Tom McLeod, president and CEO of McLeod Software, kicked off the 2011 McLeod Software Users' Conference in Chicago by assessing the state of our economy (slow), and offering carriers advice on how best to slog. According to him, success today is all about tightening your game.

"Companies get sloppy in good times," said McLeod.

When the economy is booming, and freight and money are plentiful, carriers throw all their resources into grabbing more and more business. If some decisions are poor, if some load margins aren't really all that great, who cares? Nobody, at least when companies are floating down a lazy river of cash.

Alas, that was yesterday.

When growth is slow, the focus changes to squeezing everything you can out of what you have, and that was reflected in McLeod's tips for success in his opening address. Managers need to understand lanes better, really have a handle on total costs and profitability for each and customer. They need to measure and coach employees to maximum productivity, and do everything possible to minimize wasted miles. And so on.

Of course, incrementally improving those aspects of a logistics operation is exactly what McLeod's software offers tools to do. The newly improved LaneAnalysis software is a good example of this. The tool allows users to view all of company's shipping operations by lane or by trip. A manager can break the data down by destination state, and see at a glance the costs, revenues and profits associated with specific runs. This, according to the company, allows carriers to make the most important decisions: When to cut out a non-performing customer, and move those assets somewhere more lucrative. After all, it isn't just about pulling weight, but pulling the right weight.

McLeod also placed a huge emphasis on drivers.

"The driver is the lynchpin of the operation," said McLeod. Without him (or her), trucks can't move anything anywhere.

The newest releases of McLeod's LoadMaster and Powerbroker offer tools such as driver monitoring, and applications that help fleets maximize driver home time - a key and growing demand of today's truckers. However, McLeod said the best way to attract drivers is to simply be a successful company turning a profit. No one wants to take a job at a struggling, insecure outfit.

In a sluggish recovery, finding those profits can be tough. Meticulously picking apart your operation in search of efficiencies is not an easy process, and as McLeod said, it isn't done overnight. It is a cumulative daily effort. But perhaps it's for the best.

"The slow growth mode is a lot healthier for a company," said McLeod in a meeting with journalists.

When margins are tight and processes need to be streamlined, carriers flock to companies like McLeod because that's how to stay competitive. Indeed, Mcleod Software made record profits in 2010, and 2011 is right on track to break that record.