Third party logistics businesses providers have a unique challenge and opportunity in front of them. The challenge is keeping up with the shipping demands associated with e-commerce. E-commerce sales totaled $2.3 trillion in 2017 and they are expected to more than double to $4.8 trillion by 2021.
If fancy online shops and major exporters are the face of this expanding industry, 3PL businesses providers are the backbone. The challenge for individual logistics companies will be to keep up with the rapid growth.
This challenge, however, brings tremendous opportunity for 3PL business: expanding your business and growing your customer base. Of course, this is not a one-size-fits-all opportunity. Not every 3PL is meant to become a DB Schenker or Nippon Express.
That said, every business is meant to grow - it’s part of the trade. As you look to expand your business and grow your customer base, your business goals should be your north star.
Whatever those specific goals may be, this post will act as a brief guide to your business expansion. Maybe you want to increase efficiency to increase your bottom line. Or maybe your account manager is looking to reach out to new clients. Whatever the case may be, there will be something here for you. If a tip stands out, take a deep dive into what it can mean for expanding your 3PL business and growing your customer base.
#1: Highlight the Benefits of 3PL for Your Customers
The very first step in looking toward growth is to be sure you have a good grasp on what exactly you’re offering. For 3PL business providers, this means going beyond the basics of shipping times and rates, warehouse capacity, or technical ability.
It means taking a sales approach to building up your own 3PL services. Start by making it clear you’re not simply offering a service - you are at the core of successful e-commerce and exporter companies. Fulfillment is the key to e-commerce, and you’re offering a simplified solution to fulfillment for your customers through your 3PL business.
Starting with the basics will make sure you have a lot to work with when it comes to building your brand, reaching out to customers, and getting the most out of B2B technology tools. Take some time to write out the specific value and benefits that you offer clients.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
• You offer expertise. This is the biggest one. Learning the ins and outs of supply chain management and fulfillment and learning to do it well - takes quite some time. You are saving your customers the time, effort, and resources that it would take to do things well on their own. You are offering excellence in 3PL.
• You lower client overhead. Speaking of resources, this is a point that will really stick with most companies. With your services, your customers will not have to invest in the technology, physical facilities, and manpower needed to run the logistics aspect of their company. For B2B companies, this means homing in on smart shipments and adding more value to your services.
• You offer flexible services. Every customer is going to have different needs - and you’ll be able to meet them. B2B logistics is about increasing the bottom line for customers. As a logistics provider with flexible services, you’ll be able to do just that in meeting 3PL business goals.
The specific benefits you offer clients depend on the focus of your company - warehousing, supply chain management, transportation. Your mileage may vary, but getting to the core of what you do is a good step no matter where you are.
#2: Build a Strong Brand Through Authentic Advocacy
Here comes the fun part: expanding your customer base and therefore growing your 3PL business. There are a whole host of ways to go about this, as we’re sure Google will tell you. But instead of expensive ad campaigns and fancy sales points, we want to focus in on a tried and trued method that often goes overlooked by companies:
In a phrase, authentic advocacy is about building relationships internally and externally that strengthen your brand. With time, you’ll be in the position to receive referrals as you put your best foot forward with clients. There are a few steps to this, which we will briefly touch on.
• Start internally. A happy workforce makes for a better organization, and a better organization makes for more referrals. Look for ways you can increase employee satisfaction and solve internal miscommunications as a 3PL business.
• Use your customer’s voice in advertising. If you are doing things well, you are likely to have satisfied customers. Reach out to them and ask them to give you some feedback on what you are doing well, preferably publicly, on a review platform. You can use your customer’s voice in subsequent advertising materials, giving your brand much more authenticity.
• Identify which customers can work as your advocates. You most likely have a handful of very satisfied customers with whom you have a closer relationship. They may be willing to become advocates for your brand - agreeing to a case study on what you do for them, running a referral program or (at the very least) actively recommending your services.
• Invest serious time and effort into inbound marketing. We don’t have the space to dive into inbound marketing here, but you should look into it pure and simple. Inbound tactics like SEO, social media management, and content marketing will all speak volumes to your reputation and expertise as a 3PL business provider.It also opens the opportunity to engage with leads and customers on a new level.
All in all, this translates into driving more sustainable growth by building relationships in your 3PL business. Acquiring new clients will simply be a consequence of this kind of authentic advocacy.
#3: Improve Your Processes
Of course, growth is not only about new customers. As your 3PL business prepares and begin to grow, you’ll need to make sure you’re ready to take on the load.
• Make sure you’re past the point of manual entry. Use automated and integrated systems so nothing falls through the cracks.
• Make sure you have an inventory system that works well. Inventory is the basis of your business after all.
• Make sure your team is ready to go. Miscommunication between teams and managers can be just as detrimental as inaccurate inventory. Take steps to improve communication as you grow.
Another point to keep in mind: be transparent in your processes as you grow. Customers always appreciate transparency, and there’s no sense in taking on a large new account if you don’t have the systems in place to
#4: Invest in Tools to Help You Grow
You won’t be able to grow efficiently - and keep customers satisfied - without the right B2B software tools. Outside of the ERP systems or warehouse management systems you are currently using, you should consider implementing each of these tools in your business:
• CRM Tools: Lists won’t cut it here. In order to stay on top of leads and make sure you are communicating well with clients, you’ll want an integrated CRM tool. It may take some time to learn the ropes, but it will pay off in the end.
• Inbound Marketing Tools: There are a host of B2B inbound marketing tools, and you should take advantage of them. The software will help you devise ways of building an authentic brand and bringing in new clients as you grow.
• Communication & Team Management Tools: We’ve mentioned team communication a couple of times already because it’s important! There’s no reason to be lacking in communication with software designed specifically for team communication. It may seem like a small thing, but it will certainly help you stay on top of everything.
The Bottom Line: Expanding Your Customer Base Will Take Dedication & Planning
Growing your business is not a process that can be approached haphazardly. If these tips highlight anything, it’s that you’ll need to be strategic as you reach out to customers and find ways to increase efficiency.
With that in mind, consider these parting thoughts:
• Set a timeline and specific goals! If your goal is to gain more 3PL business customers, set a plan for this goal. What tasks will you complete in the first month? What is your goal at the six month mark? A step-by-step, strategic approach will be best. Start by compiling lists of leads or learning to use integrated CRM and inbound marketing software. Don’t be afraid to start small - you’ll learn as you go!
• Use the tools at your disposal! Getting organized from the beginning will mean better outcomes in the long run. In most cases, a spreadsheet and email template won’t be sufficient to accomplish your goals. The B2B tools highlighted above will help you start the growth process on the right foot and keep things centralized as you keep growing after the first few months.
• Consider changing the way you do things! If your 3PL business hasn’t grown in recent years, it’s likely because you need to change things up. Finding a new marketing strategy, switching around management styles, or taking on a new ERP could all be great ideas as you kick things off. Be willing to change - at least on a trial basis!
This brief guide should get you started on growing your 3PL business. If you have more questions about finding new ways to fulfill B2B E-commerce orders, feel to reach out to us today.