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How to Find and Win 3PL Customers for Your Warehouse

Owners and operators of 3PL warehouses are experts in all things “logistics” – from conducting cycles counts and implementing bulletproof receiving procedures to batch picking e-commerce orders and adhering to the toughest routing guide orders for B2B customers. But for many 3PL companies, implementing and executing a sales plan to find and grow a 3PL customer base is like speaking a foreign language.

Whether it’s a lack of sales and marketing experience, being slim on time to devote a full effort to grow sales, or a limited sales and marketing budget, many 3PLs fail to generate sufficient prospects into their lead pipeline. In fact, for many 3PLs, the one and only “sales rep” is the owner or president. Furthermore, the 3PL industry doesn’t necessarily have the greatest reputation for following up with and responding to prospects’ requests for pricing information, oftentimes resulting in loss of sales to competitors that are more experienced in sales or have larger sales teams.

If you fall in the boat of warehousing companies that are currently underperforming in the sales department, it can seem like a daunting task to overcome. But the opportunity is tremendous, considering that most warehouses aren’t generating many new sales leads, don’t respond timely to prospects requests, don’t know the best structure to consistently follow up with leads, and don’t have the technological infrastructure to organize sales and marketing efforts. With a little planning and effort, your company can rise to the top of the pack and grow your 3PL business to new heights.

How to Generate Logistics Leads: Implementing a Sales System Similar That Performs as Well as Your 3PL Operations

Getting better results from your sales efforts starts with a plan. High performing sales organizations have a clearly defined set of lead acquisition channels, a codified process for selling to prospects from start to finish, and a system for organizing prospects – and you should too!

Warehousing Sales Leads: How to Find Leads for Warehousing

At best, some 3PLs rely upon the growth of existing customers and referrals from existing customers for sales growth. While this is a useful part of a complete and cohesive system and making existing customers happy should be the foundation of any sales program, it’s only the beginning. For starters, referrals are a common source of new business for 3PL warehouses and should be nurtured. To grow referrals more proactively, 3PLs would be wise to:

  • Have a system and defined frequency to access customer satisfaction and translate that into a positive online review (e.g. a certain period of time after onboarding and then every quarter, twice a year, or at least yearly)
  • Regularly reach out to satisfied customers and ask for referrals (potentially even offering an incentive for closed referrals)
  • Build relationships with other vendors that might know of interested prospects, such as commercial real estate brokers, shipping partners, and others

While referrals are worth their weight in gold, they are not by a long shot the only method you should be employing to generate new business. The following are other examples of commonly used sales channels for 3PLs to grow their customer base:

  • Knocking on the doors of commercial tenants in nearby, non-competing businesses
  • Phone and email marketing lists either purchased or acquired through your website
  • Online marketing, including social media, search engine optimization, and paid search
  • Attending relevant conferences that match your ideal customer profile
  • Other lead generation services within the 3PL space

Most of the above-mentioned channels for acquiring leads are self-explanatory. However, it is important to make a few notes on the “other lead generation services” within the 3PL space.

In the 3PL world, brokers are commonplace. Whether it’s a 4PL scenario or simply an introduction from another company that leads to business, commissions are usually at the heart of these connections.

While there isn’t anything unethical about structuring arrangements like these, be careful to structure them in such a way that will not only put your 3PL operation at financial risk, but also that will not shine a negative light on your 3PL company if the customer was ever to find out about the arrangement. Furthermore, be careful to hedge the risk of losing a customer acquired by a broker, as this is common and can be potentially disastrous – especially if they are a large client.

There are other examples of lead generation services within the 3PL space, the best of which operate in such a way that they do not charge a commission and “fairly” match businesses with 3PLs. Our company, WarehousingAndFulfillment.com, is a great example of this setup.

Our service acquires prospects using online marketing, screens the leads for quality, and matches them to up to five 3PLs that most closely fit their specific needs. The project scope and contact details for the lead are emailed to the selected 3PLs, and each 3PL then contacts the prospect, ultimately provides a price quote, and competes for their business.

This type of lead generation model is great for both 3PLs and businesses looking for outsourced warehousing alike. From the 3PL side of the equation, this lead generation model:

  • Generates leads for busy 3PL operators that don’t have enough time or enough money to invest in a full sales and marketing department.
  • Minimizes costs by simply charging a small, one-time lead fee for each “opportunity to quote”. There is no ongoing commission paid and nothing that the businesses pay for use of the service, so their pricing isn’t impacted in any way. They make money by earning a small, one-time fee from each warehouse they match businesses with.
  • Allows the 3PL to target specific services, geographic areas, and other dynamics that suite their needs.

WarehousingAndFulfillment.com screens each 3PL by:

  • Conducting a full-scale analysis of their overall operations and capabilities
  • Speaking with customers and investigating online reviews
  • Researching performance and financial information of the 3PL to access long-term viability
  • Compiling reviews from all the users of their platform to access the quality of service of 3PLs in their network

Because the company isn’t affiliated with any of the 3PLs, and because our operation champions honesty and integrity of the entire process, only high performing 3PLs are allowed on the platform. Many companies do not make the cut. Furthermore, we have had to remove a few vendors from our network and aren’t bashful to do so if warranted.

By not playing favorites and never wavering from our one price per customers model, WarehousingAndFulfillent.com operates in a truly unbiased fashion. In fact, we have received numerous requests from 3PLs to pay us more to get more leads or preferred leads and have consistently denied these requests to maintain the integrity of the platform.

For those time crunched and lacking in sales time or experience, it’s a quick and easy way to get immediate results – leads simply get delivered as they come through.

For the 3PL customer, an unbiased and “fair” matchmaking service without commissions offers specific advantages:

  • Avoids layers of commissions, ensuring the best overall price and value
  • Helps them to quickly short-list the most relevant 3PLs for their business, avoiding an enormous amount of time sifting through websites
  • Matches businesses to companies that are known to provide a high-quality service

The Challenges Most Business Face with Sourcing a 3PL

When shopping for outsourced fulfillment services, business consumers are tasked with weeding through all the claims online. This makes for a difficult discovery process because there is no standard for truth online. Fulfillment companies put their best sales pitch forward. The primary driver of the decision-making process tends to be Credibility – is the company everything that they promise online?

Seemingly the only credible source to decipher through all the noise is online reviews – and even those are flawed. Sometimes, companies are attacked by disgruntled employees. Other times, customers give one-sided opinions on “how the relationship went wrong”. So even this method of finding a provider is flawed.

Compounding this challenge is the fact that there are numerous directories and brokers that add to the deception, pushing companies towards 3PLs that pay them the most money or provide the biggest commission kickbacks underneath the table.

Ultimately, there are very few places that businesses can turn to truly have someone that is unbiased and “on their side”.

In addition, searchers for warehouse outsourcing face the challenge of finding someone that performs the services they need, in the desired location, using the right technology, and fitting other intangibles, such as size and scope of order volume or warehousing needs.

Generating 3PL Leads: Knowing Your Ideal Customer

At the heart of all these strategies is knowing your ideal customer. Knowing your ideal customer involves having a thorough knowledge of “who you want to do business with.” This can include:

  • Types of services needed
  • Volumes required and size of business
  • Types of commodities and products sold
  • Technology needed to service them

Once you know your “ideal customers”, it becomes a lot easier to brainstorm “where they live”. What types of things do they do? What tradeshows do they attend? What online materials do they read and consume? This will lead to ideas of “where you need to be” to interface with them.

One last point on knowing your ideal customers: Keep in mind, everyone wants to win the “big fish”, but it comes at a great cost. And small fish sometimes become big fish!

Develop a Winning Sales Process Backed by Technology and Automation

Now that you know who you’re targeting and where to find them, the final step in creating the best gameplan for finding 3PL customers is to create a full sales process, including any system needed to support the process. You must map out from start to finish, the entire process from first point of contact until they eventually become a customer, including:

  • What ways you’ll use to reach out to prospects and the frequencies with which you will reach out (For example, will you use email, phone calls, etc.? When will you reach out to them and how often? Will you continue to follow up quarterly, yearly, etc.?)
  • How will you manage prospects? Will you use a simple email program or Excel file to manage prospects, or will you make the investment in a formal CRM (customer relationship management) system?

In terms of frequency, it’s important to implement a process that is lightning fast to respond to initial requests. Many a deal has been won in the 3PL world simply because they were the fastest to respond. In the least, high performing 3PLs respond:

  • Right away after first request
  • Within a few days after the first request
  • Within a few weeks after the first request
  • Quarterly or yearly thereafter

Responses can be made by email or phone – and it’s usually a best practice to use both.

Speed, persistence, and follow up consistency are all positively impacted by a formal system, such as a CRM. Using a CRM allows the 3PL to receive all leads into one central place, conduct automated email responses, notify sales reps of when to respond, conduct mass follow ups to prospects at given intervals and in mass if desired, and generally organize prospects much better than manual methods.

One final note on systems and follow up processes – many companies change 3PLs, so timing of follow ups is important. By continuing to follow up with leads each year, you will ensure that you will be “top of mind” at the right time.

Outshining Your 3PL Competitors – Special Tips to Close More Business

Having been in the warehousing business before we started WarehousingAndFulfillment.com, we know full well how difficult it is to grow your fulfillment company. And we’ve learned even more about the sales process through our lead generation service. There are so many options to pursue, from sales reps to online marketing to lead generations services, which makes it increasingly difficult to manage the entire sales and marketing process. And since we’ve been generating leads in the warehousing and fulfillment market since 2005, we’ve noticed that many 3PL companies, in particular the small to medium sized businesses with fewer resources, are having an increasingly difficult time not only acquiring leads but also cultivating them into new business.

We want to provide you with all of the help necessary to perform at the highest of levels, so we created this section of our website in order to help you by sharing our experiences and those of other fulfillment companies in the hopes that you will find something useful. In addition to sharing monthly articles on issues related to SEO & PPC Marketing, Website Optimization, and general Sales Management, we’ll also be posting links to helpful resources. From time to time, we’ll also have various experts contribute articles on hot topics, sharing their insights. We hope you find this resource extremely helpful.

Getting Responses from Prospects

Whether you get a lead from us or via other marketing channels like your website, the first challenge is to turn that lead email into an interaction. Over the years, we’ve learned a great deal about getting quality responses from prospects. This often overlooked area represents a tremendous opportunity, if done the right way.

The Beaten Path

Most companies use this initial interaction to showcase all of the wonderful things about their organization. They tell the prospect how amazing they are, how many years they’ve been around, what services they offer, among other miscellaneous “company facts.” Sometimes, they also include another listing of questions that they need answered in order to provide an accurate quote. This may work sometimes, but we’d like to challenge you with one question:

“Does this separate you from the pack?”

First, if most companies use the same approach, it’s going to be particularly difficult for you to stand out. Second, consider the context that this prospect is also speaking with other companies and that the ease and comfort ability of communication and degree to which a relationship begins to formulate may sway the decision making process. Third, remember that most people are self-centered, so a focus on your company rather than their company, albeit subtle, plays a role in their reaction to your pitch.

Okay, So What Should I Do?

We are confident that there are two things that help companies put their best foot forward. First, and most important, you’ve got to find a way to stand out from the crowd. This could be your unique corporate culture, your unintimidating approach that serves more as a consultant than a “sales rep”, or a host of other approaches. Needless to say, the less you look like a sales rep and the more you look like an advisor, the better you will find your interactions. You have to find a way to break free from the mold.

Second, we’ve found that companies that focus on the prospect and their needs have the best chance of success. Are you looking at the prospects website, if applicable, before you fire off the email? Is there common ground that you can introduce into the correspondence? When prospects hear you talking about them, it’s much easier for them to engage. One of the secrets of high performing sales teams is that they find pain and show the prospect how they’ll take away that pain. And the pain can be completely different for each prospect.

A Final Word On “Additional Questions”

We know that many leads aren’t going to provide enough information initially for you to be able to accurately quote right away. However, we’ve found time and again (by talking to prospects) that when they get another big list of questions, the chances of them responding decreases exponentially if done before some common ground and relationship building has been established.

Unfortunately, some of your competitors are firing off a pricing sheet right away. This doesn’t mean that you have to change everything you do…but knowing what others might be doing can help you achieve great results.

The big challenge here is to create some value outside of pricing. If everything boils down to a pricing game, then it becomes a numbers game and the lowest price wins. Creativity is extremely important in deciding on an approach.

There are so many factors in getting people to respond, from timeframe of response to quality of content to actual pricing. And we believe that by finding ways to separate from the pack and by focusing on the prospect you’ll find yourself in a very strong position versus the competition.

The 24 Hour Follow Up Rule and Further Followups

Some companies are relying way too much on their website and automated responses.  The first job of any company is to build credibility.  How credible is your company, if you do not follow up within that 24 hours.

So my next questions is “How have you trained your people to follow up after that first contact?  How many of you get a second and third call?  If you do, is it the just checking in call, or just touching base call?   You check into a hotel, and you touch base in baseball.  The idea in following up is to show that you can add value to their business, and to build a further level of trust and credibility. It is best to first ask the prospect for permission to follow up.    Have a purpose.  I have read that the average sale takes 7 touches.  Today it probably takes more, because people are more reluctant to trust someone.  Remember to deliver value on every call, and every correspondence.  So here is my list of ways to follow-up.  If you have more, please add to them.

  1. General Follow-Up – Make sure before leaving the appointment, that there is an agreement on what details need to be followed up and when.  After sending follow up phone call to make sure the information was sufficient.
  2. Send Articles Related to Their Business – these sets the tone that you are a resource of information.   You can find many articles in trade magazines, or the internet.  Make sure to send a handwritten note tying it back to what you previously discussed.
  3. Share Your New Company’s New Product or Service – This is a no brainer, and so important.  Even if it does not pertain directly to them, it may show that your company is an innovator.
  4. Customer Testimonials – Don’t be shy.  If you got them, flaunt them.  Testimonials are powerful, especially if they are from someone that your prospect knows.
  5. Look for Referrals for the Prospect – Ask first what good referrals for them are?  The idea is that we are all in this together.  Again be a resource not just a salesperson.
  6. Send News Articles about Their Company – Set up Google Alerts about announcements about their own company.  Send Congratulations.  This shows that you are interested about the goals and opportunities of the prospect.
  7. Add them to Company E-Newsletters – Again the best way is to ask for permission, but if not ask for forgiveness.

Send Competitive Information – Your buyer always wants to know what competition is doing.  Just make sure that it is public information, and that you are NOT sharing any trade secrets.

Putting it All Together

It may seem a bit daunting to begin with but formalizing your 3PL lead generation system within your organization will pay huge dividends for the growth of your business. By identifying your ideal customer, targeting the specific channels that will earn the highest return, developing a formal sales process, and implementing any necessary technologies, you will no doubt out-perform the average 3PL.