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Selling 3PL Services – It’s Playoff Time!

Every sports fan has their favorite season.  Fun fact: I grew up in Atlanta which has three seasons – pollen, smog and college football!  My favorite sports season is the spring.  We have hockey playoffs, basketball playoffs, soccer championships – I love it!  Each team is one missed tackle, a two-minute minor or missed free throw away defeat.

Over the past few years of facilitating bids for outsourced managed transportation and warehousing services, I see many similarities between these bids and sports:

  • To make it in the league, you have to prove you can play as a team
    • In the 20th century, conventional wisdom in logistics was that companies didn’t want all of their eggs in one basket. One provider runs the warehouses, another operates the fleet, and yet another manages the carriers.
    • Over the last 10 to 15 years, the industry has experienced a significant consolidation of logistics services. Companies now more frequently expect a single provider to operate the entire breadth of warehouse and transportation services (although they may not choose to award all business to a single source).
    • In these early stages of the bid, providers have to prove they can play the game. Can you operate in the required geographies?  Do you provide freight payment and audit services?  Can you operate dedicated fleets?
  • If you make it to the playoffs, you are now a finalist and have the ability to win
    • Now that you are in the post-season, the good news is that you as the bidder are seen as a viable partner and have the ability to win. The bad news is, all the other bidders do as well.
    • I have heard the pitches of countless providers over the years explaining the reasons why they should be the winning provider. “The difference is our people”, some providers say.  Others claim that, “we keep a constant focus on continuous improvement”.
    • The problem with these statements is that all providers have the best people and focus on continuous improvement. The industry consolidation makes showing any differentiation in people, process and technology a very tough sell.

So how do providers win the championship?   Remember first and foremost that logistics outsourcing awards, like many sales processes, are won on the margins.  Once providers make the playoffs, how do they edge their very tough competition in the end?  The challenge is to develop a strong set of reasons why your organization should be awarded the business.  The flip side of that coin, for a company seeking to contract with a 3PL partner, is the provider meeting your specific business and supply chain requirements?  Can they provide you with a competitive advantage because of their experience, expertise and value proposition?   If as a 3PL provider you exceed all the expectations and needs of your prospective client partner, you are well on your way to exiting the playoffs by winning. This is a strategic approach that should incorporate sales, marketing, operations and executive leadership.  Develop that “why” to lift the trophy!
—Brian Fish, St. Onge Company

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