Five Keys to Selecting a 3PL Freight Shipping Partner

Many small and mid-sized businesses believe they can’t compete with larger companies on shipping costs and service. They believe that when it comes to shipping and logistics, they simply don’t play in the same league as the “big boys.”

What they may not realize is that a strong third-party logistics (3PL) freight shipping partner can offer several advantages that help level the playing field with larger competitors. By leveraging combined shipping volumes, large carrier networks and technology tools, 3PL partners help smaller businesses compete more effectively while reducing the hassles and headaches of shipping management.

The challenge you face as a business owner or decision maker is weeding through the many options touted by 3PL freight shippers to determine which are most important in selecting a potential partner.

To guide you in that process, here are five core capabilities you’ll want to consider in selecting a 3PL freight shipping partner, and how they can benefit your business.

1.Combined shipping volume. Combining the shipping volumes of many small businesses creates the opportunity for greater cost savings than could typically be achieved alone. Selecting a 3PL shipping partner with a significant number of current customers ensures that shipping volumes can be leveraged to achieve better overall rates.

  • Good partner: Potential partners should have years of experience supporting hundreds of small businesses across a very broad range of verticals.
  • Best-in-class partner: The strongest 3PL partners will have a base of small and mid-size customers that number in the range of 50,000 or more.

2. Extensive carrier network. A large network of partnerships with top carriers increases the ability to provide access to multiple quotes and service options. Check the extent and quality of your prospective 3PL partner’s network.

  • Good partner: Obviously, the more carrier relationships a 3PL partner’s network includes, the better. Partners should work with multiple nationally recognized carriers to be able to offer you competitive rates and service.
  • Best-in-class partner: 3PL partners with large, established networks can leverage those relationships to offer more comprehensive shipping choices and more stable discounts. They can also help ensure your important goods get on the truck when capacity is tight. Look for partners with access to 25-30 or more national, regional and local carriers.

3. Dedicated account service. It’s important that your 3PL shipping partner has the capability to provide a high level of service to all customers, regardless of size. As a small or mid-sized business, you need your shipping issues addressed with the same attention and care as the largest shippers.

  • Good partner: Check your potential partner’s record of account service with other current or former customers. You should have access to fast, responsive expert service for questions or problems with your shipments, regardless of your business size.
  • Best-in-class partner: Look for a partner who provides specialized consulting services beyond basic freight booking and tracking. This includes offering different carrier options based on your unique business product and pricing needs, specialized invoicing options, cost-saving shipping tools like being able to print to a thermal label printer and other specialized shipping services.

4. Transportation management system (TMS). A major advantage of working with a 3PL shipping partner is access to an online transportation management system that brings together all the different aspects of your shipping logistics.

  • Good partner: Transportation Management System tools should allow you to easily compare costs and delivery options, add insurance and store information such as products and prices to automate your shipments. Online access is also a plus.
  • Best-in-class partner: The best tools can calculate pricing for mixed class shipments, run reports on freight, analyze shipping patterns and keep scorecards on service quality. Ideally, look for a partner that offers systems for both freight and small package shipping with one username and login.

5. Credit, invoicing and insurance options. Large shippers have the advantage of access to enhanced credit, insurance and invoicing offerings and terms. Your 3PL freight shipping partner should have the size and reach to offer many of these same attractive features to even their smaller customers.

  • Good partner: At a minimum, your 3PL partner should offer insurance that you can easily purchase at the time you are booking your shipment.
  • Best-in-class partner: 3PL shipping partners with greater strength and reach can offer additional financial options, including flexible credit terms and invoicing. These options may provide additional benefit in your specific shipping situation.

With the right 3PL freight shipping partner, you’ll be able to enjoy many of the cost and customized service benefits of your larger competitors. Focusing on these five core capabilities in the selection process will help ensure that you receive the shipping services you need, delivered with the attention you deserve.

For over 30 years Unishippers has been the trusted advisor for over 50,000 small business shipping customers, saving them money, time and hassles on all their shipping needs.