‘We get better results because we take time to find out what customers really need.’
13 minutes to read
Spotlight on Marcus Harden, Commercial Manager
Dealing with customers face-to-face and asking about their challenges and goals has always been Marcus’s biggest talent, as well as his prime motivator. As our Commercial Manager, he gets to examine what success looks like and how to help achieve it – both for clients and for Hemisphere itself.
We caught up with Marcus as he started another productive day to get his thoughts on his role and perspectives on all things logistics.
How would you describe your role at Hemisphere?
My role is at the front end of the business, heading up a team of sales operatives from executives to business development managers and ensuring we have a consistent approach to our sales process across the company.
Predominantly, when dealing with new enquiries and referrals, we don’t just take them at face value. We like to explore and do some research, looking into the companies to make sure we understand who is coming to us for assistance, which then leads to discovery calls. Because these people are typically encountering Hemisphere for the first time, we like to create a positive experience from the moment we start speaking to them.
What sparked your interest in logistics?
To be honest, logistics is something you tend to fall into. When I was 18 and just out of college, a friend’s family owned a freight forwarding company and I got an entry-level admin position there. I’d never come across logistics before, but once in the door I became totally hooked by how varied and interesting the industry is.
It was quite an unusual scenario – I was working for the freight forwarder, but we were on-site at a manufacturer. Technically, they outsourced their logistics to us, but we were essentially in the same office as them. So, face-to-face interaction was a lot higher and airing problems and finding solutions was done by walking up to the desk rather than by phone or email. It was quite a different entry into freight forwarding than most people would have.
So, logistics is something I might have fallen into, but in a very good way is a career I’ve never wanted to get away from.
How has your career and role developed since starting at Hemisphere?
I first came across Hemisphere when the head office was still in Colchester and I was looking for a business development role. I’d travelled the world with my old company and realised I really enjoyed the face-to-face interaction with people – learning about what they do and how they do it – but that role wasn’t available to me at my previous employer.
Hemisphere was looking for someone who could come on board to expand the sales team, and offered me a business development role straight after the interview. This was a great show of confidence in me – I was probably a bit green for the role at the time – but they believed the person they saw could be nurtured and trained into the business development manager they needed.
This is Hemisphere in a nutshell – they explore opportunities and when they see the right people they put their trust in them, so both they and the business can grow.
I came in as a business development manager initially and was here for three years before becoming a senior BDM. The idea was to build a team around me so I could give more people insights into my approach and help others recreate the kind of successes I was having.
You stepped away from Hemisphere for a while…
One of my key accounts offered me an in-house role, heading up their global logistics. I was very happy at Hemisphere, but thought if I didn’t take it I might kick myself later. They operated in the retail sector, supplying store fronts, window display items and shop fittings for several well-known brands worldwide, which really opened my eyes to how frenetic that industry is. Very high-pressure, with people wanting everything yesterday, or even the day before.
Costs were less of a factor, but the service aspect was absolutely vital, with speed of action, detail and timing around removal and installation being hugely important. I used to control that on a global scale, covering offices in Czech Republic and China as well as in the UK, and flew out to places across Europe to organise pop-up warehouses to facilitate the contracts we had with retailers. I often coordinated simultaneous installations across continents so when stores or new products launched the next day, every store was uniform and in line with the brand, all around the world.
It was a great experience, but didn’t turn out how I expected. What I love about freight forwarding is that you get to work with a business from its inception and early days through to helping them reach a mass market across the world, and seeing products you’ve shipped into the country on shelves in your local shop. You get great satisfaction from seeing the fruit of your efforts and having had a big effect on clients, not just from a business perspective but from a life perspective too. This was sadly absent from the in-house retail role.
What happened to bring you back?
After two years, Hemisphere approached me with the possibility of a commercial manager role, and I grabbed it with both hands. It really appealed to me as an opportunity to put my stamp on a business in terms of what we do from a new sales perspective. So, I’ve been building a team and putting this consistent, customer-focused process in place during what has been quite a turbulent last two years.
What was your biggest takeaway from working at another company?
When people say they’ve worked on the other side of the fence in our business, it usually means they’ve worked for our suppliers rather than our customers. For me, working for a customer gave me an almost unique perspective.
I used to get a lot of freight forwarders coming in to sell to me, even though I already had a list of approved partners. And, not in an arrogant way, I was able to see why I had so much success while I was in their position. Because not once did any of them actually ask me what I wanted, or listen to what my needs were.
Most of them would turn up with a rate card of their costs for shipping from China or tell me how great they were, but in the end only about 5% of what they talked about was relevant to what I needed. They were not learning anything about me; they were just trying to sell whatever service was on offer that month, and then follow up with a barrage of phone calls. They weren’t listening.
If someone asks me for a powerpoint deck of what we offer, I say no. Because only 5% of that might be relevant to their business. I want to know what companies really need and then work with solutions to suit.
What we tend to do is have a discovery call, start a conversation around their needs and ask questions about their biggest headaches, the most pressing problems, and what a resolution would look like. Really trying to get to the core of their issues. That way, we’ve qualified them correctly so there’s no wasted time on either side and we avoid a transactional relationship that’s all about lowest price.
So, my biggest takeaway from the retail supply business was that the approach of most other freight forwarders is not in tune with what customers are looking for. And that when you listen to a customer, you’ll know exactly how to work with them.
What does the Total Logistics solution bring to clients?
Total Logistics Management Services is a way of outsourcing your entire business logistics to Hemisphere. We can take on, analyse, deliver solutions and manage everything you do from a logistics and transport perspective.
This means that instead of companies needing to put four or five team members in place and training them to handle their logistics, they can come to us as experts and entrust us with all logistics matters – including warehousing, fulfilment, transportation and documentation, including letters of credit, commercial invoices and packing lists.
Logistics is our complete focus and what we do best – meaning clients can be free to create, refine, market and sell world-leading products without the headaches around freight and transportation.
How does the Holistic Logistics Consultancy differ from this?
We want to have a consultative approach to sales as standard to ensure that we add value to a customer’s business. Not all customers opt for our total logistics solutions and we have many clients where we work alongside their existing logistics colleagues. We still like to understand the big picture and work hard to analyse a customer’s end-to-end supply chain and advise them on ways to improve it.
Importers/exporters might come to us asking for help with a customs clearance issue, but we wouldn’t take that on face value and would sit down with them on a discovery call to explore where that issue is coming from and why it’s a problem. Looking at the wider picture, it might be that there’s a manufacturing issue or they’re using a service that isn’t quite right for them as a business.
We analyse every step of their process to make sure we’re not just coming in at the end to tackle a stand-alone issue that may be caused by other factors in their business, but also suggesting extra time and cost efficiencies they can make across their entire supply chain. Just dealing with a customs clearance problem for a client means you don’t build a relationship and help them in other ways to create a win-win for both businesses.
What’s been your biggest highlight or achievement?
One thing I’m proud of was identifying the toys and games sector as an industry we could make inroads into. I flew out to a European conference and wore the soles off my shoes walking around, networking and meeting people. I managed to pick up two or three of my biggest clients from that – they appreciated I’d invested the time, money and energy, and had made the effort to see them in another country.
But perhaps my favourite highlight is what we’ve done with Joma Jewellery & Katie Loxton, which goes back to the customer journey side of things. A few years ago, I bought a necklace for my girlfriend’s birthday and on the back it said, ‘Made in China’. So I rang them up the next Monday, said I’d bought one of their products and offered our help.
They were doing sporadic shipments from various places, but often within the same region, so we were able to consolidate their freight costs and make them more efficient. This was when they were quite a small business, with items only in boutique shops, and I was really proud to help them expand into different markets around the world, including America, and then also work further with them as they expanded into the bags market.
A big moment for me was when I was in a John Lewis store at Christmas six months later and their stock was out on the shelves. To see that transformation from the boutique to the high street happen so quickly – and know that I’d made a contribution to that from the logistics side – was very satisfying.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Probably the whole of 2021 – the result of a perfect storm of Covid, Brexit, the driver shortage issue and supply chain issues around transiting goods from China. I have a great network of contacts and friends in the industry, and when someone comes to me with a problem, I can usually use my network and knowledge to come up with a solution. But it got to a point where finding solutions was not always possible, which I found very hard to accept. Nevertheless, we fought through and made everything happen that we could. Thankfully, things are a lot better now.
What are you excited about for the future?
Hemisphere’s journey, to be honest. It feels like we’re in a really good place as a business. We market ourselves very well, we’re very professional in how we handle our clients’ work and are also very personable with clients.
But the most exciting thing is often the unknown. There’s always something brewing here – be it an expansion or opening up new services – there’s always something new to work on and to aim for. Opportunities will always come up that we can’t foresee, and for me the most exciting thing is finding the solutions to make sure we can convert those going forward. The excitement is in not knowing what’s next, if that makes sense! It’s great being at the start of a whole new journey.
What makes Hemisphere unique?
It’s definitely the customer care and research angle. Whenever a new inquiry comes through, yes we want to do the research, but we always respond with a call within 30-60 minutes to get that friendly relationship going.
We often get feedback that a client will have sent the same enquiry to seven freight forwarding companies, but while six simply respond with their rate card, we are the only one who rings them up to find out who they are, what they do, what they want to achieve and what issues they face.
We aim to be competitively priced with a premium service offering that offers value and both time and cost savings across our clients business. The benefits of this far outweigh going with the absolute cheapest price on shipment by shipment basis. New clients often turn others down because we are the only company that tries to understand them as a business. They really appreciate our approach and personable attitude. It might not sound ground-breaking, but it seems to be effective!
Want to join the team?
If you’re looking to advance your logistics career, or simply want to take your first step in the industry, check out the latest vacancies on our website. Alternatively, please feel free to send a CV to firstname.lastname@example.org.