Although it might be tempting to just pick one and get rolling, there’s no more important time to proceed carefully. Committing to a logistics company that will be involved at such a significant level in your business is a decision worth getting right. Now is the time for some serious “get-to-know-you” conversations with your new potential business partner.
The following three questions can get your dialogue started. Consider it like speed-dating for logistics: If you don’t like what you hear, keep moving. But if you end up impressed with a company’s network, people, and technologies, it’s a good foundation to take things to the next level.
THE FIRST 3 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR POTENTIAL NON-ASSET-BASED 3PL PROVIDER
1) How large is your network?
The best non-asset-based 3PL providers have the largest networks. Why? Options, options, options. Flexibility is one of the top advantages of choosing a non-asset-based provider. You want your 3PL to design an operational system around you, not squeeze your business and its unique needs into some preexisting infrastructure.
What do they provide in-house and what do they outsource? Who are their trusted vendors and why? Do the services they offer integrate well with what’s working in your business already? A 3PL with an expansive network of services from which to choose can create a custom bundle of warehousing, transportation, and freight services specifically targeted to your needs.
2) How experienced are your people?
When you choose a non-asset-based 3PL provider, you are partnering with its people, not a fleet of trucks. Now is the time to make sure you are clear about not only what they offer, but who is offering them.
Look for indications of a team that is deeply knowledgeable, experienced, and well-connected within the industry. Do they have strong relationships with their vendors? Can they give you case studies or examples of similar businesses they have serviced? Do they have the know-how and experience to customize a solution that best fits your needs?
The other thing to consider is whether or not these people can and will give you the kind of personalized attention that your business deserves. Are they responsive and easy to reach? Do they take the time to answer with care and detail? And, this may sound silly, but make sure you actually LIKE these people because they are about to become a big part of your life.
3) How does technology integrate into your operation?
The main goal of a 3PL is to create increasingly efficient, cost-effective, and high-quality solutions for their customers. More and more 3PLs are putting technology front and center to aid them in this. The good news is that you don’t have to grasp every last detail about how their technologies help them do their job. But you need to ask enough to feel confident that the 3PL team does.
How will their Transportation Management Services (TMS) operations benefit you? What managed IT services are available? What predictive analytics are available? What measurement capabilities do they have in place to see how successful their operations have been, and how will they communicate those to you?
If the company is five years old or more, this becomes an extremely critical area of focus. Has their technology changed and been updated in the last five years? If the company is fairly new, chances are they have the most up-to-date software and technological advancements in place, but make sure they know where the industry might be trending. Ask enough questions about where their technology road map is headed to feel assured that the people in this group have their finger on the pulse of change.
What Else Can I do to be Sure?
Well, the best questions come from your unique situation and your concerns. If it matters to you and your business, ask it. You’ve heard the old phrase there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers, right? It’s still true.
Think you are finally ready to commit? How can you be sure? Here’s one more piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to push potential providers for a highly detailed transition plan with timelines and expenses. Yes, even if you are still torn between two companies.
Outsourcing to a non-asset-based 3PL is always a major organizational change, but it can be as chaotic or as seamless as the 3PL provider makes it. If this early stage in your courtship can go well — with clear communication and attention to detail to your specific needs — it’s a promising sign that you can build a very successful long-term relationship.