The 2024 Freight Agent Playbook with SPI Logistics
Episode Transcript
DD Spotify DD Apple Podcast

In this episode, Mike Mikulik, VP of Marketing and Sales at SPI Logistics, offers an insider’s perspective on the freight agent model. He and Blythe discuss topics like commission structures, technology tools, carrier vetting, and effective sales strategies. Whether you’re considering becoming a freight agent or want to improve your current operations, this episode provides the information needed to navigate and thrive in the competitive logistics industry.




Are you experienced in freight sales or already an independent freight agent? Listen to our Freight Agent Trenches interview series powered by SPI Logistics to hear directly from the company’s agents on how they took the leap and found a home with SPI freight agent program.

Tai TMS is designed to streamline your brokerage operations and propel growth for both FTL and LTL shipment cycles. Book a demo with the Tai team today and tell them Everything is Logistics sent you.

Maximize your website’s performance as a sales tool with Digital Dispatch’s website management.

Show Transcript

See full episode transcriptTranscript is autogenerated by AI

Mike Mikulik: 0:05

What came out of it was that shippers are looking to brokers as the experts in their field and they want to be challenged as to how they're currently doing business, to find new ways to do business that's going to enhance their supply chain. So they're open to having those deep conversations. Obviously, the broker having a conversation with the shipper as to how they're doing business, asking those right questions, but that shipper is also expecting them to find out different ways to enhance that business.

Blythe Brumleve: 0:37

Welcome into another episode of Everything is Logistics, a podcast for the thinkers in freight. We are proudly presented by SPI Logistics and I am your host for the thinkers in freight. We are proudly presented by SPI Logistics and I am your host, Blythe Brumleve, and we got a really great guest for you today because he's from SPI Logistics and that's Mike Mikulik. He is the VP of Marketing and Sales over at SPI. So we are going to be talking about what makes for a successful freight agent in 2024 and beyond. We all know the market conditions are a little rough right now, but there are some bright spots. So let's sort of kick things off with one of the central discussions that we had last year. At this time last year we were talking about what makes for a successful freight agent, and that video now on your YouTube channel sits at around 8,000, 8.4 thousand views, so it's pretty safe to say that people really liked the conversation we had last year. So, mike, welcome back to the show and let's kick off this conversation for this year.

Mike Mikulik: 1:33

Yes, thanks for having me back. I'm glad to hear that we had good success for the last show and that people are actually interested in what we talk about.

Blythe Brumleve: 1:40

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think the success with this sponsorship, this relationship between me and you and SPI, is that you know we come at these conversations with genuine curiosity and then genuine wanting to help. So that's my sort of initial like sales pitch. So hopefully, you know, folks continue to listen in. I promise it's not going to be too salesy. It will be one of those situations where we're going to cover a lot of the common questions that people are asking about becoming a freight agent, because I'm of the opinion that the traditional freight brokerage model that we've all known for the past 15 to 20 years is evolving into an agent first model. Now, I know other people will probably disagree with me when it comes to that statement, but how accurate do you think that statement is? I mean, obviously we're biased here, but it's one of those things where I there is a legitimate movement from people who are working inside of a brokerage, who want to do their own thing, who want to to take their customers with them and build a book of business on their own.

Mike Mikulik: 2:41

Absolutely. I think there's a lot of people that have an existing book of business, have the relations with their customers who would like?

Blythe Brumleve: 2:48


Mike Mikulik: 2:48

go out on their own and start it on their own. They control their own destiny. So I think there is definitely a movement towards it. I think there's sometimes the fear factor of people going out on their own or starting their own brokerage and really, at the end of the day, it's going to be what you kill is what you eat. So if you're not, you know you may starve for the first few weeks or the first few months as you start bringing your customers over. So there's that fear factor that that people are thinking about.

Mike Mikulik: 3:11

But I also think a lot of actual freight broker companies, so to speak, who have an employee based model, are very interested in the agency model and we get asked quite a bit like how do you, how do you guys do it, how, how can? Very interested in the agency model and we get asked quite a bit like how do you guys do it? How can we make this agency model work? And there's definitely potential with it.

Mike Mikulik: 3:29

The challenge is when you have an employee-based model where you have your own in-house salespeople, your own dispatchers, you have your own books of business with a customer and then all of a sudden you bring on freight agents that have their own customers. They sometimes view themselves as competing against each other. So those challenges. But I think people in general are interested in the agency model just because there's less overhead that you have to put in place in order to have people on board. Basically, you know what, you have no cost associated with it. You're only paying them for what they bring to the table. So if they're bringing business, everyone's winning. But if they're not bringing business, well, you don't have extra costs as a company associated to that agency.

Blythe Brumleve: 4:07

Which I would imagine is very, I guess, enticing for an existing freight brokerage that's looking to everybody wants more customers, so that's probably the easiest route for them to take is to just bring on additional agents to increase their margins. But then to your point and to a lot of points that I see, especially on the freight broker subreddit, which we'll get into some of those questions later on. But a lot of the comments around there within that subreddit is that oh well, if you go work as a freight agent and you go to another brokerage, then those customers are going to be called on by the in-house brokers.

Mike Mikulik: 4:49

And so it's almost like you're competing with yourself. Yeah, I think a lot of what's a big, a big question that gets asked of us when anyone is looking to come on board as a freight agent with SPI is who owns the accounts.

Mike Mikulik: 4:56

Are they my accounts? Are they your accounts? Are they shared accounts? Here's the thing the freight agent model that we have in place the agent that comes on board has his existing book of business, he has his customers, he has his relationships. They're his accounts. I don't make him sign a non-compete where I have control of his accounts. Know what? It puts a lot more pressure on the agency company I mean, for instance, our company with that type of model that the agent could leave at any time and take his accounts and go somewhere else. It puts the onus on the agency company to ensure that they have a strong stickiness factor, and that's a word Joe always uses. He goes we need to ensure that we have a good stickiness factor with our agents so that they don't want to leave.

Mike Mikulik: 5:45

So that means giving them support when it comes to sales support, helping them try to grow their business, working with them to find areas that they can enhance their business so they can streamline it to be more effective and productive. You know, giving them the best TMS system that you can give or that you can offer out there, giving them all these various tools that it makes them hard to leave because you know what they're getting, everything they need to be successful and we're all winning together. And I'm telling you, when we sell with our agents and we help them get a new piece of business or they're able to deep sell an existing piece of business, like the mental factor of how good you feel is just awesome on both sides, it's a partnership. And of how good you feel is just awesome on both sides, it's a partnership. And I find we've had good success with that because we've invested heavily working with our agents to help them grow and streamline their business.

Mike Mikulik: 6:32

I took a few different topics there, didn't I?

Blythe Brumleve: 6:33

No, I mean you definitely knocked off a few of my questions that I had later on, which is all about efficiency. So that's the world we live in. So I, you know, I've heard you talk about you know different models before and I'm curious if just you know if there's any additional ones. So you have the in-house brokers with freight agents model, then you have, you know, just the straight up freight agent model where you don't have any in-house brokers. Is there any other model to complement that? Or in addition to that, that sort of works out Maybe model to complement that or in addition to that, that sort of works out.

Mike Mikulik: 7:08

Maybe sub-agents Is that a regular thing too? Sub-agents are an aspect too. A lot of our agents, our larger agents, will have sub-agents where they'll bring on someone else who has a smaller book of business and they'll run their agency and they'll work out a commission structure that's going to work for them too. So there's definitely options with that. Um, I guess I see a lot of our larger agents have gone down that road where they bring on sub-agents that work within the team and they kind of, you know, they share the account or they'll each have different modes which they'll focus on within that account. It just it varies, but that's a model, definitely. And then you'll see some other companies not from ours because we're not-asset based, but asset based companies, carriers who will employ freight agents as well too, with books of business, to either, you know, broker their customers or, you know, sell it based on the with the assets that that company is offering as well too.

Blythe Brumleve: 7:56

So there's all kinds of different models that are out there Different ways you can skin a cat and as you were talking, I just remembered that we had Tynan on the show, one of your agents, and he's actually a sub agent for a larger agent and that was how he got his foot in the door at a very young age and now he's doing very well as a sub agent and has sort of that pathway to get his own customers. Where it might be challenging for a lot of folks, especially in this market to, you know, just start off being an agent. Maybe you never go to a freight brokerage or maybe you leave a freight brokerage in hopes that you can become an agent. And you know, you got to try to build that book of business in this market. You know, maybe in special circumstances, from what I understand, is where the sub agent model makes a lot of sense for them.

Mike Mikulik: 8:44

It does it. Does I mean Tynan? What an example that was bringing somebody on just finishing school. You know was interested in transportation logistics, connected with one of our agents, worked with her on helping her grow her business and manage her business. It was a lot to handle.

Mike Mikulik: 9:02

And at the same time he's learned the business as well too, and you know he's slowly been able to get some of his own accounts that he's been able to pursue and work on. It's been good. You know it all boils down to the people that become agents having that right mindset. It's not for everybody. I mean people think you know I drive a truck or I have. You know I've driven a truck, I understand a lot of the customers that I'm delivering to. It's a mindset. You need to have that entrepreneurial spirit, you have to be driven, you have to be hungry, you have to be relentless. It gets tough, it's not easy. It's not easy, and you know what Some people they give up too soon as well too. But if you push through it, it's a numbers game. You know what you get one account, and from well too. But if you push through it, it's a numbers game. You know what you get one account and then from there you get another account.

Blythe Brumleve: 9:49

You get another account, but it takes time, you can do well at it and that. What are some of those challenges that you've seen for freight agents? That they've taken that risk and then they fall into a situation where maybe you know it's tough to see a way out.

Mike Mikulik: 10:01

I think sometimes I think they give up too soon. They figure that you know what I'm going to hit. I'm going to, I'm going to work really hard at this for a month, two months, and then I'm going to start seeing some income that's going to come in right away and the reality is it can take longer than that.

Mike Mikulik: 10:12

It can take three months, it can take four months and a lot of the ones that I've seen that have come in and trying to like who legit, legitimately want to build a book of business and be an agent, give up too soon. They were like that month or that two months away from actually hitting it big. And I've seen numerous examples of it too.

Mike Mikulik: 10:29

So the thing is, it's like starting your own. You know, if you want to start your business as a as a roofer, well, first of all you got to go buy a truck, you got to buy ladders, you got to buy product, you got to take care of your mark.

Mike Mikulik: 10:39

You know marketing your, marketing your product. You got to do some, you got to do quotes. It all takes time, like no one just start from day one starts making money on day one. It takes time, but then you have all those costs that are associated with it. As a freight agent, you basically come in with a cell phone and a computer and you know what You're betting on yourself to make it happen. And it takes a little bit of time, but you know what.

Blythe Brumleve: 11:00

Give yourself that three four months to get things going, because the reality is that's what it's going to take. So what does that process look like, especially when it comes to the agents that SPI is looking for? You're looking for somebody with a little bit more experience, but maybe let's start from the beginning. What is that pathway to ultimately becoming, maybe, an agent for SPI? What does that pathway look like? Is it going to work at a freight brokerage, you know sort of earning your chops there and then building your book of business and then becoming a freight agent and then, you know, making sure that you have all of those little details worked out and then joining SPI? Or is there you know another, you know sort of pathway in between? What does that look like?

Mike Mikulik: 11:39

Typically the agents we bring on board have an existing book of business. So they've, you know, either a or a salaried broker somewhere else that has relationships with customers, that has no non-compete, and they want to go out on their own and all you know they usually behind the scenes they're working a lot with their customer to say listen, I'm thinking of leaving this far, I'm thinking I'm going, will you? Will you support and follow me? And in most cases, you know what? Because the salesperson or the or the freight broker has such a good relationship with the customer.

Blythe Brumleve: 12:06

They'll follow them right.

Mike Mikulik: 12:07

The loyalty is to the salesperson, it's to the person who's been handling their day-to-day operations and from there they come on and usually it's about a week windowed for the transition and they start. They come with an existing book and start running with it from there and then from there it just takes off and grows. So I basically bring on agents that have at least a million dollar in revenue book of business end up. Those are the ones where you know what I kind of look at. But at the same time too, there's a lot of really good candidates out there who are phenomenal salespeople, who have an existing book of business and they're looking to go out on their own. They came from a salary and commission role and they want to go out on their own.

Mike Mikulik: 12:46

I'll take a chance on some of these guys, even if they don't have an existing book that they can bring on, but they're going to work at it for a few months. But I'm really selective on it's that mindset like are they? Are they hunters? Are they? Are they resilient? Because it, like I said a lot of times, it takes a little bit more work than what they think. But if they have that, it's still soft skills.

Blythe Brumleve: 13:05

You can't be trained for it.

Mike Mikulik: 13:06

It's either you're passionate about something you know, you're hungry, you have that entrepreneurial spirit, you're driven, you're a good communicator and a good listener and you want to be mentored. Those are the guys, or the guys or girls who seem to have the most success in this business.

Blythe Brumleve: 13:21

Are you in freight sales with a book of business looking for a new home? Or perhaps you're a freight agent in need of a better partnership? These are the kinds of conversations we're exploring in our podcast interview series called the Freight Agent Trenches, sponsored by SPI Logistics. Now I can tell you all day that SPI is one of the most successful logistics firms in North America, who helps their agents with back office operations, such as admin, finance, it and sales. But I would much rather you hear it directly from SPI's freight agents themselves. And what better way to do that than by listening to the experienced freight agents tell their stories behind the how and the why they joined SPI? Hit the freight agent link in our show notes to listen to these conversations. Or, if you're ready to make the jump, visit spi3plcom. And so, when you're thinking of making this jump, what should be those first few questions that you think about asking? You mentioned non-compete. I imagine pay commission splits is probably up there. Is there anything else of what somebody should be considering if they're thinking of making that leap?

Mike Mikulik: 14:31

100%. I even think even more so now, just given the challenging market conditions we're facing right now with fraud and with credit. There's many questions you should ask. I mean, first of all, I'd ask about the non-compete who owns the accounts? Are they my accounts, your accounts? Shared accounts? What is that? And you know what? If you're doing all the work and you're the agent, those accounts should be your accounts. So make sure you're not signing something where someone has control of your accounts, because in my mind, that's just not fair.

Mike Mikulik: 14:59

The other thing that they should be looking for I mean this is usually the first question, because everybody wants to know what they're getting paid is what's the commission split? And, on those ones, be specific on how the commission split works. If it starts off on the lower side, how do I wrap myself up to the higher side? What are the parameters around that? Because you want to ensure that you're comparing apples to apples on the commission splits. The next thing and this is one thing we've been finding that a lot of potential agents are actually asking, just given the challenges of the market with companies going out of business is they're asking for credit information about the company.

Blythe Brumleve: 15:29

And it was interesting.

Mike Mikulik: 15:30

It's actually one of them. We sent them our credit report just so we had an idea of who we are as a company. But I was impressed that he took the time to be like OK, what kind of? I want to find a partner up with you. I want to ensure that you guys are a stable company, that you have financial resources in place and that you guys are financially healthy.

Mike Mikulik: 15:48

And, to be honest with you, I think it's a really good question to be asking now. You know, finding out how long they've been in business, you know what's their revenue, what's their profit. You know over the last three years, what has been your. What has been your now in a down market? Asking those questions, I think, is important the last thing you want to do, because taking your agency from one place to another it's a lot of work. It's work. You're going to all your customers, you're resetting them up again. It's a big commitment and you would hate to go and make your move from one agency to another agency. And the next thing you know the company's got financial challenges and you know what. They're no longer around right.

Blythe Brumleve: 16:28

Gosh yeah.

Blythe Brumleve: 16:29

That's a really good question that that agent asked you, because they're, you know, with all the reports that we sort of see about you know, sort of trucking companies that go out of business. It's also affecting, you know, this down market that we're in. It's also affecting brokerages as well. Where's almost a need in the market for more brokerages and more trucking companies to close in order to help the rest of the market get back to quote, unquote normal, and so that is actually a really smart question that I wouldn't have even thought of asking. So kudos to that agent for even thinking of that.

Mike Mikulik: 17:03

I thought it was great and put like I was the first time I've ever been asked that question just in that direct form. But I was impressed that obviously he's doing his due diligence and I think everyone's to do their due diligence about the company they're going to work for.

Mike Mikulik: 17:16

I mean, the other thing I'd be asking and this is another big thing that I find we get agents from other, from smaller, um, uh, from smaller companies come into ours is about technology, and the big thing they're asking is you know what kind of tms system are you using? You know what kind of connections are are available with your tms system? How old is your tms system? What enhancements can you provide to me that I'm not getting right now? That's another huge question to ask, and I think technology has been so much on the forefront over the last five years. If companies are behind in technology, I think they're lagging in actually getting real solid agents. So I'm proud of the technology that we actually have. Who we've partnered with in our TMS system.

Blythe Brumleve: 17:58

I have no problem going head to head against anybody in the market with our TMS.

Mike Mikulik: 18:01

So I think we've invested heavily into it and we have one of the most robust systems that are actually out there. So I'm proud of it, I'm so proud of it, and even when I'm in the conversation stage with agents, I'll be like, hey, listen.

Mike Mikulik: 18:12

I'll set you up with a demo. Take a look at our system, judge for yourself, and nine times out of 10, the first comment back is like wow, he goes. I have never seen anything like this, or this is exactly what I'm looking for and I think part of it is too is that when we have our client care, do the demo with them they're actually asking the potential agent a lot of questions about the type of business and they're showing them things directly related to what would be important to them, and I think that's important. So I'm proud of the tms system that we have. So and that's a question you should be asking any potential agency that you're going to going to look at to work for. What else can I say? Well, you want to still talk about that, don't you?

Blythe Brumleve: 18:55

Oh yeah, I was gonna ask a follow up question, but please go ahead.

Mike Mikulik: 18:58

Now I lost my train of thought. Oh, the other question I think that should be asked, and while we're on technology, is carrier vetting. I mean, right now, with fraud and double brokering, it's a hot mess out there and you know what I think. If companies right now have not invested into the proper technology when it comes to carrier vetting to avoid fraud and double brokering, they're putting themselves at risk. And you know what Fraud can add up pretty quick. I mean you have enough claims against you, or lost loads, or stolen loads. I mean you have that aspect where it can sink a company pretty quick.

Mike Mikulik: 19:33

So that's the big thing right now is asking about the technology they're using for carrier vetting, and we made a switch a year ago. Actually, how long have we been on highway now? For Six months? Yeah, about six months, but you know we talked to highway back when they were first promoting their product on carrier vetting and it was the right tool for us to use. And yeah, there's little hiccups along the way as we got things going, but I'm telling you that process has saved us so much headache when it comes to double brokering and the risks of fraud, because these guys are constantly looking for different ways to circumvent the system and to try to screw out a broker. But I'm telling you, highway has done a phenomenal job with trying to route out all that. So I feel very protected and I think any agent that's looking at a particular agency should be asking what tools they have in place, what technology they're using for carrier vetting.

Blythe Brumleve: 20:21

And with all of these tools you know that you mentioned the TMS, you mentioned Highway, I'm sure, a variety of other different software applications that a freight agent can use Are these freight agents bringing their own tech stacks or are they able to take advantage of, you know, maybe a combination of what SPI offers and their own tech stack?

Mike Mikulik: 20:42

You know what I mean. I mean, 99% of the time, they have no tech stack at all existing agents and they're looking to come on board to a company that has the tech stack that they need to be able to carry out their business. In some cases, some agents have some specific technology tools. More so, surrounded by you know, around their prospecting tools or the CRM that they're using to prospects. Those kind of tools they're using and we look for ways to help you know, manage those within to our network as well for them.

Mike Mikulik: 21:21

Sometimes, you know agents are working with really large customers where you know what it's all, on a platform where all their loads are posted and they may have some technology for scraping the kind of loads they want to work on.

Mike Mikulik: 21:25

You know we've been able to try to work with them and integrate that so it makes it easier for them to do it within our system. But 99% of the time they're looking to come to a company that has the tech stack that they want and really, as an agent, you know what you're working on the commissions. But why are you why, why interested in an agency model? You don't want to pay for your technology yourself. You don't want to pay for your MC number, you don't want to pay for all your insurance certificates. You want to go with a company that has all those things so you're protected. You can basically do what you do best, which is bring your existing book of business on, sell deep sell, dispatch cargo and find carriers. So by us taking all those other tools away from it gives them more time to focus on those revenue generating activities.

Blythe Brumleve: 22:01

And so I would imagine that those additional tools are those part of the maybe the commission fee that they have to pay out, you know, as far as their commission splits, or their extra costs for this extra technology, or is it all included with being an agent at SPI?

Mike Mikulik: 22:16

It's all included with being an agent at SPI. It's all included with being an agent with SPI. We may work on a commission split. So obviously we're taking a portion of the commission. But in return, what are they getting? They're getting back office support from our client care team. They're getting, you know, they're not having to worry about bad debt if their customer doesn't pay. I take on all that financial risk. So if the customer, if our agent's customer, doesn't pay or goes belly up, for that matter, I don't go back to my agent and go.

Mike Mikulik: 22:40

Well, your customer went back or went out of business. You owe us this back. No, we take on that financial risk, so that commission's fee, which is a smaller fee compared to what the agent gets, by quite a bit. It protects them, it gives them all those tools so that they can do what's best and a lot of people actually. This is an interesting story, Actually, you did interview Brad Clark at one time, didn't you?

Blythe Brumleve: 23:02

Yes, he was my first SPI interview, actually.

Mike Mikulik: 23:05

Okay, I thought I was your first SPI interview.

Blythe Brumleve: 23:09

He was the first grade agent.

Mike Mikulik: 23:11

But you know he ran a 3PL company as well too, and what he found.

Mike Mikulik: 23:15

It was so hard for him to build his business because he was so focused on back office support functions, receivables, payables, you know, dealing with whatever, whatever other challenges come up that he found by outsourcing that to spi, he was able to spend more time on revenue generating activities and his business actually grew just based on that model. So I do think that for a lot of 3pls that are smaller in nature that you know are looking to expand in technology well, technology is expensive or they're looking to scale up their bill, their business, but you know what is cash flow they need in order to scale up their business with a lot of large customers, there's a value in them, even them joining an agency, and they still can hold tight on. You know they built a company name, for instance.

Blythe Brumleve: 23:59

They can still use their name no problem. They can still use their email address.

Mike Mikulik: 24:03

We just become their back office support function as SPI. But yeah, there's ways to work around that too. But I've seen a lot of success with smaller 3PLs who finance themselves, want to grow, just didn't have the time, didn't have the support or even hiring a back office team cost money that they found value in just relinquishing that and just becoming an agent and focusing on revenue generating activities.

Blythe Brumleve: 24:27

I feel like you've already sold me not just saying this. I feel like, no, not that I'm actually going to go do this, but it does sound enticing to go out there and have all of the risks and the questions and have that part of it answered and then you can just focus on what you're really good at. The next question I sort of had around was around like taxes, cpa, because when you're an agent you're doing it's your own business and so you have to worry about those additional, I guess, structures because you're essentially an independent contractor. So is there any sort of assistance in that regard when it comes to you know sort of the admin side of running a business, or is that really should?

Mike Mikulik: 25:08

be up to the agent to handle. I think in the States where they run off of 1099. Yeah, 1099. The same thing. They run off of 1099. You'll get a statement of earnings from us, you the same thing. They run up at 1099. You'll get a statement of earnings from us. You take care of how you're going to file it with. What do you guys have in the states there, the ira or whatever?

Mike Mikulik: 25:22

it is irs, whatever it is. But anyways, you guys, you know they, you guys deal with all that directly. But a lot most of our agents have their own llc. They're incorporated companies and you know they have accountants that you know take care and run the backside of their, of their own business. But it's a lot easier. I mean your costs are so low. Like you know what are your costs. You're not you're not, you know, paying for a tms system. You're not paying for insurance, like all those things are.

Blythe Brumleve: 25:51

That's why you join us yeah, pay, pay for uh or invest in a cpa, so then that way you can do do more of what you love and not get in trouble with the government owing a lot of money, because that probably is a danger of happening if you don't have a CPA or some kind of an accounting firm. Brokering success demands a battle-ready strategy. Tye TMS equips freight brokers with the ultimate battle station for conquering a tough market. Brokers with the ultimate battle station for conquering a tough market. With TAI, brokers gain access to a comprehensive platform where rate intelligence and quote history converge on a single screen. It's not just a page, it's a strategic command center designed to help brokers win.

Blythe Brumleve: 26:29

Tai equips your team with all of the data they need to negotiate with confidence and allows them to communicate directly with carriers and customers from a simple control base. Revolutionize the way your brokers perform by giving them a competitive advantage with Tide TMS. For more info, go to tai-softwarecom backslash battle stations, and we also have a link for you in the show notes to sign up for a demo. I did want to ask a little bit about the international perspective, because you guys are also building out international freight agents as well, right?

Mike Mikulik: 27:05

Yeah, in fact it's interesting because my background when I got into this industry a long time ago was on the international freight forwarding side, so I was involved in international air and ocean. I ran the Asia-Pacific trade lane coming into North America, which was awesome side. So I got I was involved in international air and ocean, iran lake, that, the trans asia pacific trade lane coming into north america, which was awesome.

Mike Mikulik: 27:21

there's so much business that comes in from asia to north america and then, you know, slowly got myself into where I'm, where I'm right now, on the on the trucking side with the usa and canada, and I always thought, like you know, whenever you talk to these, these customers, you we talk to them about trucking, we talk about their domestic network. There's an international opportunity that we have never even asked about. If they're doing domestic trucking within Canada and the US, or intra-USA or within Canada, they're bringing product in from overseas. I think a lot of it just boiled down to we're missing out on this potential opportunity to really deep sell existing customers and we thought, you know what, if we look at the international side of the business, this is another way and provide a tool for our agents. Here's another revenue stream that we can give to our agents to be able to deep sell their customer and to be able to grow their own business and it's not a hard sell when you think of it.

Mike Mikulik: 28:17

You already have credit set up with them. You have the relationship with the customer. You know, they know who you are. They obviously like you and trust you because they're doing business with you. In most cases it's just an ask and just a qualification as to what international business they have. So with that thought in mind, we saw a really big revenue potential for the company to grow as a whole, offering international.

Mike Mikulik: 28:38

Then the big thing comes up. It's like well, you know we don't have any offices overseas, so how do we find the right people to partner up with? And you know, we've joined a few freight forwarding networks where, for instance, you could have, you know, a freight forwarder in hong kong, for instance, who controls all of china, and you go to these, you have one-on-one meetings with them. He's got cargo coming out of Asia or out of China coming into Canada, the US, but he has no domestic agent here to help him with his delivery and following up with the consignee.

Mike Mikulik: 29:08

But anyways, these conferences I go to, there's usually a couple hundred agents that are at these conferences. You have one-on-one meetings with them and they all have the same need, like that are at these conferences. You have one-to-one meetings with them and they all have the same need, like I need somebody in Canada, us, well, guess what? I'm going to have opportunities coming out of China or out of Vietnam or out of Europe and I'm going to need an agent overseas to book cargo with. And it's slowly starting to get off the ground.

Mike Mikulik: 29:30

but I see a huge potential of growth coming on the international side, and more so just within our existing, our agents existing account base, that there's international opportunities that are not necessarily a hard sell and we have the right agents overseas to be able to handle that.

Blythe Brumleve: 29:48

So that's why it's the opportunity and I think that that's such a fascinating model because when we had anita on the on the show, so she's the AR lead, or AR HR.

Mike Mikulik: 30:01

I'll tell you honestly, with all the crazy ideas I come up with for revenue growth, at the end of the day it's going to be her team that's going to have to help on the international side. But the cool thing about it is we collaborate together on these kinds of things and we work really well with this. But she buys. She's bought into it too. She sees the potential, but she realized that's going to be putting a lot on to her and her department.

Blythe Brumleve: 30:22

But well, she had mentioned during our conversation and I'll I'll link to it in the show notes in case in case people want to check it out but she mentioned that one of the bigger advantages with SPI is that they that they do not have agent agent saturation, which is. Could you explain that for us and why it's sort of a danger that some other agent models face that?

Mike Mikulik: 30:43

You know that's a great question, blythe, and actually that should be another point that any prospective agent that's looking to join an agency should ask is about what's a saturation like? I mean, there are a lot of companies out there that are massive, that have hundreds or thousands of agents that they have working for them. I mean, we don't have to go far to name those companies, but you know the challenge that you hear is a lot of them say I want to join that company, but then they they they learn pretty quickly when they join that company and they already have an existing account base and they go and they put it through that system. It's like someone else is already working on that account and how frustrating for someone to make to go all the way to the finish line thinking you're going to join this company and you're, you're excited about them, they've got everything you want, yet you haven't vetted your customers through their system to see if if you can actually pursue them or not. So that's a challenge.

Mike Mikulik: 31:35

So I think a big question is is asking about the saturation within the market with the existing agents. And obviously you know what, if you have low saturation you have room to grow and in our case, you know what, 90% of the time, you know what. We don't have any conflicts with potential agents accounts, with the accounts that our existing agents have. So that's a really, really important question to have. Yeah.

Blythe Brumleve: 32:00

Well, I would think too, from what you just talked about with growing the international market. So it's not only that you guys are thinking about it from the lens of the saturation of it, but what other prospecting lead opportunities could you have? And the international market sounds like a perfect compliment to that, so you don't have to worry about saturation within the US market, but then you also have opportunities on the international market as well.

Mike Mikulik: 32:26

Absolutely, I mean, we have a lot of inactive accounts within our system as well too, where, after credit expires with them and no one's pursued or no business has been done with any particular account, the agent can go and make some contacts with some of those people as well too. There's prospecting opportunities just within. We've been in business for 45 years. We don't have every single account still with you. There's opportunities for that too. I think some agents come up with. They're part of a lot of lead generation where they're getting company names to go and prospect on. We work with them, try to help them prospect or give them the right marketing tools for them to help prospect and grow their business.

Mike Mikulik: 33:05

Another big thing which I'm a huge advocate on, which I think is the easiest way to grow your business quickly, is deep selling. I mean, it's like all low hanging fruit that is just there. You have a relationship with the account, you have credit with them. Those are the easiest sells, and a lot of times what happens is you're working with a particular account and you're working on whatever lanes, but there's other business that you may not even know about or there's other people within that company that are you know. Maybe there's exporting and maybe you're only dealing on the import side but by really expanding the relationship within your existing account base and finding other key players that are making decisions on transportation is a huge thing to go and pursue and you know there's a lot of opportunities that come out of that.

Mike Mikulik: 33:51

And you know, just going and visiting your accounts, having that face-to-face meeting with them, you know, having dinner with them, getting to know them, this business, I mean we overcomplicate this business. Sometimes it's all Having that face-to-face meeting with them, having dinner with them, getting to know them. This business, I mean we overcomplicate this business. Sometimes it's all relationships. People only deal with people that they like and trust. So if you have that relationship with your customer, they like you you know them.

Mike Mikulik: 34:18

You know a lot of them are. You know our agents are friends with their customers. You know what. It's easy to work with people that you like and trust, and sometimes we take that for granted. We need to have some sort of a secret sauce in order to close out business. Well, yes, it helps, but you know what? It's? A relationship game too.

Blythe Brumleve: 34:29

Well, on a similar note to the relationship building, the deep selling, you were just recently at TIA in Phoenix and you were on a panel with other shippers and they were talking about, you know, some of the sales and marketing strategies that work on them and then the ones that don't necessarily work on them. Can you kind of give us a summary of? What those main takeaways are yeah, that was a fun panel.

Mike Mikulik: 34:51

We have a good group of people on there, so we had one guy, michael Lynn, who is a shipper, and then we had two people that were on the broker side but they were sharing their experiences on what's been working for them. We try to utilize that shipper panel tool as an education tool to kind of help other people understand how shippers want to be sold. And it was so interesting because you know what I think, even more so now than what it was, say, a year ago, just given going on with uh, with fraud and double brokering. Shippers now want collaboration and they want to be educated. They, they.

Mike Mikulik: 35:25

What came out of it was was that shippers are looking to brokers as the experts in their field and they want they want to be challenged as to how they're currently doing business, to find new ways to do business that's going to enhance their supply chain. So they're open to having those deep conversations. You know, obviously, the broker having a conversation with the shipper as to how they're doing business, asking those right questions, but the shippers are that shipper is also expecting them to find out different ways to enhance that business. So really, what came out of it was was collaboration, and education is a huge part. What shippers are looking for, and that was even before they even talked about price, which I think sometimes, you know, we always think, oh, they're so price driven.

Mike Mikulik: 36:04

There is a deeper aspect to selling you know what collaborating, educating them on things they don't know what the trends are going on the marketplace.

Mike Mikulik: 36:12

That's important. The other thing is is they want um brokers to have some idea as to what their business is all about, not just utilizing the same blind pitch every single time that you know for every single shipper that you're going across. But do some good research, you know. Check out their websites, understand you know where their offices are. What's their product, you know. Do some you know reviews on the company. Do a deep, a deep dive into the company to learn as much as you possibly can, and a lot of times, what you'll find success in, too, is if there's a specific lane or a trade lane that they're shipping on, that is a strong trade lane for yourself, sharing that with them. They want to work with experts in particular trade lanes too. So a big thing is just educating yourself about the customer and going in there with something that's going to make you sound a little bit different, but you've taken the time to show an interest in their business. That was huge too.

Blythe Brumleve: 37:05

What does that look like, I guess, from a cold perspective? So say, you don't know this shipper, you're trying to get a foot in the door. Maybe you've done some cold calls, some cold emails, and nothing is really resonating. You've done some cold calls, some cold emails, and nothing is really resonating. What does that? Yeah, I guess, sort of relationship look like when you're trying to establish the connection between them two. Yeah, you know what?

Mike Mikulik: 37:27

it's funny, one of our agents and I'm probably I'm going to probably blow this for how you said it but he goes when you send out emails, you know what your chances. It takes you. You know 10 emails to have one that may reply to you, but he goes. If you can try and get a phone, if you get someone on the phone. A phone call sorry, I think it was one phone call is getting someone on the phone and actually talk to them is worth 12 emails. So it's true, I mean that human touch with talking to people. That's going to go a little bit further.

Mike Mikulik: 37:52

Granted, you know a lot of shippers that you talk to are busy as well too, and respect that. You know what I think, if you take a natural curiosity into their business and you're not trying to sell them right over the phone everybody hates to be sold, everybody does. But if you try to take that natural interest in their business and you know, or perhaps you know, you've done research and you found something that was interesting, that may be of use to them, or perhaps they may be shipping on a certain trade lane where you know what, you know some, you know market information that's going to take place the next three to four weeks. That could be a benefit to them.

Mike Mikulik: 38:21

Sharing something like that's going to have you be a little bit more setting yourself apart from the crowd than someone who's just making a canned phone call or a canned email that you're just you're sending out to everybody. Be creative, that's the key.

Blythe Brumleve: 38:35

Be creative that's uh, so I. So at the TMSA conference last year we had a shipper panel as well, and one of the notes, Tony Darnell, who is a shipper within the industry. I think he's actually looking for a new opportunity right now.

Mike Mikulik: 38:49

He's a good guy. I like Tony man and if anyone's actually looking for a good transportation professional man, reach out to Tony. Tony is a good guy.

Blythe Brumleve: 39:03

We're finding jobs for all kinds of people. On this show he had a really great takeaway where he said that he gets so many cold emails a day and because of the way that people send the emails, meaning the software that they use. So, like HubSpot, for example, has these canned templates that you can create and you can blast out to however many people that you want. On the end user, on the shipper, end user, they know that you're sending them a templated email because it's a different color font than the traditional text that's in an email, so they immediately know that it's a templated email and they just immediately delete it. Whereas they were saying, if you just take the time to do a little research and send me a normal email like a normal person, then you're going to stand out immediately. And I thought that that was such an interesting takeaway that the tools that you're using to save you time are actually costing you business in the long run. You know what it's true.

Mike Mikulik: 39:50

You know what Everyone I mean sales is a number game.

Mike Mikulik: 39:53

No question about the more people you touch or you reach out to your better or your odds of, but if you take it just one step further and just you know, save your goal, whatever that number of goal is that you want to have touch points today, but do good work along with it as well too. Don't set yourself up as different. Do that research, educate yourself about the customer. They know, they know and they're getting you know 10, 15 calls a day from the same people with the same canned message. Set yourself up as different. I don't think you can touch this business though. Even the aspect like we were talking at the TIA. Someone mentioned about handwritten thank you cards. Well, guess what? You get 100 pieces of mail that come on your desk and all of a sudden you see somebody with a handwritten card or the title that's all handwritten. You're going to open that first before anything else, because someone took the time to write it. So it's a lost art handwritten thing to carry. Just be different 100%.

Blythe Brumleve: 40:48

I just had a shipper on the show the other day that said he only does businesses with carriers who stop into his office and introduce themselves. And he has worked with one carrier for more than five years because he randomly stopped in his office and introduced himself and that's how he got the business and that shipper in particular. He's like I don't want to deal with all of the fraud issues that are going on, so I'm not answering your cold call. I'm not answering your cold email. It was the guys that walked into the office that I'm doing business with because I can look them in the eye and shake their hand.

Mike Mikulik: 41:21

Yeah, I think that's great. It's true though.

Blythe Brumleve: 41:25

Everything that's old, it becomes new again. All right, last couple of questions. I was going to go through a bunch of Reddit questions, but you actually answered them unsolicited throughout the entire conversation. So I think that that would be a little bit redundant to go through some of these questions. But last one that I did want to ask is you know, when market downturns happen like what we're currently experiencing, should a freight agent firm or agency, should they step in and help their agents throughout the downturn and what does that look like? Or should they just let their agents kind of figure it out for themselves?

Mike Mikulik: 42:01

No, that's a really good question too. I mean, obviously, you know, yeah, the markets, markets, markets not the same as what it was two years ago, that's for sure. And some of our agents, some of their businesses down. And that's where we've taken time to, you know, chatting with our agents about their business and finding different revenue streams for them to be able to, you know, to increase their numbers with either their existing accounts or just with new accounts too. So I think, yeah, of course, the company, I think we take a proactive approach to it and I think every other company should take a proactive approach with helping their agents to continue to find different revenue streams for them to grow in a down market.

Mike Mikulik: 42:36

And it's funny because, yes, we have, I mean, the revenue per shipment is down. It's funny, Our revenue per shipment is down across the board. Our load count as a company is like up 15%, which is shocking. So obviously that shows that our agents are, you know, looking for different ways to grow their business, whether it's, you know, focusing more of their time on new prospects or looking at ways to deep sell. All those combinations have actually helped the load count as a company actually increase. And once the rate or the revenue rates go up for the trucking rates. All that stuff is going to automatically grow up and grow as a company too.

Blythe Brumleve: 43:17

All right. Last question when can folks? This was a great conversation by the way. We answered and we covered a ton in this conversation.

Mike Mikulik: 43:24

I'm scared with all the questions you had. I was like, oh my goodness, we're going to be forever.

Blythe Brumleve: 43:29

I know. Well, you definitely covered a lot of them that I was going to ask, because I had about 10 questions that I was going to ask from Reddit, but they primarily were around contracts, around pay, around prospecting, and those really were answered within other questions. So I think we kind of got it all covered.

Mike Mikulik: 43:47

But the last one, probably the most important one, where can folks, if they are, go back to that thing with Reddit, which I think is awesome that you know what the questions that they had. You know what the questions that they had. You know what? That's good, because you should be asking, if you're looking to join an agency, ask a ton of questions and don't just look at one agency, look at a few and compare them against each other and you know what. The recruiter, whoever you're talking to, should be happy to answer those questions for you. So, but ask as many questions you can and you got to educate. It's got to be the right fit for you. You're making a huge commitment joining an agency network and it's got to make sense on both sides. So ask as many questions as you can and make sure you have that comfort level and if it doesn't feel good in your gut, then it's probably the right. It's not the right company to go with.

Blythe Brumleve: 44:30

Well, that's some perfect advice to sort of round out this conversation. So so, mike, where can folks you know connect with you? Maybe they are an agent already and they're looking for a new home? Where can they connect with you? Connect with SPI, all that good stuff?

Mike Mikulik: 44:42

Connect with me on LinkedIn. I'm sure you'll have my name, my last name, spelled correctly on there too. But yeah, connect with me on LinkedIn. You can email me. My email address is m-m-i-k-u-l-i-k at spi3plcom. Feel free to shoot me an email. Do you want to call me too, or text me? My cell number is six, oh, four eight.

Blythe Brumleve: 45:06

Oh, eight, two, six, seven, seven Giving away cell phones right on that right on air. That's how we do things here.

Mike Mikulik: 45:11

Well, you know what to say. At the end of the day, you know what? I'll be honest with you. I'm not going to try and sell something to anybody that it doesn't make sense for them to do. It just doesn't work. And if it's not the right fit on both sides, chances are the relationship's not going to end well.

Blythe Brumleve: 45:24

So just make sure it's the right fit.

Mike Mikulik: 45:25

It's got to work for everybody.

Blythe Brumleve: 45:34

It's good advice for a variety of different factors, not just your perspective. We'll have to do it again in another year.

Mike Mikulik: 45:39

Absolutely. I'll introduce you to it. You know that. Thanks, Blythe.

Blythe Brumleve: 45:50

Thank you. I hope you enjoyed this episode of Everything is Logistics, a podcast for the thinkers in freight, telling the stories behind how your favorite stuff and people get from point A to B. Subscribe to the show, sign up for our newsletter and follow our socials over at everythingislogisticscom. And in addition to the podcast, I also wanted to let y'all know about another company I operate and that's Digital Dispatch, where we help you build a better website.

Blythe Brumleve: 46:15

Now, a lot of the times, we hand this task of building a new website or refreshing a current one off to a co-worker's child, a neighbor down the street or a stranger around the world, where you probably spend more time explaining the freight industry than it takes to actually build the dang website.

Blythe Brumleve: 46:29

Well, that doesn't happen at Digital Dispatch. We've been building online since 2009, but we're also early adopters of AI, automation and other website tactics that help your company to be a central place to pull in all of your social media posts, recruit new employees and give potential customers a glimpse into how you operate your business. Our new website builds start as low as $1,500, along with ongoing website management, maintenance and updates starting at $90 a month, plus some bonus, freight marketing and sales content similar to what you hear on the podcast. You can watch a quick explainer video over on digitaldispatchio. Just check out the pricing page once you arrive and you can see how we can build your digital ecosystem on a strong foundation. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this episode. I'll see you all real soon and go Jags.

About the Author

Blythe Brumleve
Blythe Brumleve
Creative entrepreneur in freight. Founder of Digital Dispatch and host of Everything is Logistics. Co-Founder at Jax Podcasters Unite. Board member of Transportation Marketing and Sales Association. Freightwaves on-air personality. Annoying Jaguars fan. test

To read more about Blythe, check out her full bio here.