10 Steps to Finding the Perfect Partner

Avoid the pitfalls of finding just the right 3PL to meet your unique requirements by heeding the 'do's and don’ts’ experts suggest.


Moran at Sataria adds that a 3PL should be able to have the proper resolution tools in place to be able to manage exceptions quickly and successfully. “If a food shipper wants to change a delivery from today to next week, the 3PL should be able to facilitate that.”

5. Find a partner who can meet compliance, safety, and cargo security requirements.If a logistics provider can meet the needs of a diverse base of customers—each with its own challenges and industry requirements—the chances of a successful partnership are greatly increased, explains Russo. “Ask about certifications that are aligned with your supply chain and industry-mandated protocols.”

6. Don’t choose a 3PL based solely on cost. Companies are looking for that triad of price, service (speed) and quality, reports Moran. “Generally in the 3PL environment, it is rare to find a provider that can provide all three.”

But he cautions against choosing the lowest-cost provider. “Shopping for cost primarily will not always get you speed or quality,” he says. “People have to include in the equation what their products can tolerate relative to cost. For example, when companies are moving fish products, they are concerned more with service and quality—and less concerned about price. But if you are moving a commodity like frozen bakery products, the product inherently does not tolerate high cost. So you try to get the best service and quality as possible at the lowest price.”

Moran adds that if companies don’t have a lot of flexibility with their transportation expense, they will likely have to plan out further and position inventory in strategic locations.

Companies should be wary of allowing cost to be the ultimate driver in their evaluation and their final decision in choosing a 3PL, notes Amy Allen, director of business development and marketing for Vantix. “Too many times when cost is the greatest determining factor, the customer loses perspective regarding how their supply chain and transportation model supports and keeps intact their entire business model,” she says. “Doing so means they wind up disregarding the service level within their supply chain, which negatively impacts their customers.”

7. Remember to communicate, communicate, communicate. Partners must keep the lines of communication open at all times, advises Bostick at Vantix. “For instance, one of the major considerations in a successful partnership is KPI development and tracking. Our responsibility is to inform the KPIs to our customers through periodic collaborative reviews. If a 3PL does not create those communication opportunities that focus on what long-term contributions it is providing to its customers, the 3PL can find itself managing by exception.”

Allen adds that well-developed partnerships have the potential to erode over time if each partner becomes comfortable with how the operation is running. This could result in no communication simply because there are no major issues at hand. “But once a major event happens—such as a missed load—then that one situation can erode the good relationship that has been developing over the course of several years,” she cautions. “So part of the focus of the 3PL is to try to keep these kinds of situations from developing. But the responsibility of communicating is two-fold, as we want our customers to communicate to us any changes in their operation so we can handle those changes effectively and efficiently to assure they don’t interrupt our customers’ supply chains.”

Russo at Port Jersey notes that back-and-forth communication is vital in maintaining a healthy partnership. “Our role as a 3PL is to be proactive to the extent that if we are witnessing any changes happening that are out of the range of the norm for a customer, we must contact that customer to see if these changes will be short-term or long-term. It is critical for us to be proactive and stay in contact with our customers in situations like these.”

Moran reminds that communication is essential during the final handshake before product transfers from a 3PL carrier to the buyer. “The carrier acts as an intermediary in the sense that when he arrives at the customer’s dock to find the customer is unsatisfied with something, it is critical for the carrier to relay that information back to the 3PL immediately so the partnership does not crumble.”

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