. Before attempting to convince a shippers to use your fleet's specific services, make sure they know why they shouldn't be overlooking logistics in the first place.

Some potent ammo to pack the sales cannon with is offered by industry consultant John McKay, a partner with Chicago-based ProAction LLC.

"One of the unfortunate facts associated with corporate downsizing is that top management often overlooks the best opportunities for cost-cutting," says McKay. "Labor costs for most manufacturing companies represent approximately 5 to 15% of the overall cost of doing business -- as opposed to the 50 to 75% of costs that relate to the purchase of materials and the distribution of finished goods."

In other words, the time and money expended to eliminate those bogeymen called employees would be better spent on squeezing inefficiency out of both ends of the distribution pipeline.

According to McKay, distribution and purchasing are the operational areas shippers should be examining to increase cost and service efficiency over the long run.

"Executives can find a quick fix by laying off employees," he asserts. "But that's all it is. Real, long-term cost reductions are achieved through improved efficiencies in logistics and supply-chain management."

McKay points out that he advises clients that logistics solutions will require more in-depth strategic planning than downsizing. To help define their best areas for cost-cutting, he zeroes in on purchasing and distribution. "Then we help implement cross-functional agreements and alliances with third-party carriers and vendors," he states.

"We can provide direct, measurable benefits by studying the logistics involved," McKay continues. "Benefits obtained include reduced costs, lower inventory levels, and improved utilization of assets such as plants, warehouses, and truck fleets. These cannot be achieved by simply downsizing."

Shippers need to hear all this stuff, pretty or not. Otherwise even the best-designed package of logistics services will look to them as just another clever marketing trick to snag their business.

When it comes to logistics, getting a foot squarely in the customer's door means first knowing what they need to know. A shoeshine and a smile still count for something. But save the ice for those drinks, after the sale.